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Opinion: Only massive pressure will stop Tehran

Behnam Bavandpour | Farsi Redaktion
Behnam Bavandpour
October 25, 2022

A strong international response — including a halt to nuclear negotiations if necessary — is the sole tactic that can end the Iranian regime's violence against its own people, writes DW's Behnam Bavandpour.

People holding up signs at a protest rally
Protests against the Iranian regime are picking up pace, but the international community must do more to put pressure on TehranImage: Markus Schreiber/AP Photo/picture alliance

It's impossible to report on the decades-long struggles of civil society in Iran without acknowledging the special contribution that the country's women have made — and continue to make — in the process. They have been the largest group there to be oppressed, humiliated and discriminated against. But women were also the first to courageously resist the leadership of the Islamic Revolution, while male intellectuals and politicians remained silent.

Nearly four decades passed this way until sporadic public protests in 2017 and 2018 questioned the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic for the first time. What we are witnessing now, however, is new: civilians united in confronting the ruling mullahs. As the aftershocks of Jina Mahsa Amini's death boomerang through the system, the protest has united all of the country's marginalized groups at the source of their discontent: the need to liberate the women of Iran.

No more appeasement

Behnam Bavandpour of DW's Farsi department
Behnam Bavandpour works for the Farsi desk of DWImage: Privat

Now is time for clear language from abroad. Empty words, diplomatic demands and weak hints are far from adequate. They have never been enough, but now we are at a crossroads. The international community must stand by the Iranian people with everything at its disposal and threaten severe consequences, including a halt to nuclear negotiations if necessary.

Iran's rulers have never used the civil language of conciliation and moderation. They don't  take such language seriously. Nor do symbolic sanctions frighten them. They have even endured an oil embargo. If they are met with symbolism alone, they will not hesitate for a moment to keep killing to maintain power. They know that it's only a matter of time before realpolitik motivates many countries to negotiate. They interpret the West's years of appeasements in response to their expansion in the Middle East as a gift. Iran also does not shy away from state terrorist operations around the world, especially in European countries.

Above all, Iran's rulers see the lack of response to their threats against Israel's existence as their "special privilege." The truth is that compared to the way the West approached Moammar Gadhafi's Libya, Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Bashar Assad's Syria, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Iran has been handled with with kid gloves. This has allowed the Islamic Republic to become so brazen that it now continues to massacre its citizens without concern.

Tehran's only fear

But there is one thing that the Islamic Republic still fears: the return of its nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently stated that Tehran is not ready to account for its nuclear program and the traces of enriched uranium found at three sites in Iran. The regime has been playing a game of cat-and-mouse for months in its negotiations with the West to buy time to build a nuclear bomb. The West would have valid reasons to let the negotiations fail and start reinstating comprehensive UN sanctions, the so-called snapback.

This is the only message that Tehran would understand and fear. Only then would the civil uprising of the Iranian people, with women at the forefront, have a chance. Only under such pressure would Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stop the killing of demonstrators. The same goes for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who would certainly not dare again to have several thousand prisoners executed in a short time as he did in the summer of 1988.

The mullahs' regime in Tehran has to be made to feel as if it is besieged by the world. Otherwise, the only thing that will remain in the minds of Iranians will be the silence and complicity of the West. That wouldn't just be irresponsible, it would be unforgivable.

This piece was originally published in German. 

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