The Iranian regime has two fundamental instruments of power, whether at home or abroad: terror and deception. Both are dramatically on display. This past Sunday, 30 people were executed for a variety of alleged “crimes,” and a number of whom lost their lives because they dared to criticize the regime. This wave of executions in the world’s second-most active killer of its own citizens (China tops the list) coincides with the anniversary of the resumption of public hangings last August, which was viewed as “sending a message” to would-be critics and anyone in the West who might be tempted to support Iranian dissidents. This weekend’s victims were convicted of drug trafficking and disruptions of public order, and so far as I can tell the mass executions mark a new grisly watershed in the mullahs’ ongoing terror war against their own people.
This dramatic carnage surely bespeaks a profound insecurity in Tehran. It documents the fear that dominates the rulers’ nightmares, the fear of their own people, who are the greatest threat to the survival of the mullahcracy.
Many of the pundits, in public print and in the oxymoronically mislabeled “Intelligence Community,” would have us believe that the regime is stable, and that the Iranian people have given up their hopes for freedom. But the mullahs’ decision to carry out mass executions gives the lie to that analysis, as does the recent attack on a Revolutionary Guards convoy in the country’s capital city. The RG are the pretorian guard of the regime, and if they cannot protect an armed column (apparently carrying arms to Hezbollah for the next campaign against Israel), they cannot protect anything. No wonder the Supreme Leader and his viziers are worried.
This assault against the symbol of the mullahs’ power is only the latest such event, and news of it arrived slowly in the West. But there have been several other attacks, including a bomb in a prominent mosque, and other RG units in areas of ethnic repression such as Baluchistan and the Arab zones near the Iraqi border.
The RG are also doing badly on foreign battlefields. In Iraq, its agents and officers are now routinely killed and arrested — often without putting up a fight — by Coalition and Iraqi security forces. This report from the U.S. Armed Forces Press Service is typical:
. . . coalition forces captured two suspected Special Groups leaders in Baghdad today. These key leaders were taken in the Rusafa district of Baghdad.
Coalition and Iraqi forces continued operations over the weekend discovering a number of arms caches, capturing al-Qaida terrorists, discovering roadside bombs and attacking terror and criminal networks.
In Rusafa, coalition forces used intelligence information to locate and capture an Iranian-trained senior leader of Special Groups criminals. The agent of Iran is responsible for attacks against Iraqi security and coalition forces as well as kidnappings and smuggling of weapons from Iran to Iraq. He was captured without incident.
Coalition forces also captured another Special Groups criminal in a separate Rusafa district operation. He is a senior leader responsible for supplying weapons, money and logistical support to subordinate Special Groups commanders. He also provides fighters as reinforcements to areas in need — making his role crucial for sustained operations by Special Groups in the area. He, also, was captured without incident.
The Special Groups took another hit when Iraqi special operations forces detained two other criminals in Baghdad, July 24 and 25. . . . One of those detained was associated with improvised rocket-assisted mortar attacks. The other man is reportedly responsible for weapons trafficking from Iran into Diyala.
The mullahs know that the domestic and foreign fronts are linked, for Iran’s humiliating defeat in Iraq is greatly encouraging to the dissidents at home. Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and the others are doing everything in their power to deceive Iranians (perhaps including themselves) into believing that they are winning in Iraq and Afghanistan, that the Coalition is teetering, and that all opposition to the regime is hopeless.
To that end, the mullahs routinely resort to the most shameless forms of deceit. The most hilarious — bringing back memories of al-Qaeda’s claim to have captured an American soldier, only to have the “hostage” turn out to be a G.I. Joe toy — was the recent photo of a “new warplane,” which on examination was another plastic toy.
This was of a piece with the Photoshopped “evidence” of “new Iranian missiles,” which was doubly deceptive: it was an old missile, not (as claimed) a new one, and there was only one of “them,” not (as claimed) four launched simultaneously.
Alongside these hoaxes, designed to convince their people and the West that Iran is a mighty military power, Iranian leaders brag about their economic power as well. It’s another hoax; every Iranian knows that the country is a basket case. I doubt many simple souls were impressed (except to laugh bitterly at the outrageousness of the assertion) by Ahmadinejad’s promise that Iran would soon be the world’s leading economic power. They know better; they are paying a terrible price in misery for the incompetence of their kleptocrats. They know that the regime spends a fortune on the nuclear program, another fortune to support terror abroad, and pockets yet another fortune. So there’s nothing left for “the economy.”
All these bits of deception are aimed at maintaining and expanding the power of the regime, despite its many manifest failures, despite the contempt in which it is held by the majority of Iranians, and despite its quasi-pariah status in the international community. So far, it has worked. No government in the West has seen fit to support the Iranian dissidents. Some European labor unions have given at least verbal support to the Iranian workers’ organizations, but not the AFL-CIO, a pathetic shadow of the brave organization that supported freedom in the Soviet Empire. And the American government, Seymour Hersh and other fabulists notwithstanding, has done nothing of consequence to challenge the regime, and so far as anybody knows, has no intention of doing any such thing.
We act in such a feckless way as to permit the mullahs to say to their people, “you see, the Americans are afraid of us. They will do nothing. You have no hope.” And the hell of it is that the Islamic Republic is hollow, as its own behavior and its own results on the battlefield prove abundantly.
Lots of Iranian people know that the mullahs are losing Iraq, and more of them would know if we had a more accurate and honest press, and an administration capable of explaining the world, and its reaction to it. Still, the Iranians know a lot. Iranians are among the most avid surfers of the internet; they are second in the world (to the Chinese) in the use of “anti-filtering” software (manufactured by the Chinese). So when Iranian deceptions are exposed by American journalists or bloggers, many Iranian people find out about it. And more would find out if Western governments saw fit to provide them with the tools of the modern world: laptops, servers, cell and satellite phones, phone cards, and the like.
Our miserable policy, which is to chant “we don’t want regime change, we want a change in behavior,” is doomed, as the whole world has known from the get-go. Paradoxically, this non-aggressive policy is destined to make military conflict inevitable, whoever is the next president. This policy is a preemptive acquiescence to a nuclear Iran, with all the incalculable consequences attendant to it, and is guaranteed to bring us face to face with the Sarkozy option of “Bomb Iran, or Iran With the Bomb.”
And yet, the Iranian regime is hollow. So far as we know, they are without atomic bombs and a reliable delivery system. We have defeated them in Iraq and will repeat it in Afghanistan. Their economy is a shambles, their people hate them, they present us with Potemkin weapons systems. It is a political explosion ready to happen, it only needs the support of the West. Mainly, us, although I think we would get the support of the French and Italians at a minimum, and perhaps the Danes as well.
But we seem bound and determined to wait until the mullahs don’t need deception any more. I wrote a book about this sort of policy many years ago. It was called Freedom Betrayed; How American Won the Cold War, led a Global Democratic Revolution, and Walked Away. Still seems right.
– Michael Ledeen is author, most recently, of The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction.