London, 4 Jan – The anti-regime protests in Iran are now in their second week and the US is currently deciding on the best way to support the demonstrators.
Members of the Donald Trump administration (and many other politicians) have already voiced their support for the Iranian people and their fights for freedom via social media, with Trump warning the Regime that the “world is watching”.
This has been lauded as a great first step by political pundits, including Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Taleblu said the administration’s approval of the protesters was “spot on”, whilst acknowledging the risk that the Regime will use these messages as evidence that the protesters are foreign proxies, regardless of facts.
He noted that the Regime- who are vehemently anti-American- would blame the US no matter what, so they might as well try to do the right thing.
He said: “The Supreme Leader and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps—they castigate any grassroots, organic uprising as a result of foreign meddling … so the U.S. might as well do the strategic and morally right thing and that’s to lend support to the cause of freedom in Iran.”
However, tweets aren’t enough and there is much more that the US could do. Let’s look at some of the options.
Sanctions are an option against the Iranian Regime. Either drafting new ones specifically related to human rights or reimposing old ones.
In just under two weeks, Trump faces a decision on reimposing sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal. In October 2017, Trump decertified Iranian compliance with the deal and gave Congress the decision on reimposing sanctions but after they failed to make a decision, it wound up back on Trump’s desk in December.
If Trump reimposes the sanctions, it would effectively withdraw the US from the nuclear deal, according to Natalie Johnson at The Free Beacon.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday, January 2, that Trump will “keep all of his options on the table” and wants to see the Regime grant the Iranian people “basic human rights” and end its support for terrorism.
With regard to new, non-nuclear sanctions, Jim Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation, notes that the US could issue travel bans on authorities that are committing human rights abuses against the protesters, while Taleblu argues that the best route is targeting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s business empire.
Taleblu said: “If the Iranian people are out in the street saying death to the dictator, it helps for the U.S. government to actually have sanctions on that dictator and to impede the repression of that dictator and to block the financial assets of that dictator and to be in the process of dismantling that dictator’s financial empire.”
Ensure access to outside media and the internet
The Iranian Regime blocked access to certain social media sites (Instagram and Telegram) that the protesters were using to communicate between themselves and with journalists and activists outside Iran. They may have even blocked access to the internet altogether in certain cities.
The US State Department called on the Regime to end this blockade and allow its citizens access to a free and open internet, whilst also urging the Iranian people to use virtual private networks (VPNs) to evade the censorship efforts.
Taleblu notes that the administration could go further by ensuring that the Iranians can access broadcasts from media outlets outside of Iran, like Voice of America and Radio Farda, a Farsi version of Radio Free Europe, as opposed to the state-affiliated Iranian press.
These outlets can destroy the Regime’s fallacy that it has been stable and prosperous by presenting the unbiased facts.
He said: “These outlets have the capability of saying, ‘No, look at the conditions on the ground. Look how the Iranian government treats its own people and look how the Iranian government prioritizes its own interests. It tries to fight and kill and spend copious amounts of money in Syria rather than investing that money at home’.”
During the last major uprisings, the 2009 Green movement that began in protest to the rigged re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran jammed the satellite transmissions of American-funded radio and television stations into the country and there is no reason why they would not do the same this time. To combat that, the US should threaten sanctions against companies that sell jamming technology to Iran, according to Phillips.
He said that the US could also provide the Iranian people with technology that helps them thwart the Regime’s censorship.
Talking to allies
Both Phillips and Taleblu believe that the US should urge European allies to take a stance against the Regime and threatened to reapply nuclear sanctions if countries like the United Kingdom and Germany refuse to end their business relationships with the Regime.