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Joseph: Hello. My name is Joseph Epstein, and I am the Director of Legislative Affairs at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). Thank you so much for tuning in for today’s webinar.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been responsible not only for funding and training Hamas, but also for the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the militias and others in Syria. In the meantime, experts from the Institute for Science and International Security report that Iran can assemble one nuclear bomb in approximately seven days. This is based on data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran entered into the new axis of evil, along with Russia and China, a long time ago. It also has many bases throughout Latin America, threatening our national security interests here at home.

It has been a year and a half since the Mahsa Amini protest in Iran. This protest was triggered by Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of the Iranian police. Mahsa Amini was arrested for not wearing a hijab properly. Emboldened by the protests, many Iranian women are still wearing their hair uncovered. However, Iran has not loosened any of its draconian laws. On March 1st, the people of Iran went to the polls to vote for a new parliament and Assembly of Experts. However, the ruling Guardian Council oversaw the election and decided which candidates were eligible. Many people avoided the elections altogether, seeing them as a sham. The major news outlets are not reporting on this. The turnout was the worst in Iran’s history of elections. What does this say about the future of Iran’s counter-revolution? Is there any hope that the people can overthrow their suffocating regime?

Here to discuss this is Dr. Walid Phares, a foreign policy expert, focusing on the Middle East. Dr. Phares is a former advisor to President Donald Trump. Dr. Phares is joined by human rights activist, Gazelle Sharmahd. Thank you both for being here.

Walid: Thank you for having us.

Joseph: If you’d like to start, Walid, please.

Walid: Thank you, Joseph, for allowing us to speak with you. I would like to thank Sarah for suggesting this webinar. Addressing EMET’s audience is a great opportunity for us because public opinion is critical at these times. I would like to talk a little bit about geopolitics and the strategies of the Iran regime. I will address US policy regarding five ongoing wars and I will discuss the battle inside Iran with the Iranian people, which you mentioned.

We want the Iranian people to be successful, not only in obtaining human rights but also in changing Iranian policy. Together with Gazelle, we have launched a program called Educate America. This program offers private citizens access to lecture panels, interviews, and podcasts. This program exists just because of deficiencies in our higher education system. I know EMET is an organization dedicated to truth and we are aiming to bring truth to the public. So, again, thank you for giving us this platform.

I will start by summarizing what many of you already know and I will add a few new elements. For years now, the Iran regime has instigated wars in the Middle East. The impact of Iran’s influence in the Middle East peaked with the October 7th genocidal attack by Hamas against the Israeli population. That was the peak. All of the wars triggered by Iran in the Middle East have a single aim. Their goal is to divert the attention of the American public and the international community, from what’s happening inside Iran. They want to divert attention from what I call the Iranian Spring.

We know that 90% of American, and other Western media, is focusing on the war in Gaza. They are neglecting to report on what the Houthis are doing, what Hezbollah is doing, and the militia attacks against our troops in Iraq and Syria. They are overfocusing on Gaza and our public does not pay attention to what is happening in Saudi Arabia and Iran. There are reasons why the Iran regime has focused world attention on the Gaza War.

Firstly, Iran wants to dismantle the Abraham Accords. They want to prevent diplomatic relations between the Saudis and the Israelis. These were developing before October 7th and still exist. We know there are still talks between the Israelis and the Saudis even though they have slowed. Iran’s first goal is to prevent open diplomatic engagement between Riyadh and Jerusalem.

Goal number two for Iran is to attack our troops everywhere, including in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. In addition to our Navy, international shipping lines are under attack. These attacks are to prepare for the third goal. That third goal is basically to defeat the Iranian opposition. You mentioned in the introduction that this revolution is relentless. It is different from the waves that occurred previously, including the 1999 Student Revolution, the 2009 Green Movement, and the 2019 protests, which Gazelle will expand on. The Master Revolution is now almost two years old.

The regime knows that these types of revolutions can cause governments to topple. The Iran deal with the West was their attempt to circumvent this threat to their regime. The Iran deal is a transaction, born in 2009. At that time, former President Obama reached out to the Great Ayatollah in Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and offered new US policies or deals. We know the Iran deal of 2015 promised to deliver $150 billion to the Iran regime. Then of course, over the past summer, we transferred additional billions of dollars to the Iranian regime. Gazelle will address those transactions in more detail.

There are concerns in Western Europe and Northern America about the extent to which Iran can influence public opinion. The Iranian regime has invested heavily in influencing our education, our academia, our media, our think tanks, and our institutions. They invested many of these funds through third parties. These investments allow Iran to influence the West, and the United States in particular.

The Arabs told Arab officials, Israelis, and others, that something had changed in US policy. Our allies and partners do not recognize US policy with the current administration. Our troops are attacked and we do not respond strategically. We put a lot of pressure on the Saudis and the UAE when they were fighting the Houthis. Now, we are going to harvest the result of this policy. The worst, of course, is what is happening in Gaza. The whole goal of this war of ideas is to convince the international community to blame the Israeli government for the war in Gaza. The aim is to convince the international community that the Israeli government is guilty because it does not want to accept a permanent ceasefire.

The Iranian regime has been successful in achieving many of its objectives. They have succeeded in controlling Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. They have expanded their influence inside the United States and also in Western Europe to an extent. Like an orchestra conductor, they are directing the five wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and in the West Bank. Iran instigated these five wars and the administration is trying to contain them. At the same time, the administration is cognizant of the Iran deal and so has chosen not to finish these wars. People talk about endless wars. We are not finishing these endless wars because of the Iran deal. That leads me to my conclusion and I will be happy to answer questions about it later.

It appears to the world that the battlefields impacting the Middle East, and requiring containment, are outside of Iran. It appears to the world that the ability to subvert the negative ramifications on energy and everything else is outside of Iran. It is not outside of Iran. Change can occur from within the confines of the Islamic Republic. An Iranian Revolution has the potential to reverse what is happening in the Middle East. Some dramatic stories are coming out of Iran and I would like your audience to be aware of them.

This Iranian Revolution is not about reforming the Islamic Regime, but rather about getting rid of it. It is also not about US intervention to topple the regime. It is about us supporting the Iranian people so they can topple the regime. This is similar to what the US has done previously in many other countries. During the Cold War, we supported the dissidents. We supported Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland. We supported the Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia. We supported voices inside the Soviet Union during the Cold War. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union presented a totalitarian threat with the means to destroy the United States. Similarly, the Islamic Republic is now about to obtain the means to destroy the United States.

I do not believe the regime spent the money they received from the Iran deal on the Iranian people. The regime spent the money on themselves and on buying weapons including ballistic and anti-aircraft missiles. So, we send them money, and they use the money to buy weapons, and those weapons deter action against them. The Iranians also use their funds to create propaganda worldwide. We are up against extensive funding, perhaps even billions of dollars, in propaganda funding. Of course, the Iranians are also focused on extending their influence within the United States. Given this, there is a big question relating to what the US will do when Iran obtains nuclear weapons.

I think a policy of maximum sanctions on the Iranian regime is a good idea. In contrast to what we are doing now, we should be pressuring the Iranians in every way we can. That said, it is crucial for us to change our policy towards the people of Iran and to offer them maximum support. We need to help the Iranian people as soon as possible because the regime is currently destroying the best voices of the Iranian opposition. One of these voices is the father of Gazelle. Gazelle. Gazelle is now partnering with me but she did a huge amount of work even before the abduction of her father.

Gazelle is the daughter of a very important hostage inside Iran. Gazelle has spoken in the European Parliament and the Bundestag in Germany. We are working to ensure her voice is heard in the US Congress as well. Gazelle changed her career and is now becoming a star of the opposition in the world of ideas. Gazelle and I are partnering to leverage our academic backgrounds and real-world experiences when we address the American and international public. Gazelle Sharmahd is a voice that we need to hear. Gazelle is a voice the government and the American public need to hear. So, Gazelle, thank you for being with us. The floor is yours.

Gazelle: Thank you, Joseph, and thank you Walid, for having me. Thank you to the audience. Let me start by introducing my dad. My dad’s name is Jamshid Sharmahd. Everyone who knows him calls him Jimmy. Jimmy was doing just what I am doing now and what the opposition is doing. He did what dissidents and activists are doing, the same thing that Israeli activists are doing. He gave a voice to the people and tried to expose the truth about the propaganda, the war and the storm in the West.

For 45 years, the Iranian regime has been buying the media, academia, and influence in the US. My dad is a software engineer. He created a website years before we had social media. This website provided the people inside Iran with an avenue to access the truth and understand what was going on there. This website was a very big threat in the eyes of the regime. They started by harassing my father and our family and we received death threats. In 2009, they sent assassins to Los Angeles to our door to assassinate my father. That plot was foiled by the FBI. My father survived but the regime was not deterred. The regime has a track record of 45 years of assassinating dissidents all over the globe. They murder dissidents because they amplify the voices of the Iranian people. The regime will not tolerate these dissident voices because they are intent on hiding the truth of what is happening in Iran.

