Outside View: Act of grace or desperation?

UPI Outside View Commentator

By Ali Safavi

PARIS, April 6 (UPI) -- While everyone breathed a sigh of relief over the release of 15 British sailors held captive by the Iranian regime for nearly two weeks, the theatrics played out on television screens during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's news conference in Tehran Wednesday were despicable to say the least.

With all the fuss gone now, a simple question lingers: What was Tehran trying to achieve? The abduction-at-gunpoint was obviously an attempt to counteract the dire impact of a second U.N. Security Council sanction resolution at home, but more importantly intended to boost the morale of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' top brass, which had been shell shocked after being singled out in the U.N. document.

After initial threats of putting the sailors on trial, demanding an admission from the British that the sailors had trespassed Iranian waters, insisting on an apology and hurling stones and firecrackers at the British embassy in Tehran, Ahmadinejad and company realized that the whole thing had become a liability. With international pressure building, they realized they had overplayed their hand and had no choice but to resort to an escapade of a medal ceremony and an invocation of the Prophet of Islam's birthday and Easter during the thug-turned-president 45-minute rambling to hide one essential truth: The mullahs of Iran are weak and fragile, and to keep their grip on power they are gabbing at straws just like a drowning man would.

For anyone watching the news conference, the whole episode, and in particular Ahmadinejad's ugly showmanship, was quite repulsive. Here you had a henchman dubbed as terminator at home, boasting of mercy and forgiveness and seeking to take the moral high ground.

But more distressing is the fact that the Europeans, single-mindedly concerned about their pockets, have been willing partners in this brazen behavior. For four years, the West has turned the other cheek in the face of Tehran's growing intransigence. It has taken the Security Council more than years to slap sanctions on the mullahs since their secret nuclear weapons program was unmasked by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran in August 2002.

Although the destructive meddling of Tehran in Iraq and its active support for both the al-Qaida and Shiite militias in that country are beyond a shadow of doubt, some on both sides of the Atlantic suggest engaging the Iranian regime in efforts to stabilize Iraq and end the sectarian violence. To do that, of course, would be like asking the arsonist to put out the fire.

This propensity for conciliation toward Tehran has assured the tyrants who have ruled Iran with an iron fist that they can go about their usual business of bullying, hostage taking and terror sponsorship with impunity.

And who is paying the price of Western indulgence? The Iranian people and those fighting to unseat the troglodyte clerics of Iran. Since April 2006 at least 200 people have been hanged in Tehran and other cities, with hundreds more sentenced to death, including dozens of minors.

Protests by women, teachers, students, bus drivers and farmers have been crushed by the security agencies. The print media and webloggers have also suffered.

As for the opposition, while its members and sympathizers have been brutalized and executed, outside Iran it has been hampered by being blacklisted in the European Union and the United States. Even when Europe's second-highest court struck down the EU's designation of the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin -- PMOI -- as a terrorist organization, the EU refused to go along, making a mockery of the rule of law. And the U.S. Department of State refuses to de-list the PMOI by sticking to stale allegations that go back more than three decades. The reason: As one former senior British diplomat put it, removing the terror tag from the PMOI would signal to the Iranian regime that the West is after regime change in Iran.

The idea that the mullahs would play ball if the price was right is nothing more than a pipe dream. As Ayatollah Khomeini observed during his time, "One step back and the whole ceiling would collapse." The mullahs' house of cards cannot withstand any retreat from an insatiable quest for nuclear arms, meddling in Iraq and enmity to peace in the Middle East. Ironically, in founding his theocracy on the doctrine of velayat-e faqih (absolute supremacy of clerical rule), Khomeini implanted within it the seeds of its own destruction: the inability to change.

The obvious question, therefore, is what is the most viable option? As leading Iranian opposition figure Maryam Rajavi emphasized, it is neither war, nor appeasement, but democratic change by the Iranian people and their organized resistance.

It is time for the West to wake up to this reality.

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(Ali Safavi of the Iranian opposition, National Council of Resistance, is president of Near East Policy Research, a policy analysis firm in Washington.)

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