Yesterday in Tehran’s Azadi Square, hundreds of thousands of Iranians turned out to listen to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech marking the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Ahmadinejad did not disappoint the adoring crowd, defiantly announcing that Iran had become a “nuclear state,” adding: “The Iranian nation is brave enough that if one day we wanted to create an atomic bomb, we would announce it publicly and would create it.”
But the Iranian nation is not nearly as unified behind the current regime as yesterday’s production was meant to show. The supporters in Azadi Square had actually been bussed in by the regime from around the country. For weeks before the anniversary, the government had arrested students, photographers and journalists in an effort to disrupt the Green Movement which had successfully organized mass opposition demonstrations last year following Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent reelection. The government also slowed Internet service and shut down some social networking services to disrupt opposition communications. But even that wasn’t enough. When the Green Movement did manage to stage smaller counter-demonstrations, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia fired tear gas and beat them with clubs until the crowds dispersed.
And Ahmadinejad’s nuclear claims also might not be all they are cracked up to be. Former U.S. officials and independent nuclear experts tell The Washington Post that Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz has experienced declining output levels due to possible technical problems and possibly sabotage. Ahmadinejad’s “nuclear state” shows that the regime is determined to push ahead with its nuclear program despite international opposition. And it is clear that Iran continues to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium, which it could use to build a nuclear weapon.
That is a nuclear weapon which, coupled with Iran’s growing ballistic missile capability, could annihilate Israel. And Ahmadinejad did not ignore Israel on Tehran’s 31st anniversary. In a call to Syrian leader Bashar Assad, he warned Israel against attacking Syria, Lebanon or elsewhere in the region. Ahmadinejad’s phone call is a pointed signal to Israel that if it launches a preventive strike at Iran’s nuclear program, then Tehran will order Hezbollah to launch terrorist and rocket attacks against Israel. As Heritage scholar James Phillips has detailed, an Israeli strike on Iran would have serious implications for U.S. national security.
It is far past time for the Obama administration to admit its “don’t rock the boat” approach to the Iranian regime has failed. The Obama administration’s efforts to seek sanctions through the United Nations are a nice thought, but considering guaranteed opposition from China and Russia, any realistic strategy must also look outside the United Nations. Washington therefore must think outside the U.N. box and press its allies and other countries to impose stronger sanctions outside the U.N. framework. Iran would be hard hit by bans on foreign investment, gasoline exports, trade with firms affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and other measures undertaken by the European Union, Japan, India, the Gulf Cooperation Council or other countries.
The Obama administration should also take a lesson from Ronald Reagan and step-up its public diplomacy efforts to support the Green Movement. The U.S. government should announce that regime change is official U.S. policy, step-up support for Radio Free Iran, and continue to work with Iranians abroad setting up pro-democracy Web sites. The administration’s current course is heading to a dangerous place. The President cannot keep doing the bare minimum and hope the Iranian regime plays nice.
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