Since the conclusion of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers last summer, the Iranian regime has carried out at least five provocative ballistic missile tests in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The three most recent were in early March, each followed by boastful comments from top officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in all matters of Iran’s foreign and domestic policy.
In a recent speech, Khamenei declared, “Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors.” Such aggressive commentary underscores the Iranian threat. These tests are a crucial component in developing the capability to send nuclear warheads over long distances, at targets even thousands of miles away.
Earlier this month, the commander of the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps warned, “Our missiles that have become more precise and more destructive [and they] will be multiplied more than before.”
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, defended the tests by saying in essence that Iran has the right to defend itself. Khamenei took the same line, saying, “If the Islamic Republic seeks negotiations but has no defensive power, it would have to back down in the face of threats from any weak country.”
Their embellishment misrepresents the restrictions the Security Council has sought to impose on nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Zarif neglected to mention that the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” was scrawled on the most recently tested missiles.
But what about the recent parliamentary elections, and the “resounding victory for moderates” reported by the Western press? Unfortunately, those “moderates” are the same politicians who preside over Iran’s ballistic missile program, who were instrumental in deceiving nuclear inspectors and who continue to wreak havoc across the region.
If these are the moderates, we’re in deep trouble.
Both before the nuclear deal and since, Iran’s essential character and behavior have remained unchanged. This was underscored by Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the outgoing commander of U.S. Central Command, in remarks before the Congress on March 9: “Since the nuclear deal, Iran has not yet changed its acts in the region … Iran is the biggest factor of instability in the region.”
This is true in Iraq, where it sponsors violent sectarian militias; in Syria, where it fuels the atrocities of the Assad regime; and in Yemen, where it instigated a rebellion, catapulting the country into chaos and bloodshed. Iran continues to arm rebel forces, as evidenced by the recent French and U.S. capture of ships carrying weapons for the Houthi fighters.
“We will continue to support the survival of the Syrian government,” said Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, on April 5. Days later, Ali Akbar Velayati, a confidant of Khamenei, said, “The removal of Assad is a red line for us,” hinting at Tehran’s commitment to bolstering the Syrian dictator.
Even farther abroad, on Bulgarian soil, Iran was responsible for a bus bombing in 2012 that killed scores of civilians, just as in Argentina it was responsible for killing hundreds of Jews in the 1990s.
At home, the regime continues to execute opponents by hanging them from cranes, and to jail and torture minorities and anyone perceived as an opponent. Nearly 1,000 were hanged in 2015, according to Amnesty International.
This sickening practice of using construction cranes to murder people is in ironic contrast with other countries, where cranes symbolize progress, new building projects, economic growth and hopefully, improving living standards.
Those who advocate genuine change in Iran — and have not been killed for it — must live either under constant threat of violence, or in exile. Every summer, more than 100,000 exiled Iranian political activists assemble near Paris to demonstrate that this has not stopped the Iranian people and opposition groups from pursuing an end to Iran’s religious dictatorship.
The United States and its European allies must abandon their policy of appeasement because Iran’s extremists clearly have not changed. What is needed is quite simply a policy that recognizes the facts: There are no moderates in the Tehran regime, which is holding tight to its policy of terror at home and abroad.
The western response need not include direct military action against Iran, but it does need to be based on action, not simply harsh words, much less willful ignorance.
Iran has strong opposition forces. As opposition leader Maryam Rajavi has said, women play a crucial and central role in such activism. The movement that she leads foresees a transparent, modern Iranian democracy, a vision none of today’s theocratic “moderates” would dare to even mention.
The Iranian people want their future democratic government to be secular, nuclear-free and respectful of human rights. They want a government that would reintegrate as a peaceful member of the international community. They do not want a regime that is reviled as the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism in the world.
So why are the people not receiving the support they deserve?
America’s next president must confront the true face of the Iranian regime’s malevolent ambitions. That would be a good first step to really knowing who are friends and who are sworn enemies of freedom.
Safavi is a member of the foreign affairs committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran .