Dealing with Iran (circa 2015)

I find myself flummoxed by the misconceptions of Iran and the government that rules it. Many imagine the Persians to be backward Middle Eastern rubes, or think the President of Iran is somehow a moderate, or find themselves fooled by the debates and tensions that seem to fill the country. As I see it, the simple truth is that Ayatollah Khomeini was a political genius.

In the early 90s, the Soviet Union fell. In the early 2000s, the Color Revolutions swept numerous states. In 2010, the Arab Spring began to set the Arab world to tinder.

But Iran has remained almost totally unaffected by the tumult. There was a brief Green Revolt, but it was crushed so effectively, it remains only as a memory.

Ayatollah Khomeini designed the defense mechanisms that would enable his theocratic state to survive the many bursts of freedom that have toppled so many other tyrants.

What did he do?

I think of Iran as the Matrix. If you haven’t seen the movie, people live in a world that seems entirely real. There are troubles and challenges and tribulations. But, in fact, it is all a front. They are actually asleep and hooked up to machines that harvest the heat they generate. In The Matrix, the challenges presented within the false world are a diversion; they keep the people occupied. And if they get out of line, if they ask too many questions, then there are a series of more aggressive defenses – from anonymous men in black suits to killer robots that seek out those who have escaped their programmed world.

Iran is the same. Iran is a democracy. People can vote for their President and Parliament. There can be factions and debates and arguments. There are many ways to let off steam. There is art and culture. There are Jews. There is at least a semblance of freedom in many aspects of life – enough to keep those who are not fully energized from seeking to escape. But it is all a farce. You can only vote for those the Council of Guardians has chosen. Half the Council is selected by the Supreme Leader and half by the Parliament. But the Parliament can only choose from those people nominated by an appointee of the Supreme Leader. In other words, you can only choose from candidates the Supreme Leader has approved. And if that Parliament gets out of hand, the Council of Guardians can veto their laws. Oh, and the Council of Guardians approves all candidates for President and Parliament. When the Supreme Leader dies, his replacement is chosen by the Assembly of Experts who are – you guessed it – pre-approved by the Council of Guardians.

So if you vote in Iran, you aren’t really voting for possible change. You’re just choosing the face of the next government. The fact remains that G-d’s representative on Earth, the Supreme Leader, governs Iran. The appearance of freedom is allowed because it dampens and redirects the resistance that might otherwise challenge the regime. It presents a false, but very successful, face of freedom to its own people and to the world.

And it works. We hear talk of the ‘Reformist’ President or the ‘Hardline’ President or of conflicts in government or of struggles for power. But the President is nearly powerless in every area that is really important. He is a figurehead of moderation – presented to his own people and to us as the real deal. He isn’t even moderate, but that’s the word that is proliferated and that is the word we believe.

The reason there was a Green Revolution was because the voting results were so ridiculous that it was clear that even the rigged system had been rigged.

And if things get out of line? If the mass of people decide to try to escape the Matrix? What happens then?

Then, there are a few other features of the government that come into play.

First, there is the secret police. Like any self-respecting dictatorship, they keep careful tabs on those who might be subversive. But they do more than watch Iranians in Iran, they track the families and activities of Persians who live abroad. The web of threats does not recognize any borders.

And when that preventative system is insufficient, they have another critical round of defense. A small percentage of the population is dedicated to the theocratic regime. They have a little club they’ve formed called the Basij Militia. Do you remember those people on motorcycles attacking crowds? Basij Militia. Those who throw acid in the face of protestors? Basij Militia.

The great fear of any unfree government is that the people will rise up and the army or police – who are drafted from amongst the people – will eventually refuse to defend the realm. It happened in Russia in 1917, it happened in Romania in 1989 and it happened in Egypt in 2011. It doesn’t happen everywhere. The Syrian military fired on protestors with abandon. They were of a hated minority sect, Assad’s sect, that faced genocide if they did not suppress the Sunni revolt. Assad’s government did not collapse.

In Iran, the Basij will fire with abandon – they are religious zealots in service of a brilliant but insane regime. One man who belonged to the Basij and escaped afterward told of raping women who’d been arrested. Not for fun mind you, but because they were to be executed. You see, under Iranian Shia law, virgin women can’t be executed and so somebody had to remedy the situation. He was so revolted by his own actions that he fled.

