But in describing the hardline Iranian position of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Cohen raises the interesting idea that even the recent diplomatic overtures of the American government may be aimed at the ultimate goal of regime change. This, he says, is certainly Khamenei’s view. And whether the “hardliners” are only Khamenei’s inner circle or the entire makeup of the Iranian regime, Cohen argues that because of its potential to open up Iran to the world community, such diplomacy “is seen as perhaps the most significant long-term threat facing the revolution.”
Press Repression and Notions of Moderation
While Cohen follows the familiar line of claiming that there are prominent moderate elements in the current Iranian government, chiefly President Hassan Rouhani, an editorial in Frontpage Mag uses the rash of recent arrests of journalists and Facebook users to undercut this notion. The author, International American Council President Majid Rafizadeh, lists a number of the arrestees and their sentences and explains them by saying that Iranian politicians of every stripe make the preservation of the existing system their first priority.
An editorial in the New York Times also makes the point that press repression has been on the upswing in Iran, such as in the case of the arrest of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. That editorial leaves open the question of Rouhani’s political stance, but it concludes by saying that he “has an obligation under justice to undo these arrests — and an opportunity to show he is willing to fight for a new approach in Iran.” Of course, if he fails to act in this way, it will give tremendous support to Rafizadeh’s belief that Rouhani is complicit in the repression.
Although the two above editorials disagree on a key point, they both confirm that the repression of free speech is particularly bad in Iran, and seemingly getting worse. Media Bistro on Monday posted an infographic detailing some major countries that block social media, of which Iran was one. The post also included basic information on some of the ways in which tech savvy individuals are able to get around some such blocks.
But there are no such straightforward ways of getting around bans that are executed in physical space. The National Council of Resistance of Iran points out that the Iranian regime has just banned a previously announced outdoor concert, as part of a broader effort to increase gender segregation in the country. The Iranian Minister of Culture shuttered the two-day event after informing organizers that they would only have been allowed to carry on if male attendees had been restricted to one day and female attendees to the other.
Kurds and Iraq
Along with women, one of the major identity groups subject to collective repression in the Islamic Republic of Iran is the Kurdish population, politicians and activists of which are held as political prisoners therein. In spite of this, Iran has been reaching out to the Kurds in Iraq, where Iran wields considerable influence and is essentially leading the war effort against Sunni rebels including those from the Islamic State.
Tehran and Baghdad may be about to receive that help, in a certain sense. The Islamic State over the weekend launched a series of attacks in territory that has been claimed by the Kurdish Peshmerga military. This incursion has led the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) to call for Kurds from all countries in the region to contribute to the fight against the Islamic State, even though the Iraqi Kurds had thus far been neutral in the fight. Notably, this does not equate to calling for an alliance with the Iranian side. Strained relations between Iran and the Kurds may still prevent this, and the call for unified action by the regions Kurds may embolden to group to pursue the establishment of an independent state.
But any activity in the Iraqi conflict is bound to have an impact on Iran. The extent of its influence there is somewhat disputed, and the Iranian regime publicly denies any such involvement despite acknowledging that Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been killed there. Reuters published an article on Monday summing up much of the conclusive evidence of an Iranian presence on Iraqi battlefields, including the recorded deaths and the statements of several high-ranking officials.
Other Regional Involvements
The Long War Journal helps to point out that Iraq is by no means the only theater of conflict in which Iranian forces and political actors are exerting an influence. The chief of police in one Afghan province has stated that Iran is responsible for attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is the extension of established patterns of Iranian support for the Islamist group, which has received weapons, cash, and training from Iran, and particularly from the Ansar Corps sub-group of the Qods Force.
The Weekly Standard reports upon Iranian involvement in Gaza. Generally speaking, this involvement is well known, taking the form of provision of missiles and encouragement of all other Muslims in the region to give logistical support to Hamas. But Lee Smith suggests that it may have been Iran that ordered the attack that brought an end to the would-be 72-hour ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
Smith’s article reiterates points made by other analysts about the current Palestinian conflict being part of a proxy war between hardline Islamist governments including Iran on the one hand, and moderate American-friendly Muslim states on the other. Thus, as a part of a larger strategy against the West, Iran’s involvement in Gaza is, according to Smith, “first, a delaying tactic meant to get the nuclear issue off the front page. Second, and most important, it’s a threat: Iran can turn up the heat around the region, from Iraq to Gaza, at will.”