My Iranian Jewish friends who live in the United States are telling me that regime change in Iran is a distinct possibility.
Could the Biden administration do more to make this happen? You bet it could. The continued attempts to salvage a nuclear agreement with Iran along the lines of the 2015 JCPOA deal only make regime change less likely. In fact, the talks strengthen the hand of the ayatollahs.
This is precisely the opposite of what should be done, given that the current protests in Iran—which began when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed by “morality police” for not wearing a hijab properly—are larger and more widespread than any since Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah in 1979.
The Islamic republic’s brutal and repressive tactics are well known. It is certain that 326 protesters, including 40 children, have been killed by regime forces. This is probably a very low estimate. The true number may be in the thousands. Despite the crackdown, however, the protests continue.
On Oct. 3, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the U.S. and Israel of fomenting the protests. This is very far from the truth. Israel has been preoccupied with an election and is not involved in the unrest. For its part, the U.S. has done very little to encourage the protests, and as stated above has only strengthened the ayatollahs by seeking a nuclear deal.
No new sanctions have been imposed. Barely a whisper was heard from the administration when it was revealed that Iran is supplying drones to Russia to aid the invasion of Ukraine. The response was muted in order to facilitate the nuclear talks. This remains the administration’s modus operandi.
The U.S. and the West should capitalize on what is the best opportunity for regime change since the 1979 Islamic revolution. If regime change does not happen, it would constitute an enormous policy failure for the Western powers.
One way the West can be of great help to the protesters is in the areas of communication and access to the internet. On Sept. 22, the regime squelched the use of both WhatsApp and Instagram. Working to restore the protesters’ access to them and other messaging and social media platforms should be a major priority.
Regime change is not only desirable for its own sake; it is also good policy. In particular, it is the safest approach to the Iranian regime and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The only alternative is to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. This is feasible and may be necessary but regime change from within is certainly preferable.
The protesters in Iran have been very effective. They recently scored a major symbolic victory when they set fire to Khomeini’s ancestral home. Despite the regime’s barbaric violence, the protests show no sign of slowing down.
The old guard hardliners in Iran are aging and weak. The protesters are young and vibrant. They represent the future of Iran. I am more optimistic today than at any time in 43 years that the ayatollahs can and will be toppled. I hope the Biden administration will finally see things the same way.
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.