In 2020, my dad was on a business trip from which he never returned. This was during the pandemic. He had a flight layover in Dubai, and that was the last time that we were able to see or speak to him. They kidnapped him. They took him through the border of Oman, to the coast of Oman, and then we assume by waterway to Iran. He has been held hostage for 1,319 days at an unknown location inside Iran. He is in solitary confinement and has been tortured. He has been put through sham trials based on fabricated charges and he was sentenced to death last year.

Last November, I think, they initiated a new trial involving both my father and the US administration. The results of that trial were published yesterday. Both my father and the US government were convicted of criminal offenses, terrorism, and other fabricated charges. They are required to pay $2.487 Billion. If the regime does not receive these funds, they will execute my father. So, the hostage diplomacy the regime has been using for 45 years, is ongoing. It is encouraged by the bad policies being pursued by other governments across the globe.

We know that the Islamic regime has taken hundreds of Europeans, Americans, Canadians, and Australians hostage. Typically, negotiations result in some of them being freed with others left behind. This leads to a follow-up negotiation and another negotiation after that. This is the same methodology Hamas is implementing right now. There is a reason they took 250 innocent people hostage and did not just kill them all. Hamas is copy-pasting Iran’s hostage-taking strategy because it works. They take people to either kill them and scare other people off or to get concessions from the other governments. They succeed in many cases because we value life and our administrations do too. However, this is not currently true as regards the administration when it comes to Iranian dissidents.

The US administration abandons those who speak out and amplify the truth about the Iranian regime. In September, they negotiated the freedom of five Americans from the Islamic regime. They left my father behind even though he was the most vulnerable hostage and the one sentenced to death. By leaving him behind, they are not only sending a message to the regime but also to us dissidents and activists. They are letting us know that when we speak out and become an enemy of these terrorist regimes, they will not protect us. If they come to assassinate us, it is on us. If they come and kidnap us, it is on us. If they torture us, the administration can do nothing. The people they will work to get out are those who travel to Iran and do business with Iran. They will not work to free the dissidents and critics of the regime.

As Walid just said, it is very important to understand that the US has supported other dissidents in the past. In these cases, they were not trying to sustain the regime in question. In the past, the US has supported movements and people because we know uprisings and successful regime change come from the people. We do not want to invade countries as foreigners to take care of terrorism because this approach does not work.  We saw that in Iraq and Afghanistan. Successful change cannot take place if the people are not behind it. What the administration is doing now, however, is leaving the people behind and helping the regime to stifle dissent.

Last year, more than 834 innocent people were executed in Iran. There is an execution wave happening in Iran. The people being executed are our allies who want to bring down the regime. They are putting their lives at stake. They are putting their eyesight at stake because many people are being shot in the eyes. People are also being raped in prisons. The regime continues to commit these atrocities even in the absence of mass demonstrations. We still have civil disobedience and we do see mass demonstrations in the Kurdish region every time somebody is executed. We also have an active diaspora with some activists who have been involved for 45 years. From 2022, the new generation has been very active in lobbying and connecting with other diasporas. The Jewish diaspora and the Middle Eastern diasporas, from Lebanon, and Syria, are coming together but we have left them all hanging. That is the biggest problem that we have right now.

My dad’s life is at stake right now. They are threatening him with execution soon. We know they mean business because they have executed other dissidents. As an example, last year, they executed Habib Chaab, a Swedish-Iranian. Habib Chaab was kidnapped at the same time as my father. So, they are not bluffing and this is the situation we are facing right now.

Joseph: Thank you so much, Gazelle, for sharing your story, and thank you, Walid, as well. My first question is for Gazelle. You mentioned that people were released in the most recent hostage deal but your dad was not included. If you had to speculate, why do you think it is that your dad was not part of that deal?

Gazelle: That was my first question as well. Before this deal was negotiated, we conducted a sit-and-strike in front of the State Department in DC. Before the sit-and-strike, the State Department had ignored us for three years. They refused to meet with us and there were no picture ops like there are now with the families whose relatives are hostages in Gaza. They are forced to meet with those hostage families because the Jewish community is so active and so loud. If this was not the case, they would not meet with those families either. Hostage families like us were ignored for three years and so we did a sit and strike. When they finally agreed to meet with us, they told me they were bringing some American hostages back, but my dad was not among them. They did not provide me with any explanation. Bob Levinson, a patriot from America, was left behind as well.

