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Mohsen Shekari, 23, was not the first Iranian protester to be killed on Thursday for demanding freedom during nationwide protests that have rocked Iran since September. Human rights groups estimate that more than 450 civilians have been killed and some 18,000 arrested during the nearly three months of protests that have turned into a nationwide protest against clerical rule that the regime does not was unable to contain.
But the government’s announcement of Shekari’s execution for “waging war against God” marks an escalation in its campaign to quell the protests that could well signal the start of an even more violent phase of its crackdown.
While Washington has sanctioned individual Iranians linked to the regime’s crackdown and criticized the Iranian government’s ‘brutal’ campaign of violence and intimidation, President Biden has yet to condemn the regime in a major speech or formally suspend it. his now stalled efforts to negotiate a return to power. 2015 agreement to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
His only direct support for Iranian protesters was an off-the-cuff claim that Washington would “liberate Iran,” a gaffe that was quickly pushed back by administration officials. Nonetheless, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi have used it to accuse the US of trying to foment regime change and blame the most serious internal protests in decades on US and Israeli interference.
IRAN EXECUTS FIRST PROTESTER SINCE NATIONAL WOMEN’S RIGHTS PROTESTS BEGIN
As pressure on the administration to do more publicly to help protesters and punish Tehran is likely to mount, Biden should instead focus on behind-the-scenes efforts to provide meaningful communications, intelligence and logistical support to Iranian protesters and to work with its European and Asian allies to decrease Iran’s revenue. He is also expected to formally suspend long-running efforts to revive the nuclear deal.
A major speech from Biden could comfort human rights groups and temporarily boost protesters’ morale, but quiet diplomacy and logistical and intelligence support to protesters will likely be more effective.
Iran is determined to quell protests sparked in September by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police for failing to cover her hair enough. At the same time, Tehran is discreetly increasing attacks against its neighbors. While Washington and its allies are rightly focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine, Iran is ruthlessly bombarding the Kurds in neighboring Iraq, provoking US ships in the Persian Gulf, attacking Saudi Arabia and even stepping up its efforts to strike at its enemies on American soil.
US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have fortunately foiled plots against former Trump national security adviser John Bolton and New York-based Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad. Washington also thwarted Iranian cyberattacks on a children’s hospital, police departments and US infrastructure. But US officials expect these Iranian plots to multiply.
Tehran’s aggression will not be stopped by a presidential speech or by the administration’s existing sanctions against Iranian officials. “Iranian officials don’t care,” said David Pollock, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has recently focused on Iran’s deadly attacks on neighboring Kurds.
“Iranian officials and agents don’t have US bank accounts and don’t want to travel here.” Instead, he said, serious efforts to help the Kurds and Baghdad counter Iranian aggression — offering them, for example, a defense support package — as well as more intensive efforts to starve the regime of revenue – are “much more likely to attract Tehran’s attention”.
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Human rights groups say Tehran has sentenced at least a dozen people to death for alleged crimes during the protests. 30 others are accused of crimes punishable by death. According to the international reaction, the murder of Shekari could be only the first of the appalling murders sanctioned by the Iranian justice.
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Britain, Germany and other allied governments immediately condemned Iran’s announcement of Thursday’s execution. But to be deterred, Tehran will have to fear the consequences of such an international scandal. Washington must do more to support the Iranian people, but not just with words.
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