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No.1 US priority in Middle East: regime change in Iran

Change in Iran would transform the region as a whole and is a goal on which virtually all US allies agree. So why is Obama so reticent to take a strong stance? Freedom cannot be won through timidity. Here are several key steps for a US-led effort to help make the regime crack.

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• There should be a major escalation of the sanctions already imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, now to include the repressive character of its regime and the harsh measures it has taken to suppress opposition. Serious sanctions will impact the people of Iran, not just the regime, but such steps are necessary to bring about change. Regime change may be painful, but it will ultimately serve the people of Iran.

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• Significant financial and material support should be provided to opposition groups in Iran, directly where appropriate, covertly elsewhere.

• Young Iranians’ Internet savvy and well-known fondness for social media, whose disruptive political effects have now been demonstrated, should be exploited, for example by indirectly flooding Iran with free iPads and other Internet devices. Instead of the old “Atoms for Peace” program, this would be “Apples for Freedom.”

• Iran is not Libya. Its size and retaliatory capabilities make even modest military options, such as a no-fly zone, not feasible. But if and when unrest grows, some highly limited measures may be possible, such as disrupting regime communications.

The demand for US leadership on Iran

If ever US leadership was called for, to help chart a new course for the region, it is now. The United States will be blamed no matter what it does; some will claim that it has not intervened sufficiently, others that it has gone too far. Iran is the big prize and a place where US leadership can make a difference.

These measures may not succeed in bringing about the desired change in Iran, but the downsides are minimal. How could we explain a failure to even try to take advantage of the opportunity?

Chuck Freilich was a deputy national security adviser in Israel. He is now an International Security Program senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

This piece first appeared on the Power & Policy blog.

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