This is the second of several excepts exclusive to WND from WND senior staff reporter Jerome R. Corsi’s new book entitled “Why Israel Can’t Wait: The Coming War Between Israel and Iran,” available from WND Books.
Following the June 12 election in Iran, the world was hit by citizen-produced videos and still photographs showing millions of Iranians in the street peacefully protesting what was perceived as a fraudulent declaration by Ayatollah Khamenei that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won a second term as president.
While the Iranian government moved to shut down foreign-press reports documenting the post-election protest, Internet social-networking websites such as Facebook, YouTube and especially Twitter came of age.
Citizen journalists armed with cell phones capable of taking photographs, simple electronic cameras and camcorders captured images that were broadcast around the world, filling in the gap of professionally produced news. The immediacy of these obviously amateur images generated by hand-held cameras in the heat of the moment captured powerfully the emotions of millions of Iranians who dared to assemble in street protests and march under the green banners that had come to symbolize their anger.
Green was the color of presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the former Iranian prime minister, who, protesters presumed, had won the election in a landslide only to see the election stolen from him by the old line of religious clerics that control Iran’s governing Guardian Council.
On June 19, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei made a rare speech at the Friday prayer service at Tehran University to declare that Ahmadinejad had achieved “absolute victory,” threatening that those who “ignore or break the law” by continued protests would face consequences, including being held accountable “for all the violence, bloodshed and rioting.”
From this moment on, the Iranian regime had spoken, crushing Mousavi’s hope for a new vote and putting all Iranian citizens on notice that the riot police and Basij would no longer hesitate to use violence to put down any and all expressions of dissent. The Basij are Iran’s brutal civilian vigilante force, estimated to number in the millions and best understood as a group of thugs ready to enforce the regime’s dictates.
Almost immediately after Khamenei spoke, the regime sent out hundreds of fully armed riot police on motorcycles and thousands of Basij to crush the protests. The Basij entered the fray armed with batons and pipes that could be used to beat protesters and inflict massive vandalism, especially upon the student dorms at Tehran University, which the Basij promptly invaded and left in shambles.
What emerged over the next 10 days were images that resembled the “police riots” in the civil rights and antiwar protests of the 1960s in the United States. These photos and videos had even more impact because of their impromptu nature.
The beatings of protesters, the tear gas, the shootings and the vandalism of the Basij all conveyed an emotional impact beyond any professionally generated news video, especially with the frightened or outraged comments of the photographers being heard in Farsi over the screams and shouts of the dispersed protesters, all punctuated by the crack of gunfire. The nightly citizen-generated videos sent via the Internet from Iran showed rooftop shouts in the Tehran darkness exclaiming “Allahu Akbar,” the same “Allah is greatest” chant Ayatollah Khomeini-inspired revolutionaries used in 1979 to overthrow the shah.
The green sea marches
With some 70 percent of Iran’s population under the age of 30, the pent-up frustration with a repressive regime that punished even the slightest moral digression from Islamic law threatened to boil over into revolution, not simply a demand for a fair election. The “green sea” of millions that took to the streets to protest Mousavi’s defeat threatened to become like the Ukrainian “orange revolution,” in which millions of people in the street were all that was needed to overthrow a totalitarian regime the people no longer cared to tolerate.
Prior to the June 12 election, Iran expert Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies claimed Mousavi was not a revolutionary, but “a leader who has been made into a revolutionary by a movement that grew up around him.”
Mousavi is best known for the role he played as former prime minister of Iran from 1981 to 1989 in directing Iran’s disastrous eight-year war against Iraq. During that war, millions of Iranians died in near suicidal battles. Thousands of Iranian children lost their lives being sent first into battle to clear minefields in suicidal attacks with little keys around their necks to remind them they would be in heaven that day. Mousavi was Iran’s prime minister on Oct. 23, 1983, when a truck driven by Hezbollah suicide bombers attacked the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American troops.
Granted, in retirement Mousavi returned to his profession as an architect, while he perfected his skills as an amateur artist and would-be poet. But the impression in the U.S. that Mousavi was a reformist is entirely wrong.
The real revolutionary, Ledeen claimed, is Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and the real question is why Ayatollah Khamenei allowed her to be positioned that way in the 2009 presidential election.
President Obama reacts
Under increasing pressure to support the protesters openly, President Obama commented that the world was “watching” the Iranian protests, a mild statement of rebuke to Khamenei’s thinly veiled threat to use violence to stop street demonstrations.