We reminded them that the people left behind were being murdered. I asked them what they were going to do with my dad who was facing execution. I asked them what they could do to stop the Iranians from murdering my father. Since the Iranians have increased the price per head to $1.2 billion per hostage, I asked them how they thought they would be able to get anyone else out in the future. I asked them about future hostages and they replied, “What future hostages?

Fast forward to today. Another 250 people have been taken hostage and this is just the beginning. Iran has many proxies including Hezbollah. They will continue kidnapping people if we do not put a stop to it. We have a solution to their problem but we have not received a response to it yet. We have been going back and forth between the European and German Parliaments and the US Congress to promote this proposed solution. Hostage diplomacy conducted by terrorists is not limited to a few isolated cases and families should not be responsible for doing the work to facilitate their release. We need a global task force.

If governments combine forces, they will be able to exert immense pressure on terrorists. As an example, if all of the countries with hostages in Gaza were to leverage their combined influence, they would be able to exert significant pressure on Hamas. We do not do that, however. We allow the terrorists to blackmail us. For example, we are pressuring Israel right now to secure the release of the hostages instead of pressuring Hamas and the Islamic regime to release them. We are working backward. The first step we should take is to create a global task force that will provide a cohesive response to hostage-taking irrespective of the country from which the country has been taken.

Second, we have to address why some hostages like my father and other dissidents are being left out of hostage negotiations. I would argue they should be prioritized instead of just making them equal to all the other hostages. They should be prioritized and not left behind. We are sending a political message that we do not care about dissidents or freedom movements and that we will always choose the regime over dissidents. We have to reverse that. When people use their own time, money, and energy to advocate for human rights and truth, we have to stand behind them, no matter what. So, that would be step two and that is what we need to do.

Joseph: I could not agree more with you, Gazelle. When it comes to the Iranian opposition, we are seeing a plethora of different groups. Some support the Shah, some want democracy and some minority groups want more autonomy. So far, it seems like they have not been able to come together. Do you see a possibility of them coalescing to form a cohesive Iranian opposition? If so, how do you think that would come about?

Gazelle: Most certainly this will happen. This happened last year when a coalition including the Crown Prince, representatives of the Kurdish people, and many others, met in Georgetown. A large array of different opposition factors came together at that time. This cohesion serves as a bigger alarm to the regime than a war with military force. They know that the opposition coming together is what will put an end to their regime. That is how the regime came to power 45 years ago. They formed a coalition with the Islamists, the Communists, and every faction in between. In that way, they toppled the Shah who was backed by Western forces. Because the regime succeeded in that way, they know the opposition can succeed similarly.

They have invested great amounts in propaganda and cyber armies to go after the opposition. They regarded the Georgetown meeting we had last year as a significant threat and subsequently started a propaganda war to split the opposition. We are very aware of what they are doing. There are, of course, factions in the opposition that do engage in fights. That is normal. That is what you have in every society. We can look at the Democrats versus Republicans. When they are trying to get elected, they bite each other’s heads off. When their country is in danger, however, or when it comes to human rights and the basic constitution, they all think the same.

The same is true for the Iranian opposition. Some factions are portrayed as enemies of each other and they do have a history of not liking each other. That is normal. We can get them back together but the first step needs to come from our governments. Our governments have failed to engage with the opposition. They have failed to give us a platform. Aside from meaningless platitudes, they have failed to stand behind us. Saying that you stand with Iranian people means bloody nothing, if you are backing the regime with everything else that you are doing. We have only seen words so far. We need a stage and communities that bring people together and that can help us to form this opposition.

Walid: Can I add to what you answered? It’s very important.

Joseph: Of course, please.

Walid: Thank you. I will give you some historical examples to illustrate where we are, where they are, and where the US should be. During the Nazi occupation of France in World War II, the French Resistance within France coordinated with the French opposition outside of France. The opposition included De Gaulle and others in Britain and elsewhere. They did not like each other. That was proven when De Gaulle returned to France and was not elected president. The French Resistance movement comprised both Republicans and members of the powerful Communist Party. In normal times, they would have been slaughtering each other politically. They formed a national unity government, ran an election or two and France came back very quickly.

In this and other cases, the US has had to play a role. Opposition to a dictatorship requires a stamp of legitimacy. If the US played a real role in legitimizing the Iranian opposition, it would impact our work significantly. The Lebanese opposition has similar needs, albeit on a smaller scale. The Lebanese opposition is even more divided than that of the Iranians and the Hezbollah regime has infiltrated it. The Iranian opposition has been infiltrated. Iraq is in chaos and even the Kurds have been infiltrated. I met with Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Region, a few weeks ago in Washington. He is the only entity still resisting the onslaught of Iranian militias. He told me they are even operating in Kurdistan. As Gazelle mentioned, the Iranians are using billions of dollars for lobbying. They are also using their funds to influence the Middle East. They are dividing the Lebanese, the Kurds, the Sunnis, and others.

So, I agree with Gazelle, we need to have an administration with a strategic and intelligent team working with all factions of the opposition. I worked with the team under the Trump administration in the second and third years, and that was one special desk. We need a coordinated policy to isolate the regime. We need to establish the best organization to address the Iranian regime challenge and we need to do it in partnership with our allies. The rift we are seeing between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government, should not exist. We should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Israelis, the Saudis, the Egyptians, and our other allies. Where is the Arab coalition? Where are the Abraham Accords? They do not want them here in Washington because of the Iran deal. We need an administration that disassociates itself from the Iran deal. They need to go back and sit down with the Israelis, the Arabs, the Iranian opposition, and others.

Joseph: Thank you so much. I have a final question when it comes to the Iranian opposition. We know Iran has a very significant minority population even though it is hard to provide the exact numbers because Iran does not have an official census for this. According to some estimates, up to 50% of the population comprises different minority groups such as the Azerbaijanis, the Kurds, the Arabs, and the Baluch. Many of these populations are even more disaffected than the Persians. Their regions are neglected, they struggle with unemployment, they are policed very harshly and they are often discriminated against. Is there a way for the opposition to reach out and incorporate these groups? They make up the majority in some regions and they are located in very strategic areas such as the borders with Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan.

Walid: On issues of statistics and numbers, there are all kinds of wild numbers being promulgated right now. I think 50% is a little bit exaggerated. I have seen the ethnic maps based on real CIA research from the 1990s and I do not think the percentages have changed significantly since then. The most optimistic number is that 38% of the Iranian population is made up of minorities. Most Iranians believe the minority percentage is between 30 and 32%. However, that is still an enormous percentage and bigger than the percentage of Hispanics and African Americans in America right now. The issue is not about numbers however, it is basically about the relationship between the majority and the minority.

I am a product of Lebanon and I teach ethnic conflict, so I am very familiar with a country comprising multiple disparate ethnicities and communities. Mutual recognition is the most important principle. Mutual recognition implies that the majority recognizes the minorities. As an example, Switzerland is a collection of ethnic minorities and nobody asks how many are German or how many are Francophones or Italian speakers. They are all included in the Constitution and they live in one of the best countries in the world. The Iranians could adapt and create any constitution. They could decide to become decentralized with cultural rights for all or they could decide to establish a federation. Here in America or Germany, you have the latter. Once the Iranians are freed from the current regime, they will be able to determine their form of government

As Gazelle said, the regime currently plays heavily on the minority-majority issue. Hezbollah does the same in Lebanon. Hezbollah has penetrated the Christian community, and that has never been seen before. Regarding Iran, you are correct that some of these ethnic minorities are located on Iran’s borders.

Gazelle mentioned the opposition’s achievement in Georgetown and that is very important. In Georgetown, the opposition created a coalition that had never been seen before. In my view, the next step is to create an institution with mutual recognition or proportional representation for all members. Hopefully, Gazelle will play the role of moderator in creating this institution. We need to have more than a coalition. We need an institution with a council representing each of the various groups. I would like to see the composition of the Iranian people inside Iran reflected in the opposition coalition outside the country. Everybody will be happy because every minority will be represented.

When the international community, including the American and European public, see a coalition of the Iranian opposition, with proportional representation for minorities, they will be more inclined to support them in toppling the regime and in helping to transition to a new government. The Iranians, or Persians, are among the smartest people in the Middle East. As such, I see a bright future if they follow the principles of mutual recognition and mutual representation.