Of course, the black boots didn’t end there. Protestors in the West found family in Iran suffered consequences. The regime used face-matching software to identify them and then to punish their families. Some have taken to wearing masks to conceal their identities.

With those measures and others, the Green Revolution was successfully eliminated. With the false face of democracy it will be a long while before it surfaces again.

When we consider the challenge that Iran presents, all of this has to be remembered.

Theirs is a powerful regime. And with the money to be realized with the lifting of sanctions it will only become more powerful.

People with jobs and material well-being are even less likely to cause problems.

How can we respond to the rise of Iran? As Netanyahu pointed out, Arab capitals are falling and Iranian influence is growing. We certainly see backlashes against their growing power and ambition. In the region, ISIS is one example of resistance against Shia repression – but while their savagery has augmented their strength, they are outmatched by the Republican Guard. In Yemen, Arab states are responding to Iranian advances with bombers and soldiers – but history does not point to hopeful interventions in the mountains of southern Arabia.

What we are seeing is a war between peoples – not leaders. Shia are fighting Sunni and Sunni, Shia, in a war in which all of the enemy are acceptable targets. In a war between governments, there are civilians and soldiers. But in a war between peoples, the distinction is meaningless. And both sides consider the Jewish people to be their enemy.

How can we respond? In the West, we tend to fixate on sanctions. We imagine that sanctions will somehow force the regime to give up its nuclear dreams. Perhaps we think sanctions will undermine the theocratic government. In both cases, we are simply wrong. Nuclear weapons will make the regime far stronger. Even if it was not genocidal, it would be strengthened by nuclear success. Sanctions will be lifted when the world lacks the stomach to maintain them. And sanctions will not bring the collapse of the government. Not only is the regime strong, but sanctions have a terrible history as tools of regime change. Cuba didn’t exactly collapse beneath them and neither did Iraq. Sanctions bring difficulties to the everyman, but rarely to those who govern or the forces they deploy to ensure their positions of power.

As proof of this, if Israel or the Saudis truly believed sanctions were the answer, they could unilaterally impose them. Saudi Arabia has an East-West pipeline that can bring at least some oil to the Red Sea. Israel could cut off a massive percentage of Iran’s trade by closing the Straits of Hormuz. It would take destroying a few Iranian ships (or threatening to). And then they could bomb Iran’s single oil refinery. Just like that, the Iranian economy would be smashed.

Except it isn’t that simple. The regime won’t fall and what money remains will continue to flow to nuclear weapons programs and retaliatory war. The Middle East would almost immediately be engulfed and almost nothing would be gained.

To stop the Iranian threat, the tools of Iranian power must be attacked. We must attack their nuclear infrastructure and their tools of repression. The only problem is both are hardened and distributed. This is not Osirak, the Iranian government has thought ahead. And the Basij militia does not have a single base of operations.

There is almost nothing Israel, or Saudi Arabia, can do.

At this point, the Iranian regime is a juggernaut. As Arab capitals are toppled and as they near the ultimate power, there seems to be very little any of us can do.

So is the future simply one of Iranian domination? Do we redraw the borders as they were in 550 BCE? Do we replace the ancient and tolerant Persian Empire with a new one – which fulfills the dream of Haman in the extinction of the Jews?

Perhaps. But there is a glimmer of hope.

At this point, the Persian people are not dedicated to this cause. Only the rulers and the fanatics are.

The Persian people do not desire the death of the Jews or the Arab Sunnis. Only the rulers and the fanatics do.

Those outside can wait for Iran to acquire the bomb. Once they do, there is no hope for opposition, only desperate attempts at defense. Missile defense systems might work – or they might not. One can certainly envision other methods of delivering a weapon; via land or sea for example. A recent war game simulation played Israel vs. Iran. Iran emptied her cities – her targets for nuclear retaliation – and Israel collapsed. There was no answer to the impending nuclear threat. Perhaps this is the peaceful outcome President Obama envisions.