The contrast was stark to President Reagan. In 1981, when the Polish government imposed martial law to suppress the Solidarity uprising that had started in Gdansk, Reagan told a press conference, “We view the current situation in Poland in the gravest of terms, particularly the increasing use of force against an unarmed population and the violations of the basic civil rights of the Polish people.”
Reagan is also remembered for directly challenging the former Soviet Union in his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on June 12, 1987, when he taunted, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
The theme that the United States worldwide would stand for freedom was articulated by President John Kennedy, when he said famously in his 1961 inaugural address, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
The theme was continued when President George W. Bush proclaimed in his second inaugural address that, “When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you.” Obama himself in his historic speech in Cairo on June 4, only eight days before the contested Iranian election, included “the freedom to live as you choose” when he declared that: “These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.”
In Cairo, Obama presented himself as the leader of the free world. Days later, challenged with the Iranian uprising in the streets, Obama hesitated to offend the oppressive regime.
In sharp contrast, the House of Representatives passed 405 to 1 a strongly worded non-binding resolution expressing support “for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law.”
The Senate quickly joined the House in passing the Iran resolution by a voice vote. Recalling the fundamental freedoms articulated in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Sen. John McCain took strong exception to Obama’s reluctance to intervene directly in the Iran protests. McCain told Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto that if he had been elected president, “I would say, ‘We support the rights of all human beings, especially those in Iran who want to peacefully protest and disagree with their government. We support those fundamental, inalienable rights.'”
Iranian icon for revolutionary change
As the street violence escalated in Tehran, one video in particular became haunting. Though less than a minute long, the video was horrifying as it showed a young woman dying on the street after being shot by bullet a random police or Basij placed through her heart. Neda, whose name in Farsi means “voice” or “calling,” died with her arms outstretched above her head and her eyes fixed open, as if staring into the camera, as blood began surging from her mouth and nose, while those who came to her aid pleaded hysterically for her not to die and bystanders in shock tried in vain to revive her.
“Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, Neda dear, don’t be afraid,” a white-haired man in a striped blue and white shirt is heard repeating in Farsi throughout a longer version of the video, his voice escalating in shock as he realized Neda was quickly slipping away. The man was later identified as Neda’s professor, as additional videos surfaced showing Neda walking calmly with him among the protesters only moments before she was shot to death.
As soon as the video was posted on the Internet, the image of Neda dying was seen worldwide. The image became iconic, coming to symbolize the pain Iranian citizens felt protesting in the streets for their freedom against a brutal regime determined to suppress the protests at all costs. Acknowledging the impact of the video to generate outrage, the regime barred Neda’s family from holding a public funeral.
Lara Setrakian of ABC News communicated via Twitter that the Basij forcefully dispersed a memorial of some one to two thousand people who gathered in 7 Tir Square for Neda. By Monday, June 22, the riot police and Basij were out in Tehran in force, willing to violently attack and break up any small gatherings of people in the streets to prevent them from grouping together into a protest mass. With the populace disarmed, the regime’s strategy to use massive force was bound to succeed, once protesters realized that continued gatherings in the street risked being beaten, arrested and possibly even shot by fully armed riot police and baton-wielding Basij.
Through the chaos, the Guardian Council admitted that in 50 Iranian cities the number of votes cast in the presidential election exceeded the number of eligible voters, providing a clear sign the election had been fraudulent, as Mousavi had claimed. Still, Ayatollah Khamenei showed no signs of backing down, as the protest violence threatened to become not just a call for a new election, but a threat to the survival of the regime itself.
Meanwhile, the Basij began posting on its website images of the citizen videos of protests, with individual protesters being hunted for arrest by isolating them from the crowds with red circles placed around their faces like targets. The Basij was asking Iranians loyal to the regime to turn in their fellow citizens identified as traitors for their in-street protests in which they challenged the legitimacy of the election and the authority of the Supreme Leader to declare the victor.
Hundreds of protesters were arrested, with reports circulating on Twitter from Iran charging that the Basij were going into hospitals to arrest injured protesters, while Basij were stationed outside foreign embassies to arrest anyone seeking to enter for asylum or medical assistance.
An end to direct negotiations?
The post-election chaos was clearly not on the White House script, in which candidate Obama had announced during the 2008 presidential election campaign that if elected, he intended to enter direct negotiations with the Iranian regime without preconditions.
