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Questions arise about US and Israeli aid as Iranian protesters challenge regime forces

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For the last month, Iranian citizens have taken to the streets to protest and challenge the regime.

The demonstrations, in which dozens of protesters and some security forces were killed, began after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in Tehran on September 16, three days after he was arrested by the morality police for allegedly violating the country’s dress code. woman.

Authorities accused Israel, especially the United States, of inciting the country’s “enemies” of “riots”.

While the Islamic Republic regularly tries to discredit protesters by accusing them of being Western pawns, it raises the question of what the US, Europe and even Israel can do to support the demonstrators.

Before outside powers could develop a plan to support the dissidents, they would have to determine that demonstrations in high schools and universities had a chance to pose a real threat to the regime.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior member of the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, pointed out that the pace of mass protests has increased.

Iranian women shout slogans to protest the death of Mahsa Amini at a demonstration in front of the Turkish Consulate General in Istanbul on October 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

“The fact that this is the new normal is unsustainable in Iran,” he said.

“It used to happen once every ten years,” agreed Atlantic Council member Ksenia Svetlova, “but since 2016 it’s been happening at least once a year, sometimes more.”

“This is an ongoing revolutionary reality that could ultimately undermine the regime’s ability to operate,” he added.

“Even if the protests hypothetically ends tomorrow, this saga is not over,” said Ben Taleblu. “This sentiment against the regime is widespread and nationalized from the countryside to the capital.”

He argued that Western, especially American support could have tangible results.

“To see how you can really ease the problem of satellite internet in Iran by bringing together more naming and shaming, more creative telecom support, the public and private sectors,” said Ben Taleblu.

The Islamic Republic has imposed severe restrictions on internet access and plans to criminalize the sale of virtual private networks (VPNs) used to circumvent them.

A photo obtained by AFP outside Iran shows a woman walking without a headscarf in the heart of Iran’s capital, Tehran, on October 11, 2022. (AFP)

Ben Taleblu also urged European countries to join the United States to withdraw their ambassadors from Tehran and continue to condemn the protesters’ plight in the press.

Ben Taleblu said that despite being a small country without any diplomatic relations with Iran, Israel has a number of options to support the protesters.

He said that continuing to speak up about the demonstrations puts pressure on Western partners, and signaled that Israel cares more than the nuclear issue.

“From Israelis to Iranian people, while Israel’s concern is in the Islamic Republic… Israelis understand that a more representative Iranian government would mean a fundamentally different national security and foreign policy with a new regime.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York on September 22, 2022. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Both the Foreign Office and Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office declined to comment on whether Israel was working to support the demonstrations.

Israel’s security services may also play a role. While the cyberattacks attributed to Israel have focused on Tehran’s nuclear program, hackers could divert their attention to the regime’s telecommunications and the command headquarters of the security forces involved in suppressing protests.

They could also provide technology to help protesters prevent regime cyber experts from hacking into their phones and computers. “They can block Iranian servers and open secure routes that allow protesters to communicate and coordinate, because that’s what worries them most,” Svetlova said. she said.

Intelligence assets can track and broadcast the movements of Basij militia, police and revolutionary guards, giving protesters the ability to predict their arrival.

“Let them know the world is watching,” Ben Taleblu said.

‘The outside world can’t do anything’

But not all Iranian experts believe there is anything the West can do, let alone Israel.

“The West’s ability to support regime change in Iran is only available at the very advanced stages of revolutionary events,” said Raz Zimmt, an Iran researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies and Tel Aviv University.

He argued that Iran is far from that situation at the moment: “Despite all its excitement, it encompasses tens of thousands of demonstrators in total. In most places, dozens or hundreds. It could evolve, but I don’t see how it’s evolving into something broader at the moment.”

A pro-government demonstrator holds a poster of Iran’s last revolutionary founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, as he attends a rally after Friday prayers to condemn anti-government protests over the death of a young woman in police custody in Tehran on September 23, 2022. Vahid Salemi/AP)

Ori Goldberg, an expert at Iran’s Reichman University, stressed that the current protests have several socioeconomic and geographical “perfect storm” elements needed to turn into a successful revolution.

“It started in the environment but then it caught fire and the flames went up,” he said. But they did not spread into a mass movement.

“Whether these protests are a revolutionary moment or not, I don’t think there’s anything anyone other than Iran can do to change the situation one way or another,” he said.

Goldberg said the successful popular revolutions of 1892, 1905-11, 1951, and 1979 in Iran would discredit the protesters, emphasizing that they did so only when the public “considered them as naturally and organically Iranian.” ”

“The narrative of a people revolting against oppression, a people revolting against injustice,” he continued. “If the oppressed become attached to a foreign power, it loses their oppressed status.”

If the US and European countries decide it is possible to support the protests, they will have to make a difficult policy choice. For almost a year, the US and the E3 European powers have prioritized finding a way to get Iran back to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. Increasing support for the protesters would likely destroy any hope they might have of reviving the shabby deal.

Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy to Iran, testified about the JCPOA during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill on May 25, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

At least in the short term, the priority of the US is to support the protests. “At this time, talks on the revival of the JCPOA are not on the US agenda,” Special Envoy Rob Malley told CNN last week. “While the talks are suspended, our focus is on what’s going on in Iran,” he said.

Goldberg argued that even without outside support, time was on the side of the protesters. The longer the protests continue, the more blatant and aggressive the pressure exerted by the Islamic Republic seems.”