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Time to double down on Iranian resistance against Khamenei

I had the opportunity to sit down with the National Council for Resistance in Iran (NCRI) this week during its annual conference in Paris, which attracts thousands of participants every year. Diplomats and dignitaries from all over the world attended, including US politicians such as Sen. Joe Lieberman and American military notables such as retired Gen. Jack Keane, who are major supporters of regime-change in Tehran. 

It was my first time directly interacting with senior NCRI leaders, despite the many years I have spent following and writing about their activities. The council is by far the largest network of anti-regime activists, and is widely feared by Tehran. 

There have been numerous documented instances in which Tehran has insisted that any Western diplomatic effort to normalize relations with it would necessitate declaring the NCRI a terrorist entity. 

The fact that the NCRI has consistently publicized detailed intelligence on Iran’s nefarious weapons-smuggling and inside information on its covert nuclear weaponization program has made the council the most potent and active threat to the regime’s ambitions. 

NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi told the thousands who showed up to hear her speak on Saturday: “(Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei’s representatives were saying the resistance has resurfaced in the country. 

Intelligence and security officials repeatedly boast of the arrest of resistance members… The conclusion is what the Iranian resistance has emphasized since the outset and what many in the world have reached today: The only solution is regime-change.”

The conclusion is simple: If Tehran remains committed to destabilizing the region by funding, arming and indoctrinating terror groups, the only real inoculation to its radical designs is regime-change. 

What made the gathering of Iranian resistance so unique was its ethnic and ideological diversity. Persians and Arabs, Sunnis and Shiites, secular and religious people were all present, united on behalf of a common goal.

If Tehran remains committed to destabilizing the region by funding, arming and indoctrinating terror groups, the only real inoculation to its radical designs is regime-change.

Oubai Shahbandar

Shahin Gobadi, a member of the NCRI foreign affairs committee, told me: “The issue is not Arabs versus Persians or Sunnis against Shiites; this is what the mullahs in Tehran want to depict. The Iranian resistance meeting showed that there’s a growing understanding that the regime and its proxies are on one side, and the Iranian people and the nations of the region are on the other.” 

Much like the Syrian regime, Khamenei tries to normalize his regime to the international community by attempting to convince it that there is no credible alternative, so his regime and its radical Islamist ideology must be accepted by all.

No international effort to date has had any meaningful impact in moderating Tehran’s external aggressions and horrific domestic repression. If anything, the more Iran has sought recognition by the EU and US as a legitimate power, the further its terror proxies have spread throughout the Middle East. 

Neither “elections,” nor the millions of dollars that have resulted from the nuclear deal, have had any tangible moderating influence on Tehran. Dialogue with it has come to its inevitable conclusion: A stubborn impasse. 

So perhaps now is the time to invest real resources, time and diplomatic capital to helping the Iranian resistance grow and push back against Khamenei’s maximalist designs. 

What better way to respond to Tehran’s malign meddling than with a dose of its own medicine?

• Oubai Shahbandar is a former Department of Defense senior adviser, and currently a strategic communications consultant specializing in Middle Eastern and Gulf affairs.