Kenneth R. Timmerman, a nationally recognized investigative reporter and president of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, spoke with Middle East Forum Radio host Gregg Roman on January 8 about the implications of and reaction to the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
According to Timmerman, Soleimani was "irreplaceable" as commander of the Quds Force. The late general
had his fingers in every terrorist plot. ... He was the one who conducted all of Iran's overseas operations, terror operations, military operations. He personally, physically went to Syria, to Lebanon, to Iraq, to Yemen, ... to oversee his operations.
Soleimani's replacement, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, is "much less dangerous":
He does not have the web of connections. He does not have the charisma. He's not looked up to by his subordinates the way that Soleimani was. ... [Soleimani] could command devoted followers and people to carry out his commands ... [T]here was something deeply personal about it.
Ghaani's difficulties filling Soleimani's shoes will be compounded by the new strategic status quo. Iran's usual modus operandi is to act through proxies to maintain plausible deniability and thereby avoid retaliation from more powerful enemies. But Trump, in contrast to the Obama administration, has "drawn a red line," he noted. "If you shed American blood, we will respond dramatically with overwhelming force and you will pay a tremendously high price."
Adding to Iran's problems is the fact that the U.S. strike that killed Soleimani has been "overwhelmingly" supported by Iranian dissidents at home and abroad:
[P]eople are posting videos inside Iran, some of them where they veil their face, or cover half of their face. But others ... [are] women who are speaking right into the camera and saying, 'Mr. Trump, we love you. Thank you for what you have done.'
Qassem Soleimani was considered by freedom-loving Iranians as not just a terrorist, but a man who played a key role in the repressive apparatus, who was 'all in' when Iran would send Basij [a volunteer paramilitary organization operating under the IRGC] onto the rooftops to ... fire on the crowds with sniper fire on peaceful protesters.
There was an event near Ahvaz and protests about three or four weeks ago, where they rounded up about 120 people who had tried to escape the demonstrations in the center of this smaller town. They rounded them up in the marshland and just gunned them down with machine guns ... and this was caught on video. ... It reminded you of some of the worst things that you would hear from World War II and the forests of Poland.
The massive numbers of Iranian people who took to the streets in the Islamic Republic to express their outrage against the United States during the regime's 3-day mourning period are "rent-a-crowds," explained Timmerman.
Timmerman estimated that "somewhere between five and ten percent of the population" is comprised of "ardent supporters of the regime ... the ones chanting 'Death to America'," while another ten to twenty percent are resolutely opposed to it. "The overwhelming majority of people inside the country are on the fence, ... keeping their heads down," he said.
But Iran's ability to keep this silent majority silent is slipping. "People were afraid or had been afraid up until the death of Soleimani, that nothing they could do could shake the regime," said Timmerman, but no longer. "They are looking to the United States for some form of help."
The Iranian people "are looking to the United States for some form of help."
It's never been more important for the U.S. to support the Iranian opposition. In particular, Timmerman urged that the Trump administration provide "material assistance" to the opposition and work to counter Internet blackouts imposed by the regime. "I've heard most frequently that [Iranian dissidents] would like to see the State Department turn on the Internet when the regime turns it off, because the regime wants to kill in darkness."
Timmerman cautioned against listening to the National Iranian American Council, a Washington organization claiming to represent the Iranian American community, which is urging accommodation with the regime and a return to Obama's Iran nuclear deal. "The former head of NIAC, ... Trita Parsi, was openly taking part on the Iranian side in the negotiations in Lausanne that led up the Iran nuclear deal," he noted. "You should not be surprised that people like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders ... should be supporting NIAC, because they share their goals and they share their views that America is at fault and Iran is just an 'innocent victim of American imperialism'."
If there is anything that gives the Iranian regime hope, it is not the situation in Iran, but the situation in the United States:
There used to be a time in American politics where we'd say our differences stopped at the nation's shore, and those times are long gone. ... [W]e no longer have a united view towards foreign policy, towards American national security interests or towards America's role in the world. You have people who come out of a Marxist, radical, left-wing background who now have made their way into Congress, who've made their way into major newspapers, who believe that America is the source of all evil in the world, and therefore America must be defeated.
In conclusion, Timmerman urged the mainstream media and the Democratic Party to reject "radical leftists" and erase this "stain on our body politic."
Marilyn Stern is the producer of Middle East Forum Radio.