Revocation of the Terrorism Listings of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK)

An Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, published the article below, Now the cards are on the table, on 28 September 2012 in its online and print editions as an insert in the International Herald Tribune in Israel. On the same date, the U.S. State Department formally announced revocation of the designation of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and related groups from its Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. Likewise, the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control revoked comparable designations from its Specially Designated Nationals List.

The State Department announcement included the following:

Property and interests in property in the United States or within the possession or control of U.S. persons will no longer be blocked, and U.S. entities may engage in transactions with the MEK without obtaining a license. These actions will be published in the Federal Register.

Below is the article commenting on the revocations by Professors Tanter and Sheehan.

Now the cards are on the table

In the wake of Secretary Clinton’s decision, Jerusalem and Washington should reset their Iran policy by embracing regime change there as a priority.

By Raymond Tanter and Ivan Sascha Sheehan
28 September 2012

CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL POST IN HAARETZ (Note: Must have subscription to read full article on the Haaretz website)

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s September 21 announcement that she will remove the Mujahedeen-e Khalq from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations is an important step toward correcting Washington’s Iran policy and an occasion for Jerusalem to adopt a fresh approach toward the Iranian opposition.

Delisting Iran’s primary opposition organization that rejects clerical rule is, in and of itself, a threat to the Iranian regime. Removal from the list is therefore an opportunity to assess and reset American and Israeli policy toward Tehran.

Removing the MEK’s terror designation plays on Tehran’s suspicions that an “unholy alliance” of Jerusalem, Washington and the MEK is colluding to launch covert attacks against Iran’s nuclear program. If there were such an alignment, it would also contribute to deterrence of Iranian assaults against Israeli diplomats and serve as a check on Iranian aggression.

In a September 23 Washington Post article that proposed a fictive scenario involving an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, analysts imagined how Israel might be accused of working with the MEK. They speculate that the MEK will be widely perceived as reinforcing Israel’s air assaults with military operations on the ground in Iran: “Within hours, Twitter is alight with reports of explosions in various parts of Iran. All seemingly can be traced to one source: the Iranian opposition group Mujaheddin-e-Khalq.”

That the group stokes the regime’s fears by mobilizing broad political support in the expatriate community and holding massive rallies around the world does little to quiet the regime’s anxieties. A 2005 study found that the MEK was given 350 percent more attention by Iranian state-run media than all other opposition organizations challenging the regime.

The disproportionate number of protesters who were arrested or sentenced to death during the 2009 uprising because of their association with the MEK is also indicative of the regime’s intent to block the group’s political influence on the Iranian street.

The MEK is the largest dissident organization in the Paris-based de facto parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. It has long failed to meet the statutory criteria necessary for terror tagging under U.S. law. That it remained on the list can be attributed to persistent lobbying by the Iranian regime and miscalculation by successive U.S. presidents that concessions would appease Tehran’s theocrats and eliminate state-sponsored proxy violence.

If Clinton had failed to delist, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington would in any event have removed the organization from the list on October 1. By taking the initiative rather than hiding behind the judiciary, Washington signals to Tehran that regime change from within is on the table. Iran has threatened to curtail its negotiations with the West when it takes actions that favor the MEK; Clinton’s removal of the group’s designation thus acknowledges that engagement with Iran is no longer a top priority, although sporadic and unproductive nuclear talks might continue.

Removal of the terror designation in the midst of a hotly contested presidential election confirms that U.S. counterterrorism policy remains unpoliticized. Strong bipartisan support for the MEK on Capitol Hill, where Israel also commands strong backing, is further indication that the shift was not partisan.

American and Israeli officials should follow the delisting of the Iranian resistance with efforts to empower the opposition and support calls for democratic change. Free of the terror label, supporters can now put their money where their mouth is and embrace the opposition in its campaign for democracy.

In light of last week’s announcement by Secretary Clinton, here’s what can be done to help reset policy toward Tehran.

First, the worldwide pro-Israel community can help push back against the Iranian regime’s disinformation campaign against removal of the MEK from the State Department’s terror roster. The Iranian lobby in Washington is as well funded as it is deceptive and the opposition is enemy number one. Consider the unsubstantiated allegation made by Mohammad Javad Larijani, a senior aide to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. On February 9, 2012, Larijani alleged to NBC-TV News that the Mossad and the MEK were jointly responsible for the targeted killing of Iranian scientists. Though never backed up with evidence, this sensational accusation was frequently repeated to justify the group’s terror designation in the lead-up to the delisting.

Second, because the heat will be turned up by the pro-Iranian Iraqi government on the 3,000 MEK dissidents housed at Camp Liberty in Iraq, the pro-Israel community should speak publicly about the safety of the residents and press humanitarian concerns.

Third, in the wake of Secretary Clinton’s decision, Jerusalem and Washington should reset their Iran policy by embracing regime change in Iran as a priority. Support for the Iranian opposition would give further credence to threats to take military action and complement sanctions meant to coerce Tehran. Unless the survival of the regime is on the table, Iran will continue to pursue its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons as well as threaten Israel and the United States. The removal of MEK’s terror classification rings an alarm bell among the theocrats in Tehran that their illegitimate reign is coming to an end.

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Prof. Raymond Tanter served on the senior staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan White House, 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.

Iran Ramps Up Its Genocidal Rhetoric

What Makes Tehran Tick: Islamist Ideology and Hegemonic Interests

Israel Defense Forces Lt Col (ret) Michael (Mickey) Segallis an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East; he is also a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Below is a summary of one of his articles for the Center’s Blog, which is repeated below because his qualitative research reinforces conclusions of Iran Policy Committee (IPC) quantitative research on a similar topic in a book entitled What Makes Tehran Tick.

Michael (Mickey) Segall, “Iran Ramps Up Its Genocidal Rhetoric,” Vol. 12, No. 20, 28 August 2012

  • Each year since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian regime marks international Jerusalem (Quds) Day on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan. As in previous years, the Iranian leadership called for the destruction of Israel and of “world Zionism,” as demonstrating masses shouted: “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” during rallies and addresses by the leadership.
  • For Shia Iran, the struggle against Israel and its Western allies is almost its sole common denominator with most of the Sunni Arab domain. Now, with the rise of Islamist regimes – especially in Egypt, which Iran views as having broken the taboo on peace accommodations with Israel – Iran is making enhanced use of the Palestinian issue and denial of Israel’s right to exist, in order to win the hearts and minds of Muslims across the Middle East and beyond.
  • From Iran’s standpoint, the Arab Spring – or Islamic Awakening as Iran terms it – has revalidated Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision, and Iran feels great confidence in the righteousness of its approach, which it sees as part of a broader historical course of divine intervention. The gathering of more than 100 non-aligned nations in Tehran this week together with the participation of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the newly elected Egyptian president – despite U.S. efforts to prevent it – further strengthens Iran’s belief in the triumph of its alternative Islamic revolutionary vision of the new world order.
  • The current leaders of Iran also associate Khomeini’s vision with repeated successes in the national and regional arenas: the nuclear program that keeps advancing despite the West’s and Israel’s efforts to stymie it, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, Hizbullah’s “victory” against Israel in the Second Lebanon War, the Palestinians’ firm stance in the subsequent Gaza War, and the Islamic Awakening, which Iran appropriates to itself.
  • It is believed that, like the fulfillment of Khomeini’s prophecies about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Saddam, his prophecy of Israel’s destruction will also be realized and the mission is in Iran’s hands.
  • The Iranian leadership’s virulent anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, much in evidence before and during Jerusalem Day on Aug. 17, in fact recycles the original slogans of Khomeini’s revolution, recalibrated to the Islamic mood now prevalent in the Middle East. In this context, Iranian spokesmen claim that the Syrian crisis is not part of the Islamic Awakening but an attempt by the West to strike at one of the main strongholds of the anti-Israel and anti-U.S. struggle. 

Below is a summary from Chapter Two of the IPC book, What Makes Tehran Tick, which relates to the Segall findings.

The IPC performed quantitative content analysis on an extensive database of  about 2,400 Iranian leadership statements collected from the period of 1979-2005.

The research question:

To what extent do Iran’s perceptions of threat from Israel and the United States drive Iranian regime hostility toward Jerusalem and Washington, respectively?

The principal finding:

Iran is consistently more hostile toward Israel than the United States. Iran perceives little direct threat from Israel, but Tehran nonetheless is extremely hostile toward Israel.

The left Figure shows that out of the universe of Iranian expression of hostility statements collected by the research team, 36% (515) were directed at Israel and 64% (919) were directed at the United States. By contrast, Iran seems to perceive very little threat from Israel.

The number of perception of threat statements referring to the United States remained relatively constant (938), but only 137 statements (13% of total) assessed a threat from Israel (right Figure).

The near absence from the Iranian leadership of perception of threat from Israel strengthens the argument that Iran’s expressed hostility toward Israel reflects ideological rhetoric rather than any genuine sense of threat emanating from Israel. By contrast, Iran’s expression of hostility to Washington is basically in proportion to Tehran’s perception of threat from the United States.

In the case of Segall’s “Iran Ramps Up Its Genocidal Rhetoric,” quoted above, he draws on statements made by the Iranian leadership on Jerusalem (Quds) Day, the last Friday of the month of Ramadan, 17 August 2012, when Iranian leaders traditionally call for the destruction of Israel. The IPC book, What Makes Tehran Tick, focuses not only on Jerusalem (Quds) Day but also on Embassy Takeover-Day—the annual celebration of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran as well as May Day—as a neutral control date to enhance validity.

Specifically, the IPC team selected 2,400 statements from the two weeks surrounding three different dates: Embassy Takeover Day (4 November), Jerusalem Day (the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan), and May Day (1 May). Rather than collecting the universe of statements from the Iranian regime from 1979-2005, the IPC used targeted sampling.

To keep sample size manageable and content consistent, IPC researchers collected from two databases: the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and the BBC International Monitoring Reports. FBIS microfiche archives were accessed first to obtain a requisite 25 statements from each date set for each year. FBIS materials after 1997 are available through the Internet-based World News Connection, while BBC International Monitoring Reports were obtained via Lexis-Nexis.

Conclusions:

First, because of the ideological base for Iranian hostility toward Israel, there is little or no prospect for a negotiated settlement involving Israel and Iran or between the major powers and Iran about its quest to develop a nuclear arms capability; Israel’s threats directed toward Iran are not taken seriously by Tehran; and because Iran follows its hostile rhetoric with threats of military action, Israel and Iran may be on a collision course of war unless other options complement the triad of threats, sanctions, and talks.

Second, a policy of regime change from within can place the Iranian regime on its back foot by forcing it to choose between regime survival and pursuit of an ideological goal of destruction of Israel. Regime change from within requires the kind of coalition of dissidents that brought down the Shah of Iran in 1979.

Third, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), the main Iranian opposition organization that rejects clerical rule, played a critical role in toppling the Shah and is poised to repeat such a performance to help depose the clerical regime. But because the MEK is on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list and its members languish under siege in Iraq, the group is constrained from assuming its rightful role in a coalition of oppositionists in Iran. Irrespective of whether other dissident organizations say they oppose the MEK, the others are likely to move with the MEK against the regime once the MEK is off the American terrorist list. Why? Among other opposition groups, the Iranian regime pays the most attention to the MEK, it has the most support among the Iranian expat community, and the MEK does not seek or require funds, military arms, or other assistance from States to help bring down the Iranian regime. Finally, the pro-Israel community can play an instrumental role in persuading Members of the U.S. Congress to remove the terrorist tag on the MEK and related organizations that reject clerical rule in Iran.