After 12 days of protests and riots engulfed Iran, its “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Khamenei, said on Nov. 27, “The enemies had spent a great amount of money designing this conspiracy and were waiting for an opportunity to implement it with destruction, killing, and villainy.” He sounds like a very worried man.
On Nov. 29, an official of the Iranian intelligence service blamed the CIA for the protests and riots. If that is true, it’s high time it was so. If it isn’t, President Trump should take whatever steps are necessary to make it so because Iran is not only our enemy, it is the enemy of Western civilization.
This is the greatest upheaval in Iran in the 40 years since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. It continues while the regime is doing its worst to suppress what may be a nascent revolution.
Since Nov. 15, news reports indicate that at least 200 people have been killed by the regime’s enforcers. Other reports say that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops have massacred hundreds of unarmed protesters. One news report said that between 180 and 450 people have been killed with at least 2,000 wounded and 7,000 arrested.
The protests and riots have reportedly erupted in 29 of the country’s 31 provinces and — in a major development — about 50 military bases have been attacked. Seven hundred banks have been burned as well as other businesses. (Because the IRGC, the military arm of the ayatollahs’ kakistocracy, controls most of the Iranian economy these riots have to be judged to be directly against the regime.)
In Iraq, which has become essentially an Iranian satrapy, the prime minister was forced to resign amid similar protests and riots against his Iran-dominated regime.
In 2009, President Obama was given the same sort of opportunity. But he turned a blind eye to the “Green Revolution” engulfing Iran and the ayatollahs were able to suppress the nascent revolution.
The new round of demonstrations and riots present the United States with an historic opportunity to change the face of the Middle East. They are a strong signal that President Trump’s sanctions against the regime are working, gradually strangling the Iranian economy.
But sanctions are not enough. They have not stopped Tehran from sponsoring terrorism, from threatening Israel with destruction or from developing ballistic missiles. We need to do more, covertly, through our intelligence agencies.
Mr. Trump’s fraught relationship with our intelligence community is an understandable result of its abuses of power in spying on his 2016 campaign. People such as CIA Director Gina Haspel, the protege of Mr. Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, need to be removed. Mr. Trump should act immediately to put people he trusts in charge of the intelligence agencies so that he has confidence in them and can best use their capabilities.
“Presidential findings” are secret determinations authorizing covert action. If he has not already done so, Mr. Trump should have his staff prepare a “findings” document authorizing particular actions to help the Iranian people overthrow the Tehran regime. The “findings” should authorize helping the Iranians establish communications, providing them with intelligence about the regime’s efforts to stop the protests and smuggling into Iran the other tools of revolution, including weapons.
Communications are the sine qua non of any rebellion. Iran blocked the Internet for five days, and may do so again because the protesters were able to communicate through it. It may be possible for us to provide — at least sporadically — Internet coverage for many of Iran’s cities. If we can, we must. We should also provide the revolutionaries with cellphones, tablet computers and other devices to aid their communications.
Intelligence gathering in Iran is difficult but not impossible. Our spy satellites enable the National Security Agency to listen to and otherwise intercept much, if not most, of the regime’s telephonic and other electronic communications. What they can learn should be provided to the revolutionary leaders.
Smuggling equipment, including weapons, into Iran will not be easy but Iran’s long borders with Turkmenistan and Afghanistan can provide avenues of entry. Turkmenistan’s authoritarian government has enabled us to supply U.S. forces in Afghanistan for years. Sufficient monetary incentives should enable us to move supplies into Iran covertly.
Afghanistan — though its government is dependent on the United States for its existence — may be more difficult to persuade but we have to try to help the Iranian revolutionaries through both nations.
We must do these things without falling into the neocon trap of invasion and “nation-building.” There is much to be done and little time to do it. The Iranian revolutionaries may soon be crushed if we don’t help them.
During the Vietnam War, the “domino theory” held that if South Vietnam fell to Communist North Vietnam, neighboring nations such as Thailand, Cambodia and the rest would also fall under Communist dominance. In the Middle East, the Iranian revolutionaries’ fight for freedom could result in another version of that theory coming true.
The fall of the ayatollahs’ regime would remove the world’s principal sponsor of terrorism and could spark the fires of freedom elsewhere in the Middle East. That result is so clearly in America’s interests that we should spare no expense or covert effort to bring it about.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”