This coming month of November will certainly win the interest of a great amount of media coverage as the world will focus on the result of the American elections. Yet before the 6th another date in the calendar should be considered worth the attention.
November 4th will mark the 33rd anniversary of the unilateral attack by hundreds of Iranian students on the US embassy in Tehran and the subsequent 444-days long hostage crisis. In its uniqueness this event marked the clear rupture by the Islamic Republic with the previously established Iranian relations with the White House. Along with that, it also introduced the new modus operandi for Iran to deal with its adversaries, namely the use of force and terror against non-military targets aimed at inflating the power of the Islamic revolution in international relations.
As tensions have been exponentially growing between Iran and the United States and Israel, this anniversary needs to take the center of the political discourse and analytical commentaries. The hate that led to these attacks has not been erased and Iranian rhetoric and actions haven’t changed.
In a year of presidential elections in the United States and as elections are closing in for the Tehran political establishment, any move by current president Ahmadinejad should be scrutinized as he may attempt to tilt the balance in his favor and try to go down in history as the Iranian president who attacked Western interests on numerous occasions.
The question is then why so little attention is given to this anniversary? The current international focus on Iran is almost solely centered on its nuclear program. If this is a major strategic necessity for Israel, it does not justify the European or American stance over the nature of the threat. The development of nuclear capabilities for military use is in itself an outstanding threat for the security of the whole region yet it is so especially due to the specific ideology present in the political and religious establishment of the Islamic Republic.
Analysts and decision makers must not differentiate Tehran's objectives and its means. Since 1979, Iran has been effectively waging a campaign of mass repression within its own borders and using its socio-military capabilities to export terror as a structured mean of foreign policy. The objective behind these actions remains linked to an expansionist agenda based on a revolutionary ideology deeply linked to the core values of the Islamic revolution.
By not harshly denouncing and merely continuously arguing against this state-lead machine, the United States and the European countries are in part tacitly approving a certain number of actions which can in their opinion be tolerated.
Today, few world leaders would really act against the continuous repression and persecution of religious minorities in Iran. An extremely limited number of persons would actually take extensive action to credibly denounce and rebuke Iranian anti-Semitic and genocidal discourse while the response to Iranian support of international terrorism remains conditional to the gravity of single attacks.
Massive internal repressions
What are the reasons behind this reality? An explanation may be found in the fact that American and European decision makers have grown accustomed to a certain degree of barbarity by the Iranian regime, that certain degree of 'evil' which is now expected to appear in speeches, actions and policies from the Islamic Republic.
There is a comfort zone in which deciders have now fallen into. The mass arrests and executions of Baha'is since the 1990s, as well as the implementation of plans to resolve the "Baha'i question" do not generate widespread condemnation.
The execution of Iranian citizens due to their sexual tendencies no longer makes the front page of major media outlets. Legal cases against the tremendous political repressions that have left more than 30,000 dead in the 1980s and 1990s do not hold a first place in international news outlets and few are surprised by political and religious leaders' calls for the annihilation of Israel.
The closure of the Strait of Hormuz or subversive interventions in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon and some African countries have become to a certain extent the norms to which decision makers contemplate the Iranian threat.
This absurd situation is possible simply because over the last 33 years the United States and European countries have grown accustomed to a certain trend of evil and now do find it banal in the sense that it is no longer an exceptional matter. Since the 1980s Iran has sponsored terrorism that has cost the lives of Israelis, Europeans and Americans while not being directly held accountable for it.
This situation creates a very high risk: the Tehran establishment quickly understands that it can act freely as long as it does not trespass certain tacit barriers. Neither the United States nor the European Union will risk an international conflict to respond to a growing terrorist threat or to stop devastating internal repressions.
Such a reality brings back memories of the European decade preceding the Second World War. European liberal democracies, suffering from internal instability and protracted economic crises attempted to contain Nazi Germany.
Providing Hitler with a breathing space which led him to fully militarize his state, crush opponents, annex Austria, occupy Czechoslovakia and lay the foundation for the systematic massacre of 6 million Jews and another 6 million innocent souls. Liberal democracies attempted to follow reason to deter Hitler and in some way accepted a certain degree of 'evil' with which they then thought Europe could live with.
In our decade, the threat is similar. Iran has in the last 33 years been laying the foundations for a terror state based on massive internal repressions and increased external aggressions. By providing it with the same breathing space Nazi Germany received from European liberal democracies, Iran has rapidly been shaping a policy based on the maximum amount of damage it can cause within the acceptable degree of evil set by its adversaries.
President Obama did state in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly that a nuclear armed Iran cannot be contained, yet little, apart from sanctions, is effectively being done to roll it back.
Borrowing Hannah Arendt’s phrase of the 'banality of evil' in regard to the Iranian power structure does not mean it is comparable to the Nazi state, yet by accepting the evil within the Iranian establishment, the normalization of its calls for genocide and the relative passiveness vis-à-vis the expansion of its military means, does recall the situation which enabled the Nazi state to enact the worst policies ever experienced in human history.
It took the attack on Poland for European democracies to slowly attempt to curb Hitler’s ambitions by force. The United States and the EU must make sure that the threshold to act against Iran is lower than a full aggression on a sovereign state. Forceful action should not only be seen as a full spectrum military campaign but as an ensemble of military, economic and political means aimed at rolling back and not only containing the Iranian terror state.
Riccardo Dugulin holds a Master degree from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and is specialized in International Security. He is currently working in Paris for a Medical and Security Assistance company. He has worked for a number of leading think tanks in Washington DC, Dubai and Beirut. Personal website: www.riccardodugulin.com