Mideast Expert: Obama Should Support Iran Dissidents

Friday, 12 Feb 2010 06:29 PM

By Dan Weil

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President Barack Obama should “absolutely” be more vocal in supporting the dissidents fighting the radical Islamic government in Iran, says Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.

“The leader of the free world should never remain silent when people are seeking freedom, certainly the way they are in Iran,” he told Newsmax.TV’s Ashley Martella.

“There’s probably not a game-changer we can apply. But if we remember the experience of Soviet dissidents during the Cold War, what we said was very important. The way we altered international trade with the Soviet Union was very important.”

See Video: Mideast Expert: U.S. Should Convince Allies to Boycott Iran Click Here.

The United States doesn’t have much economic leverage over Iran, Berman explains, but our European allies do. That’s because Europe is Iran’s largest trading partner. “If you really see large-scale disengagement by European countries from Iran’s economy, the results would be devastating,” Berman said.

“These are the kinds of things we should be doing.”

The dissidents in Iran could really use our help, Berman says. “The protests on the street are about fundamental discontent with the Islamic theocracy. It’s a really challenge to the legitimacy of the ayatollahs and something the international community should be doing much more about.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week that the country completed its first batch of 20 percent-enriched uranium and will soon triple production.

Given the great internal opposition it faces, the regime wants to announce that it can make nuclear weapons, Berman says.

“It’s very important for the regime to demonstrate to everyone watching, don’t look over here [at the protests.] We’re here to stay and are a nuclear state,” he said. That’s similar to what North Korea did in 2002, he points out.

“Iran wants to make clear to the international community that its nuclear program is so far along that there’s nothing we can do to stop it, though I don’t think that’s true.”

It’s not inevitable that Iran will manufacture nuclear weapons, Berman says. “It’s clear the regime has invested a lot of time, energy and money in building this.”

What the international community must do is create a situation where Iran’s leaders understand that the only way they can stay in existence is to get out of the nuclear business, he says.

“We don’t have that strategy yet, but I think it’s possible to craft one.”

If Iran does eventually accrue nukes, “what really matters is whether the Iran that we see is a country or a cause,” Berman says. Today Iran is both a radical Islamic movement and a country that interacts like a member of the world community.

“If it’s a cause, a radical, expansionist, revolutionary movement that has its finger on a nuclear trigger, that changes the entire calculus in the Mideast.”

Berman says there’s more danger that Hezbollah could gain nuclear weapons from Iran than al-Qaida.

“Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that dominates Lebanon, was created by Iran, and they benefit directly from Iran’s largesse,” he says.

“The idea that Hezbollah could someday soon operate against our allies in Israel or against American troops in the region with a nuclear umbrella would provide that terrorist group with a tremendous amount of leeway such as we haven’t seen up until now.”

While Israel has been willing to let the United States take the lead on the nuclear issue so far, it won’t be able to hold off much longer in attacking Iran itself.

“Israel wants to make clear that … the United States and allies should be the ones to band together and deal with this,” Berman said.

“But Israel can only forestall action as long as it thinks Washington is serious. Now is the moment of truth.”

If the White House adopts a serious strategy, Israel is willing to back off. “For the moment, though, they have a lot of doubt,” Berman says. “And if we’re not, then they’re liable to take matters into their own hands.”

If Israel were to attack Iran, it would be a lot more difficult than the 1981 Israeli attack that obliterated Iraq’s nuclear capabilities, Berman says. That’s because Iran learned from that situation and has scattered and hardened its nuclear sites.

Still, “That doesn’t mean Israel doesn’t have options,” Berman says. “There are a few key sites they could damage or destroy that could disable sites for decades.” But Israel would need practical and political help from the United States.

See Video: Mideast Expert: U.S. Should Convince Allies to Boycott Iran Click Here.

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