Gazelle: As I said, the regime’s worst nightmare is a union of the different Iranian factions. That is why they are disseminating so much propaganda and creating internal wars within the ethnic minorities. As an example, several factions in Kurdistan are currently pitted against each other. The regime creates the perception in people’s minds that the minorities will be separatists and will do all sorts of bad things. It is the Islamic regime that is separating and dividing people. Those in the diaspora have realized the regime’s role in separating people and they are working to overcome their influence.

In 2022, all of Iran went out into the streets in support of a Kurdish girl, Jina Mahsa Amini. They are still using the Kurdish slogan from that time, “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” or “Woman, Life Freedom”. So, inside of Iran, the people acknowledge they want the Islamic regime to go. Outside of Iran, in the diaspora, we have the same thing happening. In the three and a half years I have been fighting for the life of my father, I have been in contact with many Iranian factions or minorities. I have both monarchists and communists campaigning for my father. These are all people stepping up to advocate for human rights and we can connect them.

Last month, we launched a global campaign called Cut the Rope, named for the execution wave the regime is conducting in Iran. In one day, over 123 well-known public figures from all over the globe came out in support of this campaign. We had support from people from Israel, Sudan, Iraq, and the USA, to name just a few. We had people from Darfur, where an actual genocide going on. This simple campaign united so many and so we can do this. It is not an illusion. It is propaganda to tell us that we cannot do this, to stop us from doing it. We are very close.

Walid: One more addition. I speak as an American from a non-Iranian community. I am saying this for the first time in front of Gazelle. When I was appointed as a presidential nominee advisor, Arabs, Israelis, and ethnic opposition groups in Iran reached out to me. I asked the ethnic opposition groups what kind of country they would want to see Iran becoming if it was liberated from the current regime. Even though they were members of ethnic minorities, they answered that they would love to be a part of a huge, modern country. They mentioned that all they needed was to have their language and schools and to have representation in the government. They look at Belgium and Switzerland as successful models for the type of Iran they would like to see established. Of course, there are always factions who are nationalists who would like to separate. Even those who want to separate, however, want to also become modern countries and do not support the regime. It does appear to me that the majority of the civil societies in these ethnic areas want mutual recognition in a federation-type government. They would be so happy to drive from Sanandaj to Tehran, just like we do here when we drive from state to state. Our beautiful, huge country is also multi-ethnic at the end of the day.

Gazelle was added to a delegation of NGOs back in December. The delegates were Middle Eastern Americans: Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, Kurds, South Yemenis, Sudanese, and Darfuris. It was a beautiful real coalition that went to the United Nations and met with members of the Security Council. I was with them as an advisor. A united coalition of delegates from different countries is impactful. It showed it is possible to establish a multi-ethnic regional coalition. It proves that with the right architects, it is entirely possible to create a similar coalition for Iran. As I keep emphasizing, the United States Congress is very responsive. Hopefully this US administration, but most likely the next one, will implement a different free Iran policy.

Joseph: Thank you both. We have a question from our president, Sarah Stern. Sarah is asking if you could go into a little more detail and name the pro-Iranian regime groups and individuals that have so successfully infiltrated the administration in Capitol Hill.

Walid: Each of us can add a little detail on this one. I am sensitive about naming names for legal reasons. What I can say is that you can get a lot of information about this by reading the Wall Street Journal or using Google Search. First, I will start with the most sensitive matters. I am going to be abstract, but I invite Sarah and others to search online because there are articles that name specific individuals.

One individual I am going to name is Ariane Tabatabai. I did not research her but some journalists did. Tabatabai is an Iranian-American hired by the team that worked with the Obama Administration and then the Biden Administration in negotiations with the Iran regime. She had been sending emails to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Iran regime. She asked the Iranian foreign minister, or whoever represented him, what he wanted her to say in Iranian meetings with American officials. Tabatabai serves in a very high position in the US administration. Her level of security clearance is through the roof. How is it acceptable that she appears to be serving the Iranian regime? Of course, I will leave it to the lawyers to discuss the legal implications.

Then there is the chief negotiator, Robert Malley. Robert Malley is under investigation. I met him once and he is soft-spoken and knows his stuff. The chief architect of the Iran deal is under investigation and it was not the administration who made this investigation public. We were speaking with members of Congress this morning, and they doubt that he is actually under investigation, rather they think the contrived investigation is a way to shield him from a real Congressional investigation.

My concern is that our government includes highly ranked individuals who are influenced by Iran and who are providing national security reports to our leaders. President Biden makes his decisions based on information in intelligence briefs. Who is preparing those intelligence briefs? Who is influencing those in charge or preparing these briefs? The Iran regime. So, our analysts are proposing Iranian-influenced policies to our President. This is a national security breakdown.

In addition, as I mentioned, the Iran deal has resulted in the Americans and Europeans facilitating Iranian funding of educational institutions, academia, and the media. You may remember the so-called Russia Dossier investigation. In that case, it was discovered that Russia influenced ten to twenty Facebook accounts – Facebook accounts. Iran influences thousands of colleges and universities. We are in deep trouble in terms of foreign influence. It appears the real foreign influence is coming from the Islamic Republic and the Jihadi Iran regarding Israel and US policy. We never doubted the US-Israel relationship. Now, we are having doubts. Our leaders are talking about our interests not converging. We have been exposed to a war of ideas and a war of lobbying that the Iran regime has instigated with the money from the Iran deal. That is the conclusion of my book.

Gazelle: Just before October 7th, Semafor and Iran International published a report exposing the Iran Experts Initiative, whose influence stretches from Europe to America. Their report names Ms. Tabatabai, Ali Vaez, Robert Malley, and others. They are just the tip of the iceberg. Their emails prove what we have been saying for 45 years. The Iranian Diaspora exposes this information well before it is published by the mainstream media. We can spot when people use words that represent the narrative of the regime. The Iranian Diaspora has done a great job pointing out who these people are. It is only years later that the information is exposed by the media. As soon as it is exposed publicly, the Islamic regime strikes somewhere and shifts the attention away from the investigations. One example of that is the Hamas attack on October 7th.

Walid: That is very interesting. This report that you mentioned was a few days or weeks before the October 7th attack on Israel.

Gazelle: Everyone in Congress was outraged by the report. They were starting an investigation about it. They were asking questions about how such a person could still be working in the Pentagon. After October 7th, all of the attention on the report was diverted. The people named in the report are still in the office. Also, these people are just the tip of the iceberg.

We should not be concerned only about the lobbyists but also about the companies that were making money out of the Iran deal. These companies do not advertise their involvement but you can figure out who they are by observing how they react to something like Trump pulling out of the Iran deal. We have Iranian Diaspora members going to the colleges. Princeton right now employs someone who was involved in mass murders inside of Iran. I think the diaspora is a good resource for identifying pro-regime groups and individuals. However, when we name names, we make ourselves liable for lawsuits.

Walid: Between Gazelle and me, we discussed information that is publicly available. Let me go into information that is not public, but is public reachable. Information about the American and West European companies who negotiated with, or signed contracts with the regime, is open to the public because they do not have a legal problem. There are huge contracts worth billions of dollars, waiting for the moment when we reestablish the relationship with the regime. As an example. AT&T has a multibillion-dollar contract with the regime waiting to be executed. General Electric, as another example, has also been negotiating multi-billion-dollar contracts with Iran. Although these contracts have not yet been signed, the companies have become a lobbyist force for the Iran deal. They are pressuring the Biden administration. They tried to pressure the Trump administration, but they failed because Trump also is a deal-maker and understands how to negotiate. So, we have to pay attention, not just to the Iran lobby but to the Iran deal lobby as well.

Joseph: You mentioned some pretty big companies there. I am wondering if this information is available to the public.

Walid: Yeah. Sarah and our friends at EMET, I do not have the money to investigate every company and every contract. However, you can use Google to obtain more information. Let’s consider Boeing as an example. If you search “Boeing contract Iran” using Google, you will see the billions of dollars that are involved in their contracts with Iran. I am not blaming the companies for doing business. Do business, and make money, but not with this regime. If you must do business with the regime, stop lobbying our administration and influencing them not to react to the militia attacks in the Middle East. This is another way of saying that phone calls from these companies are stopping the US from responding to the Iranian attacks in Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. They have a lot of money and a lot of influence. You know how our government works. Lobbyists are key to the decisions we make and that is very dangerous to us.

Joseph: Thank you so much. We have quite a few questions in the Q and A, especially about the view of the Biden administration, and previous Obama administration, on Iran. Some are asking, “Do they view them as the regional hegemon that should be?” Do you agree with that? If not, how do you think it is that both the current Biden administration and the previous Obama administration view Iran and Iran’s role in the Middle East?

