'U.S. & International Community Must Step Up Support For Iranian Protest Movement - Regime Change Will Also Spell End To Iranian Nuclear Threat'
Is Iran now seeking a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea? Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has disclosed that Tehran is sending two naval vessels to Syria in what is being viewed as a provocative step by the regime that talks of ' wiping the Zionist entity off the map.' The move also comes against the background of renewed protest demonstrations against the regime that has ruled the country with an iron fist, ever since it seized power in the Khomeini Revolution in 1979. Israeli analyst Menashe Amir assess these current developments in an interview with IsraCast's David Essing
(Photo: Amit Shabi)
Is there any connection between Iran's ordering two naval vessels to Syria and the renewal of demonstrations against the regime?
Amir: 'There is no connection between the renewed demonstrations against the regime and the dispatch of two Iranian naval vessels to Syria' - that's the assessment of analyst Menashe Amir. In his view, Iran's military forces are always trying to extend their capabilities to more countries and expand their sphere of influence. In fact, more than a year ago, the regime announced its desire to send warships to the Mediterranean to help the Palestinians in Gaza. The current naval deployment is not an act of war but it could develop to be so. Iran has said the two or four ships being ordered to the Mediterranean are for training purposes and this may take a whole year. If so it could be the first step toward a permanent Iranian naval presence in Syrian and Lebanese ports. Another source of concern is that Iranian ships may supply greater quantities of weapons and ammunition to those two countries. (In the case of Lebanon this would be a direct conduit for missiles etc. to Hizballah in south Lebanon.) Even if Egypt did not allow the Iranian vessels to pass through the Suez Canal they could sail around the African continent to enter the Mediterranean. The Iranian Navy strives to extend its arena of operations and act as an executive arm of Iran's foreign policy and religious ideology.
The news of the Iranian vessels bound for the Mediterranean comes against the current tension in Tehran after the renewal of the protest movement against the regime. Just how serious were the latest demonstrations?
Amir: 'They were serious in two senses: first, in spite of the regime's suppressive measures, tens of thousands of demonstrators were again back in the streets. They chanted:" Mubarak and Ben Ali have gone now it's time for Khamenei" (Iran's Supreme Leader). This was very meaningful and the regime couldn't prevent it.
Secondly, the Iranians are not alone this time and proved they are part of the political and social revolution that is happening in the Middle East. The protesters were sending a message: "We are no less than the Egyptians and Tunisians, we have the same demands and if they take to the streets we also have the full right to do so!" This time they did so with the support of the U.S. which, after the rigged election of June 2009, failed to react seriously to the regime's brutal repression that left 160 Iranian demonstrators dead. At the time, the Obama Administration was awaiting a positive response to its nuclear propositions, a response that never came although every experienced diplomat should have known it would be negative. But this time, the demonstrators heard President Barack Obama declare loud and clear that he supported their democratic struggle while condemning the regime's crackdown.
But will tough talk be enough? Because there appears to be a difference between Tunisia and Egypt where there was a critical mass, a vast majority protesting against the regimes, while in Iran the regime still seems to enjoy even massive support from some sectors?
Amir: 'This is not at all true! Mir Husein Musavi has said; " Give just one day of freedom of speech to the Iranians and let's see how many people support the regime!' I estimate that only about 20% of the population back the regime, surely no more than 30%. Moreover, Egypt's military forces which went along with the people, could not be compared with Iran's armed forces such as the Revolutionary Guards, that suppress demonstrations. And he concludes' What happened on February 14th was bigger than anyone, including myself, could have forecast.
Were the calls in the Iranian parliament for the deaths of opposition leaders Musavi and Maadi Karoubi a sign of how far the regime and army are ready to go to preserve the regime?
Amir: 'This was a shameful sign of helplessness by the regime. For the deputies to stand up and chant: "Death to Musavi, death to Karoubi" shows that no one in Iran supports the regime! There is no doubt the suppressive actions will continue but Iranian are now more encouraged than they were a year ago and will wait for another occasion to take to the streets. The fact that the U.S. is supporting the protest movement is very encouraging even if it is very small and limited today. Internet, Twitter, Facebook and the other techical possibilities America is now providing, not only for Iran but other countries, will help the Iranians voice their demands and accelerate their actions in the future.
Has the time come now for the international community to impose new sanctions on Iran?
Amir: 'I have no doubt about it. I have always rejected the contention that stiffer sanctions will only push the Iranian people to support the regime. This is simply not the case. There is no doubt that in the present situation an expanding of the sanctions will encourage the protest movement and not drive people into the arms of the regime'.
Israel's President Shimon Peres has said: 'It is not international intervention will not halt Iran's nuclear weapons program, it is the Iranian people who will'. Do you agree with his assessment?
Amir: 'This is exactly what the international community will gain by supporting the Iranian protest movement against the regime. I believe only Iranians can bring about the revolution but they will need external support. I don't mean soldiers or weapons and ammunition but technical, financial, moral and social support to show the Iranians they are not alone but that the international community stands behind them. And once the regime will be changed there will be less concern and less danger over Iran's nuclear program. I believe that a new secular regime will see it as in Iran's interest to stop the nuclear weapons program'.