By Foundation for Defense of Democracies – November 15, 2022
Jacob Nagel | Senior Fellow
Mark Dubowitz | Chief Executive
There is an Iranian revolution underway targeting the Islamic Republic. After more than eight weeks of protests, Iranians, especially courageous young women, are signaling that they want to end the radical Islamist regime that has ruled, and ruined, their lives.
While the Biden administration equivocates, Israel should seize the greatest opportunity since the 1979 Islamic Revolution for regime change. Israeli intelligence services should be the tip of the spear: using their power to severely weaken, coercively deter, and, if fortunate, collapse the regime.
While we are hopeful the Biden administration will throw its support behind this Iranian revolution, we are not naïve. The administration’s top priority is still the return to a weakened version of the deeply flawed 2015 nuclear deal. Even the president’s recent commitment to helping bring about a “free Iran” has been quickly walked back by some of his aides, who flooded the airwaves to make it clear that there has been no change in U.S. policy.
Israel should seize the initiative. No country is more threatened by the Islamic Republic. And no security establishment has better capabilities inside Iran to practically support the protests. Some will argue that protesters will be accused of working with Israeli intelligence services. But the regime is leveling these charges anyway and it’s the worst of both worlds: the regime is accusing Iranians of working with Mossad and the CIA, while they’re getting too little support. The regime is brutal, but its resilience is overestimated, as we now see from its difficulties in stopping the demonstrations that have spread to all of Iran’s 31 provinces.
Here’s a plan to weaken the regime, and perhaps intensify the conditions that could, one day, lead to a free Iran.
First, Israel should intensify the economic pressure through a campaign of influence operations inside Iran.The rial’s exchange rate is at its lowest point ever. On the eve of the Islamic Revolution, the exchange rate was about 70 rials to the dollar. Today, it’s 350,000 rials to the dollar. The goal of this influence campaign should be creating a massive currency crisis that forces the regime to spend down its foreign currency reserves and increases the number of angry Iranians who take to the streets. The efforts should include truthful messages to Iranians that the corrupt regime has stolen their money, and suggestions that Iranian banks do not have enough funds to cover their deposits. In Lebanon, where the Islamic Republic and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah destroyed the country, those Lebanese who left their money in the banks lost it, when banks collapsed. Iranians should withdraw their savings before they disappear. The Islamist regime will be forced to issue statements like: “your money is safe with us,” which will only intensify the banking and currency crisis, given Iranian distrust of their leaders.
At the same time, a labor strike fund should be established to support strikers and demonstrators who are risking their lives while losing their paychecks. Massive strikes helped bring down the shah in the 1970s and the beginnings of strikes in key Iranian sectors have rattled the current regime. The Israeli security establishment should lead a sustained campaign targeting key industries, while supporting tens of thousands of angry Iranian students and teachers. There undoubtedly will be countries threatened by Tehran that will be happy to participate in the financing of strike funds. At the low rial-dollar exchange rate, the cost to support thousands of striking workers will be low.
Israel also should disclose information about the members of the security forces responsible for repressing Iranians. In this way, they cannot hide from their crimes. Whoever released the information about the killers of Mahsa Amini, whose murder at the hands of the regime’s security forces ignited the protests, the medical records that refuted regime lies about how she had died, and the images of regime forces beating and killing helpless protesters on the ground, demonstrated how valuable intelligence can fuel the demonstrations. Israel can do more of this.
Someone already demonstrated how cyberwarfare capabilities can help Iranians.They took over Iranian media channels during a broadcast of a meeting involving the supreme leader and displayed images of murdered Iranians. They penetrated remote learning platforms in universities, when studies on campuses were banned because of the demonstrations, and leveraged them to train students to evade regime security services and increase demonstrations.
Building on this training, Israel should provide materials on how Iranians can best organize themselves into small groups in each neighborhood, release information about the movements of security forces, and disrupt the regime’s command-and-control systems, logistics and surveillance capabilities.
The Biden administration can help: It should bolster access to the internet, impose sanctions on human rights abusers, including on Iran’s supreme leader as well as President Ebrahim Raisi, impose a full trade and economic embargo to weaken the regime’s resources, and target the clandestine financial network that the regime has used to earn billions of dollars. Tehran is now providing Vladimir Putin the use of this clandestine network to bust Western sanctions. Washington also can leverage the global outrage over regime oppression to remove the Islamic Republic from international organizations and encourage its allies to expel the regime’s ambassadors.
Israel can wait for an American administration to support the Iranian revolution and be outraged when Biden, instead, returns to the fatally flawed 2015 nuclear agreement. Alternatively, Israel should focus its efforts on planning for war against the regime in the coming years, when it may be forced to strike Iran’s nuclear weapons program, while dealing with thousands of Iranian rockets raining down on its civilians from Iran, Lebanon, and Gaza. But, while opposing the return to the nuclear deal, and planning for these dangerous operations, Israel should not miss the opportunity to support the hundreds of thousands of Iranians battling to bring down the Islamic Republic.
Brigadier General (res.) Professor Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a visiting professor at the Technion Aerospace faculty. He previously served as acting national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and as head of the National Security Council. Mark Dubowitz is FDD’s chief executive. An expert on Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions, he was sanctioned by Iran in 2019. Follow Mark on Twitter: @mdubowitz. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.