Or, those outside can start a war now. But once a direct war starts – and it could at any moment – the Iranian people will find themselves committed. Tens of thousands of missiles will rain down on Israel, the Gulf ports of the Emirates and the Saudis will be destroyed, the Straits of Hormuz and the entrance to the Red Sea will be closed. In response, Iranian cities would be forcefully assaulted by the modern Saudi, Israeli, Egyptian and Gulf air and missile forces. The people would find themselves committed to a war between peoples even as the world economy teetered with the massive reduction in oil supplies. And the Iranian people would find themselves so fundamentally threatened that they would rise to their own defense and wholeheartedly join the cataclysm their own theocratic leaders initiated.

These are the paths of the future.

We must find a way to change them.

Israel and the Arab States must safeguard their own security. But it will not be easy to do so. Our primary foe, Iran, is a brilliantly constructed theocratic state bent on regional hegemony and genocidal dreams. At this point, there are few chinks in their armor.

At this point, the nuclear development project will hardly be slowed – deal or no deal. The repression of the Iranian people has been successful. The government has nothing to fear. The sanctions – whether or not they are lifted – will have almost no impact on either reality. And if a preventative war develops between Iran, the Sunni states (and Israel), the costs will be horrific. It will be a war between peoples – a war in which anybody and everybody is a fair target for somebody. And the Iranian people will find themselves as full-fledged participants. If they are not, their fanatic Basij brethren can ensure compliance.

But there remains a window of opportunity.

A sizeable percentage of the Iranian people do not support the regime. And the threat of that war – a war that could occur before Iran enjoys the protection of her nuclear umbrella – remains grievous.

These two truths open a window of opportunity.

The Basij Militia are the Iranian regime’s last line of defense against their own people. They are distributed and numerous. They are an effective plainclothes final force of repression. In the Green Revolution the people rose against them – and lost.

The people were simply outmatched. Why? Like all dictatorships, Iran has a strict gun control policy. Ordinary citizens can’t carry weapons. Even in vast numbers, they are no match for the armed and organized Basij. And given the fanatic dedication of the Basij, peaceful protest offers no succor.

Without widespread ownership of guns, Iran is at an imposed peace with itself. The Greens know they cannot revolt through demonstrations alone. Unlike the Shah, the Supreme Leader and his Basij Militia have no problems pulling the trigger.

But with guns, Iran would be a powder keg. Just as Lenin was a virus injected into Russia on a train, small arms would unleash the dormant cancer of freedom that waits within the body of the Islamic Republic.

This concept opens the door to perhaps the only hope for a good outcome. It is not an elegant solution or a sure-fire one. It will trigger a war – but perhaps a short-lived one.

The solution is this: Israel and the Gulf states can massively airdrop small arms on the cities of Iran. As a practical matter, arms could be equipped with parachutes and delivered over cities by cruise missiles or from aircraft.

And with those arms, they can air drop a message: “If there is no revolt, there will be cataclysm. And if Israel is destroyed, then Persia will die.”

To assist the process, a few provocateurs might be employed to take the first shots and embolden the population. But initially no other help would be offered. This would not be an attack on Iran that would make the Persian people our enemies – it would be a gift of self-determination that could make the Iranian nation our allies.

This simple approach might not work. The Persians might not rise up. And even if it did work, there would certainly be a short war before Hezbollah, Assad and the other Iranian proxies found their source of strength eliminated. Nonetheless, I believe it is the best chance that we have to avoid catastrophe.

The people of Persia have not initiated the war their government has already launched. They do not want it. They must have an opportunity to cut it short – before they bear the sins and punishments of genocide. We must seek every opportunity to avoid a war between peoples.

The Persian people tried to overthrow their rulers with the Green Revolution, but they lacked the tools. I believe it is our moral obligation to give them another chance. If they take that chance, and if they succeed, then the Persian people and the Jews will renew their 2,500-year-old alliance and friendship.

And if they do not take that chance – or if they do not pursue it with enough vigor to succeed – then ours will be a war between peoples and the price they pay will be a lesson to those who allow the genocidal to rule them.

“If there is no revolt, there will be cataclysm. And if Israel is destroyed, then Persia will die.”

May G-d bless us, and those who wish us no harm, with peace.

And may there be no need for war between the Jewish people and our historic friends, the people of Persia.

[I wrote this in 2015. The only thing I’d change is that as of a few days ago I realized that the doors to the Basij armories could be bombed open – eliminating the need for airdrops.]

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