By Karmel Melamed
In recent weeks, calls for possible strikes against Iran by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and other government officials have caused alarm among some local Iranian Jews and Muslims familiar with the Tehran regime.
Iranian American experts on Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic government say an American strike on Iran could backfire against the United States and serve to strengthen elements within the regime. Since 2005, the Center for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights (CFPD), an L.A.-based Iranian American nonprofit, has been examining the Iranian government’s actions and educating lawmakers in Washington, D.C. on how to deal with the regime.
“Twenty-five years of research and studying this government teaches us that the Islamic Republic of Iran provokes crisis to remain in power,” said Farhad Mansourian, an Iranian Muslim research fellow at the CFPD. “They are looking forward to someone, one of these days, to do exactly what they want, which is to answer back on that provocation so they can capitalize on it.”
In an interview on the CBS “Face the Nation” on June 10, Lieberman said the United States should consider limited air attacks against camps in Iran where insurgents are being trained to fight American forces in Iraq.
Mansourian believes that rather than attack Iran, the United States needs to develop a comprehensive policy of supporting pro-American elements there to bring about the demise of the regime from within.
“We have been procrastinating on Iran for 28 years, and it’s time to talk about the only option that will deal with this cancer, and that is regime change,” Mansourian said. “The ayatollahs in Iran have a vision of destruction in the world so their ‘mahdi’ or messiah can come.”
This belief, he said, “is not a joke. That is why we must talk about the only viable option that destroys this cancer cell, since anything less than that is cosmetic.”
Members of Iran’s government have been quick to exploit Lieberman’s statements because he is Jewish, as part of their long running anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, Mansourian said.
“Various news reports from the Islamic Republic’s controlled media used words to the effect that the ‘Jew Lieberman’—as opposed to Joe—‘a known Zionist U.S. Senator, after meeting in Israel calls for military strikes on Iran ... and we know who controls U.S. policy,’” Mansourian said.
Iranian Jewish leaders, including Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation, argue that U.S. officials should put their efforts into supporting democratic movements within Iran, since nearly 90 percent of the country’s population is believed to oppose the regime.
“The people of Iran are so fed up with their regime that they are willing to risk their freedom and even their lives for a chance at a better future,” Kermanian said. “But they need to know that their struggle indeed has a chance, and the civilized world in general and the United States in particular will support them in this struggle.”
Leaders of many local Iranian Jewish groups have mostly stayed out of political matters concerning Iran, out of fear that their statements could be used by the Iranian government as excuses to punish the nearly 20,000 Jews still living in Iran.
Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said a substantial number of Jews have stayed in Iran because they feel they will face economic and cultural challenges if they leave the country.
“Some successful and resourceful Jews [in Iran] have either a false sense of security or are willing to take risks, hoping to outlast the regime,” said Nikbakht, “while some have converted to Islam or other ‘safer’ religions such as Christianity to help them survive.”
Nikbakht also said that in recent years Iranian officials have repeatedly threatened to retaliate against the United States by hitting oil fields in Persian Gulf countries, attacking oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz and striking U.S. military forces stationed in the Persian Gulf and throughout the region. Moreover, he said, Iranian officials have indicated that they will attack U.S. interests in the Gulf in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has made it clear that even an Israeli strike alone will be considered as a U.S. attack, since according to the Iranians, the Israelis would not strike without U.S. approval,” Nikbakht said.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have also intensified within the last year as Iranian officials have refused to halt enrichment of uranium, which many Western experts believe will be used for the creation of nuclear weapons.
While U.S. and Iranian officials met in Iraq in late May for direct talks for the first time in 28 years, U.S. military officials have released new evidence showing that Iran has been aiding Shiite insurgents in Iraq as well as arming members of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Assadollah Morovati, the Iranian Muslim owner of Radio Sedaye Iran (KRSI), a Persian language satellite radio station based in Beverly Hills, said radio listeners in Iran have frequently called his station expressing their desire for the United States to attack Iran.
“Unlike in Iraq, people in Iran know that America does not want to take over their country,” Morovati said. “We have people calling in from Iran everyday saying that America should launch military attacks on Iran so that they can be free from the oppression of the regime—but mind you, this isn’t my opinion.”
On June 4, the California Assembly unanimously passed legislation that would require state pension funds to divest an estimated $24 billion from more than 280 companies doing business with Iran. The bill is slated for a vote in the California State Senate later this summer and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Earlier this month, Florida became the nation’s first state to pass an Iran divestment bill into law. Legislatures in Texas, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey are also weighing similar divestment legislation.
According to published report in the New York Times in February by Stanford Universityâs director of Iranian Studies, Dr. Abbas Milani, international sanctions brought against Iran through the United Nations Security Council in December 2006 have had greater impacts on Iranâs government than threats of military action.
âThe (U.N.) resolution succeeded because few things frighten the mullahs more than the prospects of confronting a united front made up of the European Union, Russia, China, and the United States,â stated Milaniâs report. âTop leaders of the Islamic Republic, from Ayatollah Khamenei to Mr. Rafasanjani, have made it clear that they consider sanctions a serious threat— more serious than the possibility of an invasionâ.
Many Iranian Muslim experts have compared the Iranian threat faced by the United States to that of Nazi Germany during World War II.
“Would we be able to say to the Germans during World War II, ‘OK you’ve only killed 7 million Jews, that’s enough, from now forward let’s have Eichmann run your government’? No, that entire system was based on discrimination and destroying of a race!” Mansourian said. “Now these guys in Iran want to destroy all the races that don’t subscribe to their thinking, so there is no other way to deal with this problem than regime change.”
This article was originally published by the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles: