June 5, 2024

Do Iranian Americans Have a Stake in the War in Gaza?

The following piece was written by Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council.

The ongoing war in Gaza, in which Israeli forces have killed over 36,000 Palestinians with little end in sight, is not some distant crisis that is disconnected from the lives of Americans. As the slaughter of civilians has provoked widespread international condemnation, mass protests, and even rulings from the International Criminal of Justice that Israel may be carrying out a genocide, American tax dollars and political support have sustained the conflict. The United States government has provided billions of dollars in weaponry being used to kill civilians, along with logistical support and political cover for Israel and Netanyahu to sustain the assault. 

This mass slaughter of civilians is taking place in our names with the support of our elected government, which is why the war in Gaza is something that all Americans should care about – and for Iranian Americans, there are even more ways this war touches our lives and makes it urgent and necessary to demand our government stop enabling it.

Preventing War with Iran Means Ending the War in Gaza

As we recognized since the horrific October 7th attacks by Hamas, the longer this latest chapter in the Israel-Palestine conflict goes on, the more likely war with Iran becomes. 

In the early months of the conflict, militias backed by Iran engaged in dozens of rocket and drone attacks against U.S. bases in response to the war. Three U.S. soldiers were killed in Jordan by a drone fired by one of those militias in January, which triggered demands by hawks in Congress for Biden to bomb Iran. While the administration instead targeted Iran-aligned militias in Iraq and Syria, the risks of war flared again in April when Israel assassinated Iranian military figures in Syria, prompting Iran to retaliate with direct missile strikes on Israeli soil for the first time. Only serious diplomacy helped stop that crisis from pulling the U.S., Iran and Israel into a direct and bloody war.

War with Iran would be a disaster for Americans and Iranians alike. Many Iranians have warned directly and explicitly against war, including 350 Iranian activists who spoke out against warmongering and another 268 Iranian Feminists and Human Rights Defenders who have called for a ceasefire in Gaza and the upholding of International Law. As Iranian Americans, we cannot stand by as our tax dollars and elected officials enable the war in Gaza to expand into regional war with Iran that would endanger our friends and family in Iran and American servicemembers in the region, and fuel xenophobia and assaults on our civil rights here at home in the United States. 

The Islamic Republic Benefits From the Conflict

Some Iranians inside and outside of the country have a conflicted view toward standing against Israel’s war in Gaza because they do not want to be aligned with the Islamic Republic. Given the Iranian government’s long history of opposition to Israel and claims to champion the Palestinian cause, this ambivalence may be understandable. However, it is important to recognize how the continuation of this war actually benefits the Islamic Republic.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has charged popular sentiment across the Middle East for decades, which the Islamic Republic has long sought to exploit. While the Iranian state’s effusive anti-Israel rhetoric and actions have looked anachronistic to some observers in light of the increasing trend toward normalization with Israel among Arab states, the outbreak of war after October 7th and the regional escalations from “axis of resistance” groups has allowed the Islamic Republic to position itself as the foremost state in the region taking tangible action in defense of the Palestinian cause. While the perceived benefits are mitigated by significant risks and costs, Iran has solidified its credibility among Iranians who still support the Islamic Republic while making soft power inroads among regional populations.

Additionally, for those who care strongly about the Islamic Republic’s human rights violations against the Iranian people, it is vital that we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people as they are subjected to horrific human rights violations amid the war in Gaza. And on Gaza, the U.S. actually has significant leverage in light of the Israeli military’s dependence on American arms. The U.S. does not have such leverage with Iran, which is isolated from the United States and much of the Western world as a result of far-reaching U.S. sanctions. 

Collective Punishment Empowers Bad Actors and Turns Civilians into Collateral Damage

State-backed collective punishment – the targeting of an innocent population for the actions of its rulers – cannot be accepted or normalized. Iranians know well the impact of collective punishment, exemplified by broad “maximum pressure” sanctions that have crushed the entire economy, undermined Iranian civil society and its ability to forge internal change, and coincided with a significant worsening of the human rights situation in Iran. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once offered that the Islamic Republic must listen to the U.S. “if they want their people to eat.” The use of food as a weapon, and the leveraging of the well being of an entire population, is wrong and violates international law. 

The plight of Palestinians in Gaza – the vast majority of whom have no say over the conduct of Hamas – is one of the most horrific cases of collective punishment in modern memory. Tens of thousands have been killed in direct Israeli strikes, hundreds of thousands more have been forced to flee their homes and shelters multiple times, and the entire population of 2 million faces starvation and lack of access to hospitals as humanitarian aid and relief are treated by Israel as legitimate military targets. 

Beyond the immorality and illegality of collective punishment, there is also the fact that it does not work. Historically, it is collective punishment that sustains actors like the Islamic Republic against a weakened society, and lends itself to the formation of groups like Hamas as a response. As American and Israeli officials imply or outright declare that this is an acceptable cost – that it is fair to ransom the wellbeing of an entire civilian population to compel change by their rulers – we cannot allow this injustice to become normalized.

Only Together Can We Defeat the Pro-War Lobby

Lastly, the pro-war lobby advocating against ceasefire are the same voices who have for decades pushed for war, broad sanctions, and other policies to hurt ordinary Iranians. Benjamin Netanyahu has long had the worst interests of the region at heart, including by advocating for the invasion of Iraq – and arguing that it should be a precursor to intervention in Iran. A whole host of individuals and groups with deep ties to Netanyahu and his government are leading the political effort to sustain the war in Gaza and urging that it be expanded to Iran, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Foundation for Defense of Democracies, United Against Nuclear Iran, and former Trump officials like John Bolton, Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo.

There is no “limited” war against Hamas, just as there would be no limited war targeting just the Islamic Republic or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. If the war hawks get their way, it is ordinary Iranians who will suffer the greatest losses  – just as civilians have in every war. Where war goes, atrocities and targeting of civilians follow, as we see today in Gaza. 

As Americans, we have a choice in what actions our government takes. We urge all those in the Iranian-American community – including those who might be afraid to speak out – to join in demanding our elected government and our taxpayer dollars do not continue to enable an immoral humanitarian tragedy in Gaza and to instead pursue a permanent ceasefire, universal respect for human rights and a broader peace in the region that benefits ordinary people.

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