Walid: Well, I will begin by saying it depends on who is in the administration and who is behind the administration. The companies do not care who the next government of Iran will be. They want money, deals, and contracts. So, I will put them on one side. Many pressure groups influenced the Obama administration and are now influencing the Biden administration. With the Biden administration, it is an issue of influence, sheer influence. Given Biden’s historical record, we know he does not review detailed maps. Obama’s platform was different. It was intended to be transformative and to change the Middle East. I was an advisor to Romney in 2011 and 2012 and I studied every word of Obama’s statements. His intent was to transform the Middle East.

In addition to the Islamists, there is a far-left faction in America that wants to use US foreign policy to transform the Middle East. They want to have two deals in the region. One with the Iran regime, meaning with the Islamist Iranian leaders. That deal would cover Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. The second deal they want to see is with the Sunni-based, Muslim Brotherhood. The same group that used to have Morsi as president of Egypt.

Morsi, as president of Egypt, had excellent relations with the Obama administration, Qatar, and the Islamists of Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, and elsewhere. US pressure on Israel started under the Obama administration. Today, while Israel is fighting the jihadists of the Middle East and Gaza, we are telling them to enter into a cease-fire and approve the two-state solution. However, we are not in the position of the Israelis and should not be instructing them on how to negotiate. You should not do that with your ally. America’s allies would not dictate the kind of president Americans should elect. Similarly, we should not tell the Israelis what kind of prime minister to elect.

Joseph: Dr. Phares, Gazelle, if you were both in the situation room of a new administration, and you were able to help come up with the Iran policy, what would your recommendations be?

Walid: Gazelle and I discussed this matter because that question has come up during community engagement and from the media. We are also doing our homework and discussing this question with other think tanks and coalitions. There is no magic solution. We get questions from Middle Eastern Americans or people in the Middle East and Europe about this as well.

The first thing we advise is to stop negotiating the Iran deal immediately. Secondly, stop transferring money to the Iranian regime, do not transfer even a single dollar to them. Thirdly, we need to educate people about Iran and provide maximum support to the Iranian people. That is Gazelle’s area of expertise. We need to prioritize those who are active on the ground and prioritize the NGOs working on this, here and around the world. So, this would be a new policy, to unite the Iranian opposition on a clear platform. That is what Gazelle’s program is about.

Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood, we need to follow a similar approach. We need to regroup the Arab Coalition which took years to create. I have spoken to many leaders of the Arab Coalition, though I prefer not to name them. They will be back. People are concerned that there is a distance between the Saudis and Israel. We speak with both of them and we are optimistic. And at the end of the day, we need to start encouraging initiatives for peace and freedom across the Middle East. We need to let these societies decide what they want. In conclusion, our suggestion will be to create a task force at the state level. We are going to have all of NATO working with these Arabs, with Israel, and with the opposition, to begin the change. Then it will be up to the Middle Easterners to continue the change.

Gazelle: Yes. That is the information we can share publicly. I know we are almost out of time but you can find more information about us and what we are doing on social media. We conduct many briefings covering current and topical events. We have videos on the ceasefire. We have videos on South Africa, taking Israel to the ICJ. We have videos on safe zones. These videos include information like what constitutes a safe zone. We have this information available on Instagram.

My Instagram is Here, you can find information about us and also about the Iranian diaspora. The diaspora includes like-minded people who have been advocates for a long time and who want to work together. They can see through the propaganda. They are reaching out to connect with people. The more like-minded people join our community, from all over the globe, the stronger we will be. Our first priority needs to be to educate the people. We do not have to go from university to university to do this, we can promote our cause online as well. The stronger our voices become, the better we will be at developing the new Iran policy that is needed so badly.

Walid: Invite us as panelists anywhere you can, and we will help you.

Joseph: We are always happy to do so. With that, I would like to say goodbye to everyone. I would like to thank our guests, Dr. Walid Phares and Gazelle Sharmahd. Thank you so much. This webinar has been very informative. Thank you to our audience as well for tuning in. If you like the work we do, if you like these webinars, please consider donating to EMET. You can find us online at And if you enjoy the webinars, please consider sponsoring as well. Thank you so much.

Walid: Thank you for having us.

Gazelle: Thank you.

Joseph: Bye.



About the Author

The Endowment for Middle East Truth
Founded in 2005, The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) is a Washington, D.C. based think tank and policy center with an unabashedly pro-America and pro-Israel stance. EMET (which means truth in Hebrew) prides itself on challenging the falsehoods and misrepresentations that abound in U.S. Middle East policy.

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