Ukraine’s resistance should end calls for ‘regime change’ in Iran by Israel and the pro-Israel lobby

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses Congress, introduced by Nancy Pelosi to standing ovation, March 16, 2022 (screenshot)

James North

Mondoweiss  /  March 21, 2022

The inspiring Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s invasion already has one positive consequence a thousand miles to the southeast — it should end, once and for all, the dangerous calls in Israel and by the U.S. Israel lobby to step up attacks on Iran to change the regime there.

Vladimir Putin apparently expected that Ukrainian resistance would collapse quickly, and that the Russian invaders would have a cakewalk into Kiev. Instead, Ukrainians rallied around their government, and president Zelinsky’s popularity shot up overnight. A month later, their ferocious defiance is once again proving a central truth; even people who don’t like their rulers won’t accept foreigners who try to dictate to them at gunpoint.  

The unhinged calls to overthrow Iran’s government are not confined to the fever swamps of the far right. Just last December, 7 former U.S. government foreign policy hawks, including General David Petraeus and Leon Panetta, who headed both the Defense Department and the CIA, publicly called on the U.S. to threaten to attack Iran. They said:

 We believe it is vital to restore to restore Iran’s fear that its current nuclear path will trigger the use of force against it by the United States.

Earlier, a 2020 Washington Post opinion article, also written by members in good standing of the Washington, D.C. foreign policy establishment, was entitled: “Regime change in Iran shouldn’t be a taboo.” Its tortured logic ended with:

Seeking regime change isn’t rude. It is pragmatic, cost-sensitive, humane and — in the best sense of the word — liberal.

Putin’s view that the Ukrainians would not resist the Russian military was not entirely an illusion. Ukraine has long-standing political and cultural ties to Russia; a significant proportion of its people are actually Russian-speaking; the country has only been independent for 30 years. 

By contrast, Iran is a nation with a powerful, long-standing identity. John Ghazvinian notes in his recent, magisterial history of U.S.-Iranian relations that:

… Iran is one of the world’s oldest, proudest and most enduring civilizations …. Iran has had 3000 years of (mostly) continuous nationhood … Iran is one of the very few nation-states that can legitimately claim to have existed more or less continuously since antiquity … Cultural, historically and politically, Iran has an extraordinarily strong sense of its identity and its regional significance.

For years now, Israel, apparently with at least some U.S. acquiescence, has been conducting a terror campaign inside Iran. The distinguished Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that this campaign has included “assassinations of nuclear scientists, explosions at nuclear sites, cyberattacks, attacks on Iranian ships, extensive airstrikes against pro-Iranian militias in Syria …” 

The prevailing theory is that at least some of these attacks in Iran are carried out by the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK), an extremist opposition group. (The cult-like group has ties, probably including financial links, to top Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and to former national security adviser John Bolton.) Expecting Iranians to support the MeK is absurd, not least because the cult fought alongside Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s army during his 8-year war against Iran in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, Israel and the pro-Israel lobby have an immediate fear; the talks in Vienna to restore the Iran nuclear deal are apparently going well and nearing an agreement. The Biden administration is preoccupied with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the last thing it wants is another crisis in the Middle East. What’s more, Israel’s refusal to stand squarely with the U.S., NATO and the Ukrainian government has not gone unnoticed. The pro-Israel lobby is surely already working overtime at damage control.

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large