Iran Recruiting Foreign Advocates while Eliminating Domestic Opponents

 

The latter routinely promotes conspiracy theories including allegations of Western powers spreading “Iranophobia” and promoting a culture war between Islam and the West. The network also notably employs a handful of European and North American commentators who are known for their own endorsement of conspiracy theories and often aggressive criticism of the governments of their own countries.

Writing in the Daily Beast, Shane Harris identifies some of these Western advocates as prior contributors to the “International Congress on 17,000 Iranian Terror Victims,” a group that is planning its second annual conference on such topics as “Israeli state terrorism against Iran.” Harris reports that the group is partly sponsored by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. He also suggests that the ministry’s involvement in planning an “anti-West hate fest” raises some question about the sincerity of its negotiations with world powers.

Harris explains that the International Congress contacted him via e-mail for reasons that he could not discern, inviting him to contribute a paper to the upcoming event and to possibly travel to Tehran to join Iranian diplomats and spies in publicly criticizing the US. The American journalist, who says his work on Iran is mostly focused on US intelligence about the regime cyber-espionage and warfare capabilities, speculates that this outreach by a regime-affiliated organization may have been not only a “ham-fisted” attempt to expand Iranian propaganda, but also an effort to bring Westerners into the country so they could possibly be recruited as spies.

Harris also hints that the efforts of the International Congress on 17,000 Iranian Terror Victims are also part of a “tit-for-tat” response to the successful outreach to Western politicians by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which is a major Iranian resistance group and the apparent arch-nemesis of the Habilian Association, which is the declared head of the International Congress.

On Saturday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, with the PMOI as its main constituent group, held its annual rally in Paris, attracting a group of some 100,000 supporters and a bipartisan group of dozens of former political and military officials from the US.

While Habilian’s attempt to recruit Westerners may be aimed at countering the influence that the PMOI continues to develop in Western political and academic circles, Harris emphasizes that the focus of the planned anti-West event goes well beyond that and represents efforts to develop new types of Iranian propaganda.

But this propaganda, along with the possible recruitment of Western supporters, cuts against the efforts of the PMOI to undermine the Iranian regime. And the work of Habilian and other regime-affiliated groups is almost certainly part of a broader strategy that includes the well-known repression of dissent inside of Iran, as well as efforts by the government in Tehran to get rid of persons who could be recruited as spies for the PMOI.

In this way, Tehran could be said to be trying not only to recruit for its side but specifically to shift the balance of spying on both sides of the conflict between the theocracy and the pro-democratic opposition. The repressive aspects of this strategy were highlighted by speakers at Saturday’s NCRI rally and later by Fox News in an article summing up and commenting upon the event.

That article, published on Monday, quoted former New York City Mayor and NCRI supporter Rudolph Giuliani as saying that Iran is stepping up political executions in an effort to prevent spies from revealing the regime’s true intentions. “Iran doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice. Last time they reached an agreement of no enrichment, but they enriched, and the spies caught them,” Giuliani explained, referring to the PMOI’s revelation of secret Iranian nuclear sites.

The Fox News article also referred to the “higher profile” that the NCRI has developed recently, as evidenced by the invitation of the organization’s president, Maryam Rajavi, to speak as a witness at a hearing of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee. Such developments may illustrate the rationale behind Iran’s pursuit of foreign advocates, but they may also raise questions about how effective that strategy will be in light of advances by the democratic opposition.