In spite of the fact that the Iranian regime has escalated its military adventurism and destabilizing behavior in the Middle East, the Western powers have mostly remained silent. But it is important to point out that inaction in the face of a rogue state’s threats and ultimatums is tantamount to appeasement.
The West should not expect that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will start to act rationally if his regime is appeased or if its malign actions are disregarded. It should be clear by now that diplomacy alone can never dissuade the Tehran regime from pursuing its hegemonic ambitions in the region, which has been its policy ever since its establishment more than four decades ago.
The only chance for successful diplomacy would be in the presence of greater coordinated multilateral economic and political pressure.
Unfortunately, however, it seems that the world’s leading powers have ignored that lesson when it comes to confronting and dealing with the Iranian regime’s threats. This is clear, for example, from the Western nations’ conciliatory approach to the negotiations in Vienna, which aim to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Throughout the negotiations, the Islamic Republic has continued to increase and strengthen its demands while facing no consequences for its refusal to compromise or its destabilizing behavior. For example, recent developments have shown that Tehran’s intransigence is partly fueled by the regime’s own experience in dealing with the Western powers. Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani left Vienna for Tehran early this month and many reports suggested it was a sign that the regime was on the brink of agreeing to a draft deal. But when he returned on Sunday, it was only to reiterate demands for comprehensive, up-front relief from economic sanctions and to add the new demand for an end to international investigations into the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.
Appeasing the regime will only embolden it to commit more atrocities, thus raising the risk of a more serious and broader conflict
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
This, of course, undermines the central purpose of the nuclear deal and leaves the door open for Iran’s nuclear threat to grow even graver. Meanwhile, the ultimatum regarding sanctions relief has the same effect on the regime’s other malign activities, including its repression of domestic dissent and its promotion of terrorism and fundamentalism throughout the world. In June 2018, a regime plot to bomb a huge opposition rally near Paris was thwarted. And, in November 2019, a violent crackdown on a domestic uprising killed 1,500 peaceful Iranian protesters and landed thousands of others in jail, where they were subjected to torture.
The general lack of conviction in Western policy toward Iran is also reflected in the response — or lack thereof — to that crackdown and the ensuing repression of dissent, which persists to this day. For example, during the 2019 uprising, the judiciary chief was Ebrahim Raisi, who had also overseen the execution of thousands of political prisoners, including 30,000 during the 1988 massacre. Most victims were affiliated with the oppositional National Council of Resistance of Iran. Last year, Raisi was effectively installed as Iranian president by Khamenei. Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard responded to this move by saying: “That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran. In 2018, our organization documented how Ebrahim Raisi had been a member of the ‘death commission’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents.”
The Iranian regime’s impunity unfortunately remains practically unchallenged by the international community. However, Raisi’s promotion did spark unrest by brave resistance units inside Iran. Since the end of 2019, there have been half a dozen other large anti-regime protests, each of which called for the regime’s overthrow and for Iran to become a democratic republic. The Iranian resistance movement has increased the concerns of the Iranian leaders regarding the survival of the theocratic establishment. Serious political and logistical support from the international community may be all that is needed to nudge the movement over the finish line.
Appeasing the regime will only embolden it to commit more atrocities, thus raising the risk of a more serious and broader conflict. Lest we forget, Western powers believed they were taking the more cautious path when they lifted sanctions against the Iranian regime in 2015 after agreeing the nuclear deal. Clearly, that was a mistake.
Democratic nations must exert whatever pressure they can on the belligerent regime of Iran before that belligerence crosses the threshold. The Western powers ought to alter their Iran policy and throw support behind the country’s opposition. Otherwise, they will find themselves struggling to provide that support in the wake of much greater devastation.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh