US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blasted Tehran with a diplomatic bombshell that is ricocheting throughout the mosques and bazaars of Iran: Clinton revoked the US terrorist designation of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), causing much dismay in the Islamic Republic. Iran’s foreign ministry strongly condemned the decision to revoke the designation and stated that it held the United States responsible for terrorist acts of the MEK in the “past, present, and the future.”
IN CONTRAST, dozens of major Iranian-American organizations hailed Secretary Clinton for her decision to de-list the group. Because the MEK is the main Iranian dissident group that rejects Iranian clerical rule, Tehran pays the most attention to it and dislikes the MEK more than all other opposition organizations combined, according to one study. The de-listing does little to disabuse the regime of their dislike and, in fact, stokes its fears.
It is no coincidence that human rights organizations indicate that most of those sentenced to death or executed after the 2009 summer uprising in Iran belonged to the MEK. A reason the regime pays so little attention to other oppositionists is that they toe the line with Tehran. Consider a leader of the so-called Iranian “Green Movement” faction, Mir Hossein Mousavi, whom many in the West misconstrue as a moderate. Mousavi not only accepts clerical rule in Iran, he also has a history of anti-Israel activities, such as calling for it to be “annihilated.”
And according to documents of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supplied to the organization by Tehran, Mousavi also approved the secret purchase of centrifuges for Iran’s covert nuclear program when he was prime minister in March 1987. At the time he noted that the “consequences of giving up the country’s nuclear program would be ‘irreparable.’”
In contrast to Mousavi, the MEK opposes an Iranian nuclear capability or weapon; and to back up its words, the MEK has revealed Tehran’s covert activities to procure uranium enrichment and weaponization materials. If the organization wanted to keep open the option of developing such arms, it would hardly disclose intelligence about them.In issuing blockbuster information on Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapons capability, moreover, the MEK and its parliament in exile, the National Council for Resistance of Iran (NCRI) laid the framework for international inspections of Iran, according to the Center for International and Strategic Studies.
In response to the revocation of the terrorist listing, Maryam Rajavi, president- elect of the NCRI, states in no uncertain terms, “We propose a nonnuclear Iran.” And in Rajavi’s 10 Point Platform for a Future Iran, she writes, “We want the free Iran of tomorrow to be devoid of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.”Consistent with such statements, during August 2002, NCRI intelligence exposed a secret nuclear facility near the City of Natanz. An independent think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), confirmed the revelation, identified the site as a uranium enrichment facility, and released imagery of Natanz in December 2002.
NCRI intelligence was the source of several other critical revelations, including in August 2002, a heavy water production facility at Arak, Iran.
The ISIS stated, “The existence of this facility was first revealed publicly by the Iranian opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran in August 2002. ISIS then located the site in commercial satellite imagery after a wide-area search. By United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 (2006), Iran was to suspend all work on heavy water-related projects.”
NCRI intelligence exposed a nuclear facility at Lavizan-Shian, Iran. Again working independently from the NCRI, the ISIS wrote: “This site first came to public attention in May 2003 when the Iranian opposition group, National Council for Resistance of Iran, announced… the site.”
In December 2005, intelligence disseminated by the NCRI revealed a nuclear site near the city of Qum: Tunneling activity in the mountains was initiated in 2000 to construct an underground nuclear facility; the Western allies publicly acknowledged the Qum site in September 2009.
NCRI intelligence revealed, during September 2009, two additional sites in and near Tehran, where the Iranian regime may be working on detonators for nuclear warheads. The matter became a point of dispute between the IAEA and Tehran and also in the nuclear negotiations involving the P5+1.
Prompted by such publicity, the Iranian regime admitted in September of that year existence of a uranium enrichment facility about 20 miles north of Qum. And by January 2012, Iran stated it had begun enrichment at the heavily fortified site, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.
IN VIEW of such prior revelations, the Iranian regime is rightly concerned that the terrorist revocation of what it calls “Enemies of God,” will jump-start their intelligence collection activities. It will.
Unburdened by the need to allocate scarce resources to getting off the US terrorist list – and especially after the issue of Camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq are resolved and Camp Liberty is stabilized – the NCRI and its largest unit, the MEK, can accelerate exposing Tehran’s progress toward becoming a nuclear-armed state. At the same time, de-listing provides an avenue to empower Iranian dissident organizations to work in tandem against the regime.
Clinton’s diplomatic missile launched at Tehran has unleashed the Iranian regime’s main opponents that reject clerical rule at a time when Israel and the United States are in dire need of independent sources of information about Iran, as well as an internal counterbalance to keep the regime in check.
This is the time to align with the MEK, which has a proven capacity to obtain “lead intelligence” from its sources on the ground in Iran. Such insights can, of course, be compared with information collected via other sources and methods.
To paraphrase the great Rabbi Hillel, “If not now, when? If not the MEK, who?” Now is the time, and the MEK is the movement. As a part of the diverse opposition coalition of the NCRI, they can grow by incorporating other groups that reject clerical rule. Together, they can deter and facilitate regime change in Iran before the clerics get the Bomb.
Prof. Raymond Tanter served on the senior staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan White House, is a frequent visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is president of the Iran Policy Committee.
Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the Negotiation and Conflict Management graduate program in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore.