Daniel Pipes: Unleash the Iranian Opposition[, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq] and A Call for American Boldness in Iran

As the 23 June rally in Villepinte, France draws closer, one is reminded of Daniel Pipes’ 2007 and 2009 articles on similar events. See following post and 2009 article post that follows later on the page.

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Unleash the Iranian Opposition[, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq]

by Daniel Pipes
New York Sun
July 10, 2007

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL POST

[With slight differences from the NY Sun version]

Navigating the fractious currents of émigré politics is never easy, and especially for the Iranian opposition group known as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq or the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran. Simply put, the rogue oil state regime it opposes terrifies one half the West and tempts the other, and the MEK is itself accused of being a superannuated Marxist-Islamist terrorist cult.

These obstacles have not, however, prevented the MEK from trumpeting Islamism as the new global threat, providing important intelligence to the West – for example, about Iran’s nuclear program – terrifying the regime in Tehran, and putting on major displays of anti-regime solidarity.

Participants at a Mujahedeen-e Khalq rally outside Paris on June 30 boisterously welcomed Maryam Rajavi.

I witnessed one such display at a vast exposition hall outside Paris last week, where some 20,000 Iranians from around the world met to hear music from the old country, wave flags and banners, and listen to brief speeches by non-Iranian well-wishers – notably U.S. Congressman Bob Filner, Democrat of California, and former Algerian prime minister Sid Ahmad Ghozali. The crowd then settled in for an 85-minute tour d’horizon by the MEK leader, Maryam Rajavi.

The meeting inspired several observations. First, the slick production, with hints of an American political convention – balloons and chaff falling from the rafters, a televised sequence of the leader arriving in cavalcade – was aimed mostly at an audience outside the hall, especially in Iran.

Second, the event had two apparent goals: reminding Iranians that an alternative does exist to today’s theocracy, plus pressuring the European Union to remove the MEK from its terror list. For Iranians, the music portion included pretty girls in (for them, daring) Western clothing. For Europeans, it pointedly included “Le chant des partisans,” the anthem of the French Resistance during World War II.

Third, Rajavi’s in-depth analysis mentioned neither the United States nor Israel, something extremely rare for a major speech about Middle Eastern politics. Nor did she even hint at conspiratorial thinking, a deeply welcome change for Iranian politics.
Finally, no other opposition group in the world can mount so impressive a display of muscle as does the MEK, with its thousands of supporters, many young, and a slate of dignitaries.

Young singers at the Mujahedeen-e Khalq rally outside Paris on June 30. Many participants wore vests inscribed with the slogan, “Notre choix, Maryam Rajavi,” an allusion to the MEK leader.

These factors, combined with the mullah’s near-phobic reaction toward the MEK, suggest that the organization presents a formidable tool for intimidating Tehran.

Alas, Westerners presently cannot work with the MEK, due to a 1997 decision by the Clinton administration, followed five years later by the European Union, to offer a sop to the mullahs and declare it a terrorist group, putting it officially on a par with the likes of Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hizbullah. A Portuguese member of the European parliament, Paulo Casaca, notes that “Officials on both sides of the Atlantic are on the record as saying that the only reason why the group was put on the U.S. terrorism list in the first place was to send a ‘goodwill gesture’ to the Iranian regime.”

But the MEK poses no danger to Americans or Europeans, and has not for decades. It does pose a danger to the malign, bellicose theocratic regime in Tehran. The MEK’s utility to Western states is reflected in the inconsistent, even contradictory, U.S. government attitude toward it over the past decade. One amusing instance came in October 2003, when Colin Powell, the secretary of state, tartly wrote Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense, to remind him that the 3,800 MEK forces at Camp Ashraf in Iraq were supposed to be treated as captives, not as allies.

But there will be nothing amusing as the American presence in Iraq winds down and thousands of unarmed MEK members are left to the tender mercies of the pro-Tehran regime in Baghdad. Belatedly, the Bush administration needs to take three steps. First, let the MEK members leave Camp Ashraf in a humane and secure manner. Second, delist the organization from the terror rolls, unleashing it to challenge the Islamic Republic of Iran. Third, exploit that regime’s inordinate fear of the MEK.

As Patrick Clawson and I suggested over four years ago, “To deter the mullahs from taking hostile steps (supporting terrorism against coalition troops in Iraq, building nuclear weapons), it could prove highly effective to threaten U.S. meetings with the MEK or providing help for its anti-regime publicity campaign.”

That remains good advice, but there’s not another four years to wait.

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A Call for American Boldness in Iran

by Daniel Pipes
Jerusalem Post
June 24, 2009

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL POST

In a striking coincidence, two very different expressions of Iranian dissent took place exactly simultaneously on two continents on Saturday, June 20. Between them, the Islamic Republic of Iran faces an unprecedented challenge.

In a vast exhibition hall just north of Paris on June 20, about 20,000 people attended anevent organized by the largest and best organized Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (or the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran).

One protest took place on the streets of Iran, where thousands of Iranians fed up with living under a religious tyranny defied Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i’s diktat that they accept the results of the June 12 presidential election, whereby President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supposedly defeated his main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi by a lopsided margin.

The protestors and Mousavi have both shown bravery but the former seem more radical than the latter. Mousavi’s website announces that he does not seek confrontation with the “brothers” in Iran’s security forces nor does he wish to challenge the “sacred system” instituted by Ayatollah Khomeini. Rather, the website declares, “We are confronting deviations and lies. We seek to bring reform that returns us to the pure principals of the Islamic Republic.”

This timidity stands in contrast to the bold stance of the street protestors who shout “Death to the dictator” and even “Death to Khamene’i,” an echo of the regime’s perpetual slogans “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” implying a wish not just to correct Khomeini’s “sacred system” but an aspiration to terminate the regime dominated by mullahs (Iran’s clerics).

The other protest took place in a vast exhibition hall just north of Paris, where the largest and best organized Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq or the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MeK or PMOI) joined with smaller groups to hold their annual meeting. Tens of thousands attended it, including me.

The assembly’s most emotional moment came when the anxious crowd learned that their peaceful counterparts marching in Iran had been killed or wounded. At that moment, freedom of assembly in France contrasted most starkly with its denial in Iran. Later that day came confirmation of the regime’s obsessive fears of the MeK, when deputy police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, blamed MeK “thugs” for his own government’s violence against the peaceful demonstrators.

The MEK mounted an impressive display in France, as it did at the last meeting I attended, in 2007, with dignitaries, made-for-television pageantry, and a powerful speech by its leader, Maryam Rajavi. Like the street protestors, she also called for the demise of the Khomeinist regime. In a 4,000-word speech, she steered blessedly clear of attacks on the United States or Israel and excluded the conspiracy-theory mongering so common to Iranian political life. Instead, she:

  • Ridiculed the regime for portraying the demonstrators as Western agents.
  • Bitterly complained that corpses of demonstrators were “wrapped in American flags” and then trampled upon.
  • Condemned the regime’s “crimes” in Iraq and its “export of terrorism” to Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, and Afghanistan.
  • Predicted that “the beginning of the end” of the Islamic Republic of Iran is underway.
  • Critiqued the Obama administration for giving yet another chance to the regime, noting that the Bush administration had met its representatives 28 times to no avail.

Rajavi has rightly called for a stronger U.S. policy toward Tehran, explaining in a recent interview that “The West can stop the nuclear program if it stands up to the mullahs.”

Sadly, standing up to the mullahs has never been American policy. Jimmy Carter meekly accepted their rule. Ronald Reagan sent them arms. To win their favor, Bill Clinton put the MEK on the terrorism list. George W. Bush did not foil their nuclear weapons project. And Barack Obama hopes to gain concessions from Tehran on the nuclear weapons issue by distancing himself from the dissidents.

Instead, flux in Iran should invite boldness and innovation. It is time, finally, for a robust U.S. policy that encourages those yelling “Death to Khamene’i” and that takes advantage of the hyperbolic fear the MeK arouses in Iran’s ruling circles (first step: end the MeK’s preposterous listing as a terrorist organization).

As Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Republican of Michigan) notes, regime change in Iran becomes the more urgent if the mullahs will soon deploy nuclear weapons. The vital and potentially victorious movement building both on the streets of Iran and in the halls of Europe better represents not only Western values but also Western interests.

The Stream : US moves toward delisting MEK as ‘terrorist’ group

President of the Iran Policy Committee, Professor Raymond Tanter, was interviewed on 21 May on Al Jazeera’s The Stream about the United States moving to delist the main Iranian opposition that rejects clerical rule as a “terrorist” group. Check out the video below or see the original link from The Stream’s website here.

Regime Change from within Iran to Counter Tehran’s “Talking about Talks”

Yukiya Amano

Yukiya Amano, Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency
Photo: http://www.iaea.org

Head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, Yukiya Amano, made premature remarks about “progress” in getting Tehran to discuss inspections of what may be a nuclear weapons trigger.  Eager for “good news,” the Western media  became overly optimistic about the 23-24 May 2012 Baghdad Talks between the Iranian regime and the major powers.Underlying this hopefulness is that diplomacy is buying time and hence delaying any plans for Israel to launch attacks against Iranian nuclear sites. Iran rejects a new package of proposals put forward by the powers, seeks to get into a “proposal-counter proposal” process, and reverts to its pattern of  “talking about talks.” Iran demands sanctions relief and a wider agenda, while the major powers insist on discussing Iran’s nuclear file without such relief at this stage. Not surprisingly, the two sides agreed to hold a fourth round of talks in Moscow on 18-19 June 2012.

In the context of endless negotiations, the military option arises again as the default alternative. But what about a third option—regime change from within Iran—in addition to placing added emphasis on the military alternative as the May Baghdad round of diplomacy failed like prior rounds in Geneva during December 2010 and Istanbul in April 2012?

Critics answer that before regime change can occur, Iran’s “zone of immunity” from attack will increase as it uses time to make nuclear sites relatively invulnerable to attack. But the Islamic Republic is already using “diplomatic time” to become more immune to airstrikes, while the regime change clock is barely ticking.

To accelerate regime change from within requires Jerusalem and Washington to have friends in Tehran, which is the topic of an article Raymond Tanter wrote as an op-ed for the 22 May 2012 Jerusalem Post,  a slightly revised version of which appears below.

Jerusalem, Tehran, and Washington

22 May 2012

CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL ARTICLE IN THE JERUSALEM POST

Ahmadinejad at nuclear ceremony in Tehran

Ahmadinejad at nuclear ceremony in Tehran. Photo: Reuters

As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pulls main political groups into a wall-to-wall coalition, he is in position to choose either military attacks on Iranian nuclear sites or to wait for international sanctions and covert action to compel Tehran to cease progress on a nuclear weapons capability. At issue, however, is whether these are the only alternatives available.

A third option involves regime change from within Iran, of the kind to make less likely pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. Such an approach requires Jerusalem and Washington to have friends in Tehran.

While the enemy of my enemy might still be my enemy, assume for the moment the conventional wisdom is correct: An enemy of the Iranian regime is a good candidate to be a friend of Israel.

In fact, the main Iranian dissident group that rejects clerical rule in Tehran, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK), reaches out to Washington and does not oppose Israel.

By contrast, the Iranian Green Movement faction, headed by Mir Hossein Mousavi, accepts clerical rule and has a history of anti- Israel activities, such as calling for it to be annihilated.

As the U.S. State Department decides whether to remove the MeK from its terrorist list, the drive to be delisted would benefit from a push from the pro-Israel community. Because delisting would send an implicit but unmistakable signal to Tehran that regime change from within is on the table, one would think the pro-Israel community would be active in the fight for removal of the MeK from the list. But there is no sign of the community’s influence in the delisting process. The community, however, is very active in the sanctions process.

As sanctions pressure Iran to make concessions at the May 23-24 Baghdad Talks on Iran’s nuclear file, it is useful to note that Mousavi of the Iranian Green Movement said consequences of giving up Iran’s nuclear program would be “irreparable.”

In contrast, the MeK opposes Iranian production of nuclear weapons; and to back up its words, the MeK reveals Tehran’s covert activities to procure uranium enrichment and weaponization equipment. In issuing blockbuster intelligence on Iranian progress toward nuclear weapons capability, the MeK laid the framework for international sanctions imposed on Iran.

There is an assumption among pundits of an alliance of convenience between Israel and the MeK, but it rests on thin evidence of unnamed officials and an Iranian intelligence agent, Massoud Khodabandeh.

Allegations of a covert alignment works in favor of those who would keep the MeK on the U.S. terrorist list, weakening its ability to help build a coalition to remove the clerical regime from power in Tehran. While uncertainty about such an alignment may reinforce Israel’s deterrent posture vis a vis Iran, it may be only a Pyrrhic achievement in view of costs incurred in inadvertently maintaining the MeK on the U.S. terrorist list.

In a research trip to Iraq during 2008, I reported on interviews and documents that corroborated a tight relationship between the MeK and the US military in Iraq, but not with American diplomats. In addition, I reported how Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) spreads false narratives about the MeK, some of which US diplomats echo.

In October 2011, MeK-supplied information reinforced U.S. intelligence to expose Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force for plotting to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and blow up the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

That disclosure reinforced additional sanctions the U.S. Treasury placed on the IRGC-QF three days earlier.

And what is Tehran’s response when confronted with evidence of its complicity in the assassination plot? The Ministry of Intelligence and Security blamed Israel and the United States, while also claiming MeK involvement.

To its credit, the State Department promptly denied MeK responsibility, accused Tehran of “fabricating news stories,” and of spreading “disinformation” to exploit skepticism about the plot.

While it might make some strategic sense for Israel to remain silent about any involvement with the MeK and sit on the sidelines in the group’s effort to be removed from the U.S. terrorist list, there is no excuse for the pro-Israel community to refrain from seeking removal of the MeK from the list and helping to allay suffering of its supporters in Iraq, who languish under prison-like conditions, hoping to be resettled in friendly countries rather than forcibly repatriated to Iran.

The State Department has said it was looking favorably at delisting the MeK if it continued cooperating by vacating a former base inside Iraq, called Camp Ashraf, to another location, Camp Liberty.

There are about 1,200 MeK members remaining in Ashraf and some 2,000 already in Liberty.

But the fly in the ointment is that the State Department also said it might still rule against delisting the MeK if evidence turned up of a capability and intent to commit terrorism in Ashraf after complete relocation to Liberty, a condition described by former U.S. military commanders as “absurd,” because they supervised inspection of Ashraf, it was under American military control from 2003-2009, and Iraqi military monitoring and control thereafter.

Such a condition is a virtual invitation for Iranian agents to plant weapons in Ashraf, which then could be used by the State Department as indicators of capability and intent for the MeK to commit terrorism.

It is in this final phase of decision making at the State Department where the American pro-Israel community might make a difference, but it sits quietly on the sidelines of an epic struggle: whether Israeli and U.S. policy should include not only talks, sanctions, and threats to take military action but also a “regime change from within” option for Iran.

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The writer was a frequent Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is Emeritus Professor at the University of Michigan, and former member of the Senior Staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan-Bush administration.