12.05.2018 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

The Regime-change Agenda is Back On Iran


If not for forcing a regime change in Iran, what good is the US decision to withdraw from the Iran-deal for? If not for regime change, the US decision to pull itself out of the deal can only be called a sheer act of stupidity. But it is multidimensional geo-politics, and it thrives on reviving an agenda that is not new at all. On the one hand, by igniting a crisis with Iran, evident from today’s Israeli strikes in Syria, Netanyahu wants to ensure his political survival in the domestic arena, and on the other hand, Israel’s chief ally, the US, wants to shake up Iranian political order by crippling its economy. While Israel itself undoubtedly shares this objective, it cannot be gainsaid either that the need for this shake up has never been greater than now for the US; for, the prospects of the Eurasian integration, with Iran acting as the pivot between central and west Asia, have never been greater than today. To thwart this integration, the US needs a different regime in Iran, one that is sensitive to the West and sees Israel as a friend too. And, all that the US needed to initiate this inevitable crisis was an excuse to impose unprecedentedly heavy sanctions on Iran to strangulate Tehran and thus stir up domestic crisis by feeding organizations and parties that it [the US] sees as amiable.

The new US national security adviser (NSA), John Bolton, not only has special interest in bringing regime change in Iran, but he has a special knack for it as well, and has deep relationship with an Irani group known as Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), a group that Bolton wants to rule Iran, but is clearly despised in Iran. The MEK, which was once very influential and powerful in Iran during and after the Iranian revolution, had lost its support after a conflict with the ruling Iranian party and forced to establish, supported by Saddam Hussain, in Iraq’s Diyala province. The group largely remained inactive and failed to make any headlined until John Bolton’s recent appointment as NSA.

In fact, already before his appointment, Bolton had made his views and sympathies for the group publicly known many times. As early as July 2017, Bolton attended a gathering in Paris, where representatives of MEK were also present, and said, “There is a viable opposition to the rule of the ayatollahs, and that opposition [MEK] is centered in this room today.” “The declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran”, he added further.

With Bolton now seated as NSA, MEK has got access to the one of the most important and closest to the president officials in the White House, thus acquiring access to highest levels of decision-making in the US. The US withdrawal from the Iran-deal would thus only make MEK appear as the right tool for the US to pursue its agenda.

In fact, its cultivation in this capacity is not new. While MEK was previously one of the first organizations added to the State department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997, its name was removed in 2012 by the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton,

Now, within the US, a public taste for regime change, may be through a war, is being gradually but surely built. Let’s look at the tactics that the US president Donald Trump is following in this regard.

While he himself hasn’t publicly said anything about his policy to bring regime change in Iran, his officials, apart from Bolton, have been at it as of lately, expressing what the president thinks. This came most recently from Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who said in a conference that, “We have a president who is tough,” and who is “as committed to regime change as we are.”

While there can be multiple explanations for why an attorney would make such a statement on a matter strictly of foreign policy, what appears most plausible is, given that Giuliani is a lobbyist, that he is polishing the ground for an official adoption of regime-change as a policy so that the president, surrounded by the regime-change crew, jumps on the bandwagon, or he is passing such statements on behalf of the president himself, who is just testing the waters. Either way, the impact of such statements by as high officials as attorney and NSA does mean that regime-change in Iran remains a US objective and that they now have every reason to pro-actively pursue it.

Can the US do it this time?

Notwithstanding the agenda, chances of its success are grim. If the imperative of regime change in Iran has never been greater than now due to the on-going Russia-led Eurasian integration, it is the very processes of integration that will help Iran withstand the pressure caused by sanctions.

Already, the three major US allies, Germany, France and Britain, have made it clear that they intend to continue trade relations with Iran. These views were explicitly echoed by the EU’s leading diplomat as well. And, while the EU is already devising a mechanism to bypass the US sanctions on Iran, reflecting the increasing US-EU schism on Iran, pulling out of the deal would only make the Iranians more eager to move towards Russia’s Eurasian integration plan as well as allow the hardliners to advocate progressive disengagement with the west.

And, while the US has withdrawn, the only supporters it has been able to find are Israel and Saudi Arabia. With EU standing away, the US is potentially isolated, And, Iran, therefore, doesn’t stand to lose much. Militarily, it will expand its co-operation with Russia, and economically, its trade-investment partnership with Moscow and Beijing, who are already in the middle of replacing the US dollar, will be even bigger and stronger.

The US, therefore, would neither be able to bring regime change in Iran, or even thwart the Eurasian integration programme.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.