Friday, February 12, 2010

Iran...as time runs out

The eleventh hour


The Islamic Republic of Iran celebrated its 31st anniversary yesterday with an enormous rally held in the shadow of the Azadi Tower. The monument was built by the Shah in 1971 to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. The plaza surrounding the monument has been cynically renamed Freedom Square.

One day, when the Iranian people overthrow this evil regime, perhaps they will rededicate the square as a memorial to the victims of the Khomeinists – dissidents such as Muhammad Reza Ali-Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour, who were judicially executed last month. Of the 5,000 people arrested since the country’s June 2009 “elections,” 11 have met a similar fate.

A recent Amnesty International report tells the stories of some of the regime’s victims who were simply murdered: Amir Javadifar, a 25-year-old student of management at Qazvin Azad University, was beaten and tortured to death. Twenty-eight-year-old Taraneh Mousavi was raped and tortured before her burned body was dumped in an open field. Those who speak against the regime place not only themselves but also family members in jeopardy. This is true even for disillusioned Khomeinists.

ALL THIS helps explain why the regime’s celebrations went unmolested. Dissidents previously released from custody were warned to stay home. State-controlled media were reminded to watch what they disseminated. All images coming out of the country were carefully controlled by the regime. Foreign media outlets such as CNN and BBC have been banned from Iran. Internet and other new media (Twitter, Facebook) were disrupted.

Opposition figures who did try to rally supporters were intercepted by government thugs and intimidated into returning home; others were arrested. The AP, relying on opposition Web sites, reported on clashes between security forces and protesters away from the pro-government rally. Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators, and paintballs to mark them for arrest.

Footage broadcast on YouTube showed small numbers of – undoubtedly courageous – opposition demonstrators waving green ribbons. But an unprecedented police clampdown appears to have snuffed out any hope that the opposition could parlay the regime’s party into a day of meaningful protest.

Instead, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad harangued – Castro-style – those who turned up for over an hour, telling them that Iran had already produced its first batch of uranium enriched to a 20-percent level. If true, it’s a step that brings an atomic bomb exponentially closer. In his next breath, the disingenuous dictator declared: “When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it.”

ON Wednesday, the Obama administration intensified existing US sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. It blocked the assets of an Iranian general and four companies affiliated with the IRGC.

The administration argues that its unsuccessful year-long effort to reason with the mullahs has given it the political capital to ask the UN Security Council to support a system of sanctions that would further hinder Iran’s banking, shipping and insurance industries. The world will soon learn whether Russia and China will feign cooperation while working to water down President Barack Obama’s proposed resolution.

David E. Sanger of The New York Times suggests Obama is gambling that a global agreement on sanctions will persuade the mullahs to stop spinning their centrifuges. We’d like the president to raise the stakes and press the UN to prohibit the export of refined petroleum to Iran.

Some say tough sanctions will send the masses into the arms of the government and undermine the opposition. But yesterday’s rally showed that the regime doesn’t have a problem putting on a show of support; and that the opposition is weak, fragmented and under siege.

The prospects of the opposition are unpredictable, regardless of what happens on the sanctions front. Pretending otherwise strikes us as a lame excuse for doing nothing.

We also understand that sanctions on gasoline could enrich the IRGC, which already controls Iran’s black market in commodities. Still, the debilitating impact on the regime of endless lines at petrol stations should not be underestimated.

Dawdling by two US administrations and by an international community preoccupied with immediate economic gratification has brought the world to this eleventh hour. It may already be too late for the real sanctions option.

But given the stark alternative – isn’t it worth a try?

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