The classic sequence of a destabilization process established in Iran under the codification of color revolution.
Since mid-September, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been subjected to a new cycle of destabilization. The death of a young Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini (22), on September 16 was the starting point. Amini, who had been briefly detained by the morality police on September 13 for not wearing her hijab correctly, collapsed in a police station, dying three days later.
CCTV footage captured the moment when the young woman suddenly fell to the ground with no visible police coercion, on her way to an ordinary Islamic dress code class. But before the police made these images public (and the government ordered an investigation), word had already begun to spread that the young woman had died of a stroke as a result of the beatings she received at the police station.
It mattered little the health problems she had (she had brain surgery in 2006), that the audiovisual file shows that nothing extraordinary happened before the collapse, that there was no physical contact between officers and the young woman, who died of cerebral hypoxia and a heart attack, after spending almost three days in a coma.
The news, initially reported by Shargh, was quickly picked up by “human rights” groups and Kurdish news agencies that began a follow-up that was gradually replicated by the international media, while the initial follow-up was adulterating the nature of the news, to then consolidate the matrix that Amini died as a result of physical aggressions perpetrated by “henchmen of the Islamic regime”.
Two news sources conspicuously led to the leap from the domestic to the global embedded in the preset communicational system: first, the “monitoring” of the events by the State Department “activist” Masih Alinejad (more on her later) of the already adulterated version of the event, and the entry into the Twittersphere of the former soccer player based in the Emirates, Ali Karimi, from where numerous newly created accounts began to replicate the “news” and tags such as #OpIran, among others, since the hijacked and modified version of the events was circulating throughout the anti-Islamic Republic media system.
On the basis of an event recognized as tragic by all sides without distinction, a large number of organized and sophisticated media devices, with foreign affiliations and links, were set in motion. Before long, the representation of the conflict shifted from the denunciation of the death of the young Amini to the liberal anti-Hijab protests, for “democracy”, against the Islamic system and socio-economic hardships.
And while outwardly the “freedom” and anti-oppression version was presented, portraying the demonstrations as “peaceful”, numerous cities in the country witnessed riots, armed violence, aggressions against people and public property (in the first week alone the “demonstrators” destroyed 61 ambulances), attacks against religious and government institutions, assassinations and lynchings against security forces, as well as terrorist attacks.
So far, two waves can be accurately distinguished from this cycle. The first, in direct reaction to the Amini case, where visibly (and above all other actions) the format of “peaceful demonstrations” predominated, obfuscating the rest of the ultra-violent events, from September 16 to mid-October.
A second wave, of a more explicitly terrorist, armed, and indiscriminate violence, was established from October 26, when a gunman opened fire on pilgrims and worshippers, killing 15 and wounding more than 40, in the temple of Shah Cheragh, in the city of Shiraz, in the province of Fars. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State. The security forces also thwarted a bomb attack that should have occurred at the same time in the city.
Thus was established the classic sequence of a destabilization process under the codification of color revolution, a format repeated to the point of exhaustion and overwhelm, which, from the “mobilizations” of the “civil society” that gives it cover and context that do not achieve the objectives politically (regime change), passes to the direct armed phase. This, beyond damage, has not achieved the objectives of placing the Iranian government and society in check.
As is also often the case, the same Western media apparatus and networks that breathe life into the narrative tailored to liberal precepts are obliged to hide and/or deny the existence of the large demonstrations, counter-marches and mass attendance at funerals in honor of martyrs, in defense of the country and the government, which have also occurred alongside the various operational phases of regime change.
THE MAMMOTH ARCHITECTURE OF THE INFORMATION LANDSCAPE: THE NARRATIVE WORKSHOP.
Although it is and has always been an essential component, the dimension, magnitude and scope that has been deployed in the Iranian case to establish the narrative apparatus, surpassing the usual parameters, is still surprising. The most important components will be highlighted here, which are undoubtedly shaped and sustained logistically, financially and operationally by the usual actors: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Persian Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia and prominent figures in the European Union.
- Masih Alinejad*. The Iranian exile “activist,” known for her flamboyant appearance and her long-standing constant promotion of hijab-burning and State Department protégé (despite criticism for her proximity to the Trump administration), was above all a leading figure of the first hour in shaping and making consumable the regime change narrative. Her “follow-up,” based on the available sourcing apparatus, expedited and planted 1) the version of Amini’s death as a state crime, and 2) the framing of it within the Western, “feminist” catechism for moral consumption.
- A U.S. resident, domiciled in an FBI safe house, Alinejad, a “correspondent” for Voice of America Persia, has been a recipient of United States Global Media Agency funding in excess of half a million dollars for over a decade. Over time, Alinejad has been a leading figure in legitimizing any action against the Islamic Republic, being a conspicuous promoter of economic sanctions, the main source of hardship in daily life in the Persian nation. Portrayed with figures of the moral stature of Mike Pompeo, Alinejad also publishes “articles” promoted, among others, by the NED* itself. Alinejad is one of the usual stepping stones leading from the diffuse universe of non-state actors to the officialization of the narrative by Western governments, particularly the US. The White House established an official “position”, condemning the Iranian government and supporting the demonstrations, on October 3.
- The five main media and their ecosystem. At the center, molding, matrix replication and narrative projection are the BBC’s Persian service, Voice of America, Manoto TV (based in London), Iran International (also based in the UK and funded by Saudi Arabia) and Radio Farda (the arm of Radio Free Asia, operating out of Prague). This second tier is responsible for collecting and installing the matrix that the global mainstream then replicates, since it also collects the “information” of lesser “alternative” media and reports from NGOs (mainly Kurdish), such as as Dariche News and Fahim News on the “journalistic” level, or “human rights” organizations such as HANAand the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center recipients, among others, of the 631,500 dollars that the NED provided to these organizations in 2021. According to Fars News, the five media above have been responsible for the dissemination of at least 38 thousand false reports between September 14 and October 16 (the context of the first wave).
- Technology, psychological operations and viralization. On their own, in an era characterized by little reading and a penchant for ephemeral information, the weight of social networks may even be greater than that of “information-generating” groups. The dissemination and creation of a covenant of verisimilitude based on a motley range of sources and accounts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Telegram (mainly) is another central attribute of the ecosystem of the narrative apparatus.
- Recently, Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon division operating in West, Central, South Asia and North Africa, conducted an audit based on research by social media think tank Graphika and Stanford University’s Internet Observatory reflecting the psy-ops work performed by bots and trolls created by CENTCOM, confirming the use of a huge number of clusters in charge of disseminating, replicating, certifying and consolidating the basic information issued by the “news agencies” linked to the mainstream; a perpetual recycling. Informative actions covering a broad spectrum of segmented target audiences, within the framework of CENTCOM’s competences, including Iran. Fake accounts and bots that, within that synergy, attack audiences ranging from more conservative to the disenchanted and cosmopolitan youth of Iranian big cities, as the case may be, and that feeds back and interacts with the other preset informative actors, officializing the Western perception, which separately are diffused but which, as the researcher Kit Klarenberg said, together form “a powerful and potentially dangerous weapon that turns out to be one of many in the Pentagon’s arsenal of regime change” in terms of psychological operations, installation of matrices and disinformation.
- Alongside this, and in redundancy in this case with intelligence services such as the CIA, the technologies of censorship circumvention and server control that represent tools such as the Psiphon application for IP and VPN management beyond the regulatory authorities of any target state also gain in importance. This particular instrument, which in all likelihood has been deployed during the disruptive days in Iran, was created by the Open Technology Fund of Radio Free Asia (an arm of the CIA), and recognized by the U.S. Agency for Global Media as a highly effective tool.
- Anatomy of a Twitter factory. Researcher and university professor Marc Owen Jones (hardly a pro-Iranian figure) analyzed the Twitter hashtag #MashaAmini in its Western denomination, and in Farsi (مهسا_امینی#), highlighting that as of the end of October the former was tweeted 66 million times and the latter 350 million, surpassing, for example, #BlackLivesMatters (63 million). The report also highlights that among 623,777 of 84,199 unique accounts, in a span of 24 hours, 23.7% of the accounts were created between mid-September and the end of October, 15% of them in a span of ten days in September. Account creation peaked on September 23 and then declined sharply, of which 32% were tweeted from accounts created between October and September (there are also accounts dating back several years), many of them with 1 to 0 followers. In other words, a high percentage of the installation of these tags are part of what can be understood as a contrived and circumstantial information bubble, and what Jones analyzed is undoubtedly a moderate expression.
- To this, should be added another component: the huge Albanian-based troll farms of the armed organization/cult of the Mujaheddin el Khalq (MEK), one of the terrorist organizations favored by the United States since it was removed from its list of terrorist organizations in 2014. This armed group, where US political figures such as John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Rudy Giuliani gravitate, acted on the Iraqi side in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s of the last century, conducts on the ground operations designed by Mossad both inside Iran and in other countries, targeting the diaspora, carrying out violent and mobilization actions.
- The 15,000 to be executed, Newsweek and Justin Trudeau. Newsweek magazine, on November 8, published a report that went global, stating that the Iranian parliament, the Masij, had voted in favor of the execution of 15,000 demonstrators. The dissemination of the story reflected the interaction between the different levels of the media, since Iran International was the first to publish the story on the 6th of the same month, and Newsweek carried it to its official consecration on the 8th. In reality, the original story was about 227 (out of 290) deputies of the Masjid requested in an open letter that the demonstrators be taught a “good lesson”. The doctoring of the news went so far that on November 15, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially condemned on behalf of Canada on his Twitter account (which he later deleted) the parliament’s “decision” to “execute 15,000 protesters.” The combination of scope, institutionalization, clumsiness and western informative implausibility synthesize the logic, nature and degree of focus of the narrative component of the information battlefield.
FROM SAYING TO DOING: TERRORISM, ARMED VIOLENCE AND THE “CREATION OF REALITY”.
Over the last five years (to give a short time reference), the Islamic Republic was not spared from demonstrations reaching intense levels of violence, nor from terrorist attacks, nor from border incidents with separatist formations in its territorial periphery. What has distinguished this event from the previous ones is, perhaps, the degree of intensity, simultaneity, concentration and national deployment of all these elements within the framework of the destabilization efforts.
This second wave, as this report characterizes it to contrast the coverage of “civil society” with actions framed as unconventional warfare, from the terrorist attack in Shiraz on October 26 onwards, has not enjoyed the apparent fluidity of the first, but it has been an active and constant force throughout the last two months. What most distinguishes one moment from the other is that this second stage has been more stripped of effective narrative wrapping: the nakedness of the gun violence compromises the ongoing narrative.
Up to the third week of November, the death toll among civilians, policemen, officials of the security forces (Basijs, Revolutionary Guard) reached 60. In various circumstances, high-level officers such as a general or regional intelligence chiefs are among the casualties, usually when confronted or overrun by mobs, or when shot by hired assassins on motorcycles.
In early October, a Shura Council spokesman stated that around 45,000 foreign intelligence operators are involved in the protests. 40 foreigners have been detained, including Polish, German, Italian, French, Dutch and Swedish citizens. The Fars Agency also points out the role of the German embassy in the development of the mobilizations.
Both the Revolutionary Guard and the Ministry of Intelligence confirm the role of the CIA and the Mossad in the establishment and training of operational networks in which money has been invested through different channels. This leads to another factor that has been highlighted since the beginning of the revolts: Kurdish separatist or minority groups (Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran; Kurdish Freedom Party; Komala), Baloch (the Free Balochistan Movement or FBM; the Jaish al-Adl group), Arab or Azeri secessionism.
In Iran, Kurdish separatists in Javanrud erected barricades and seized areas of the city.
Thus, cities such as Zahedan or Chabahar in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, Kermanshah in the homonymous Kurdish province or Izeh in the province of Khuzestan with Arab minorities, at different times have been the scene of violent uprisings or indiscriminate terrorist attacks.
Whether they are Baloch, Kurds or Azeris, the imprint of the Mossad is evident (especially in the latter two), as a historical constant, either with the direct relations between Tel Aviv and Baku, or between Israel and Iraqi Kurdistan, where the bases of operations and training are located.
Moreover, the monarchist and MEK factions themselves also receive support, training and manpower. This is what Trump’s former national security advisor and ultra-hawk, John Bolton, bluntly admitted in an interview for the BBC’s Persian service: the weapons are either sent from Iraqi Kurdistan or are taken directly from the Basij militias (the latter probably more diffuse and less real than the former).
Thus, the Contra model, first employed in the 1980s in Central America and then in the first decade of the 21st century in Syria or at the end of the decade in Venezuela, re-emphasizes the role of the borders as a beachhead for training, infiltration and supply of weaponry and other logistical equipment.
However, despite a mega deployment on multiple fronts, from media to the youth to the military, the impact achieved in terms of damage to people and public property, the “complex war” against Iran, in the words of President Raisi, has not achieved the objectives of regime change.
The rearguard points in the Kurdish region in Iraq have been under attack for several weeks by drones and missiles of the Revolutionary Guards, many of the arms trafficking channels, as in the province of East Azerbaijan where they have been condemned, and Western opinion itself admits that the disparate groups that have led the revolt are not in a position to unify and become an effective political option.
COUNTERPOINTS ON THE GEOPOLITICAL CHESSBOARD
- The beginning of the protests under the pretext of the young Mahsa Amini occurred almost simultaneously with Iran’s official entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Council, which gradually became one of the fundamental nodes of the Belt and Road Initiative, particularly with the North-South International Transport Corridor. In other words, Iran is becoming an increasingly important factor in multipolarity.
- Faced with the status of the nuclear energy dossier, with a new resolution of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) denouncing Iran and politicizing the cooperation scheme between Tehran and the agency, the Iranian government has taken the decision to enrich uranium to 60% produced at the Fordow plant.
- Europe, meanwhile, is stepping up its sanctions regime against Tehran in the wake of the “protests”, further accentuating Europe’s estrangement from the Asian sphere, since the deepening of this disconnection strengthens Iran’s ties within its own multipolar sphere.
- Within this same scheme of disruption and attempts at regime change, Venezuela and the Islamic Republic are also taking their cooperation agreements to strategic levels and in different spheres of economic, political, security and cultural activity. In that sense, it is worth considering the danger of a similar reflection in our own geography, an exercise of simultaneity that has occurred at previous junctures, such as in 2014, but in relation to the events of regime change in the Ukraine itself.
* Fun fact: In 2020, Alinejad had “denounced” an alleged kidnapping plan in which operators of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard would abduct her, and then be transferred by sea to Venezuela.
Translation by Internationalist 360°