After the regime exercised violence to put down the post-election protests, it came to light that before the elections Obama had sent a then-undisclosed letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, calling for an improvement in relations and offering once again to engage in direct negotiations. The Washington Times broke the story by disclosing that Khamenei confirmed the letter at the end of his sermon at the June 19 prayer service Friday in Tehran. The Washington Times reported that the letter was sent between May 4 and May 10 and laid out the prospect of “cooperation in regional and bilateral relations,” with the prospect of a resolution of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
As the crisis evolved, Obama continued to chart a cautious response in the concern that if the White House supported the protesters openly and strongly, the Iranian regime might blame the dissent upon the United States and the CIA. In an exclusive interview with CBS “Early Show” co-anchor Harry Smith, Obama responded to critics charging he had not spoken out strongly enough in support of the street protesters and freedom in Iran.
“The last thing I want to do,” Obama said, “is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States.”
What the White House risked was that Obama would be blamed if the Iranian regime managed to suppress violently the protesters in Iran. Obama was trying to hedge his bets by not opposing loudly an Ahmadinejad government he intended later to engage in direct talks.
The administration also expressed concern that the Iranian regime would have an excuse to suppress protesters even more brutally if White House condemnations of the regime could be interpreted as U.S. instigations of civil disobedience or even rebellion in Iran. Yet, as the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime moved to take violent steps to oppress the opposition, the White House position rapidly became undermined. Despite President Obama’s measured response to the post-election protests, Iran still blamed the United States for “intolerable” interference in its domestic affairs.
As the Iranian regime’s willingness to suppress its own people brutally became apparent, the question could not be avoided: How could the White House enter into negotiations with an Iranian regime that cared nothing about the freedom and self-determination of its own citizens? On a practical level, the brutal response of the Iranian security forces to gain control of a population in protest undermined Obama-administration expectations of gaining concessions on continued uranium enrichment and the aggressive development of nuclear weapons.
In suppressing the protest, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei moved even further to the political right, supporting incumbent President Ahmadinejad’s re-election and moving quickly to stonewall any serious investigation into whether the election results had been manipulated by the regime itself. By declaring Ahmadinejad’s victory, Khamenei implicitly affirmed that Ahmadinejad’s policies, including Iran’s nuclear-weapons policy, had been Khamenei’s policies all along.
On a moral level, by entering into direct negotiations with the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime without preconditions, Obama will now risk being seen as conveying legitimacy to a corrupt regime opposed by millions of its own citizens. If direct talks are now to occur, millions who followed the Iranian protests on the Internet and protested in the streets of their own counties to support the “green-sea marches” will be immediately disillusioned to see Obama abandon hope for change in Iran in such a calculated fashion.
As the street protesters in Iran were suppressed by massive force, it became increasingly hard to imagine how Obama could politically survive the image of him shaking hands with Ahmadinejad in direct negotiations. Or, as poster “Jahanazad” asked on Twitter: “A question to Obama: Do you really want to sit down at table with a man whose hands are soaked in ppl’s [people’s] blood?”
In the final analysis, despite the regime’s brutal suppression of the post-election dissent, the Internet images made clear that Iran had changed internally.
“Even if you can’t identify a real political power that might be able to challenge the Iranian regime, the energy is there,” Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Yaalon stressed in our interview in Jerusalem two days after the Iranian election. “The regime will arrest people and execute people, as well as shut down the Internet capacity – they will close Facebook and Twitter, but the energy is there and the West should play a role in encouraging this energy to be directed toward internal change.”
Yaalon further qualified that toppling the Iranian regime was not even necessary: “The regime is too brutal, and it might be counterproductive to oppose the regime directly with the goal of toppling the regime. It should be done in a smarter way, one in which the external pressure will serve the people’s need to have an internal political change.”
What remained in doubt was whether or not Obama would be able to rise to the occasion to play a meaningful role in the regime change the “green-sea marches” offered as a political prospect.
At his June 23 press conference, Obama stepped up the rhetoric, saying he was “appalled and outraged” by the threats and confrontations from the Iranian government in the streets of Tehran. Still, he stopped short of condemning directly the Iranian regime, but he declined to say direct talks with the Iranian regime were now off the table.
Still, the question remained: How possibly could Obama expect to make progress sitting down with an Iranian regime that after violently suppressing the post-election protests had become more dangerous than ever?