Iran regime looks overseas to spread its terror and misinformation
The Iranian regime has increasingly been striking overseas with the aim of silencing its opponents and preventing a potential widespread uprising at home.
The recent investigations in Albania of a group of Iranian regime spies did not grab headlines in the US. But what actually happened? In July, the country’s Special Structure for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime detained and interrogated several Iranian nationals for spying, reportedly on behalf of the Iranian regime. Albanian police raided apartments and offices where they apparently conducted prohibited activities.
These revelations are truly newsworthy. According to the Albanian police, these individuals had been under investigation for several years. Their espionage activities reportedly occurred on Albanian territory on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, an entity designated by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The Albanian special courts approved the investigation and raids in order to prevent a “possible terrorist attack” against the main Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has its headquarters at Ashraf 3, near Tirana.
Successive visits to Ashraf 3 by former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and ex-Vice President Mike Pence in May and June of this year, respectively, to meet with the oppositional group’s leader Maryam Rajavi are indicative of the pressure that Tehran feels as it faces immense domestic unrest. These events are not happening in a vacuum. They coincide with the geopolitical reality of Middle Eastern opposition to the Iranian regime’s ambitions to dominate the region, as well as Russia’s attempts to enhance its alliance with the rulers in Tehran in order to prevent any change to the status quo.
Tehran is most likely lashing out at the NCRI abroad due to its fear that it may incite the next widespread uprising at home
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Other terrorist plots targeting the opposition in Albania, France, the US and Denmark have already been foiled. One Iranian diplomat is in jail in Belgium, three have been expelled from France and the Netherlands, and a terrorist arrested in Denmark has been exposed as being closely linked to the regime’s ambassador in Norway.
The regime is most likely lashing out at the NCRI abroad due to its fear that it may incite the next widespread uprising at home. Several uprisings have emerged since the regime’s mass killings of November 2019 and, today, with the public reeling from social crises such as food price increases, the patterns of public unrest are arguably more unmistakable than ever.
The Iranian regime would have the world believe that the outcome of regime change would be either a return to the previous political establishment or a descent into factional feuding. And so, we arrive at the other front that the Iranian regime employs: A misinformation campaign demonizing its opponents, including the NCRI, whose members Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has described as the “foot soldiers” of the uprising. Tehran is desperately seeking Western journalists and media outlets that can be persuaded to spread its narratives and smear the oppositional group, in conjunction with a widespread campaign to manipulate Facebook and Twitter.
Tehran is also employing the services of Iranian nationals posing as journalists to do the bidding of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. For example, in 2018, Facebook closed 652 accounts and Twitter shut 770 accounts that were deemed to be false profiles for Iranian government advertising and the dissemination of pro-Iranian fake news and lies.
The regime seeks to discredit and demonize its opponents in an attempt to dodge the spotlight they have put on its human rights violations, its secret nuclear weapons program, its sponsorship of terrorism and its meddling in the Middle East. Unfortunately, some people, including journalists, are all too willing to naively, or perhaps even maliciously, lap up every shred of misinformation about the Iranian opposition and augment every iota of pro-regime propaganda.
The misinformation campaign about the regime’s opponents is most likely aimed at sowing distrust and confusion in the minds of the Western public, making it difficult for Western policymakers and public figures to support the movement against the Iranian regime. By spreading false narratives and fake news, the Iranian regime also seems to be manipulating the mainstream media, which could damage the reputation and integrity of a long-established, progressive political movement against it. It has circulated an image of the group that is the polar opposite of what many public figures who have had contact with the movement’s members and leadership formed through direct experience.
It should be of concern to all reputable social media outlets that the Iranian regime is spreading misinformation and using bias against its opponents.
It is incumbent on the international community to immediately combat the Iranian regime’s increasing terror activities abroad and to counter Tehran’s widespread misinformation campaign.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh