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“Iran Experts” and Their Role in Shaping Western Policies on Iran’s Resistance

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Recent disclosures concerning the involvement of individuals identified as “Iran experts,” with affiliations to the clerical regime, within the United States government, have elicited considerable surprise in Washington and beyond. These individuals, one of whom is currently an employee of the Department of Defense, have played a pivotal role in carrying out an influence campaign within U.S. decision-making circles and spreading the Iranian regime’s talking points about different issues, including nuclear talks, sanctions, and the opposition.

However, it is important to acknowledge that the manipulation of Western strategic decision-making by Iranian agents is not a recent occurrence.

More than two decades ago, the Iranian regime employed a figure labeled as an Iraqi opposition leader, Ahmad Chalabi, to influence the U.S. intelligence community into believing that Iraq, a significant adversary of Iran, possessed weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, other individuals perceived as “Iranian experts” successfully persuaded Washington, as well as Western media, that the Iranian National Liberation Army was harboring Iraq’s cache of chemical and biological weapons. The consequences of this extensive intelligence maneuver were highly detrimental, leading to a major strategic miscalculation by the United States that resulted in severe repercussions for Iraq, the broader Middle East, and indeed, the world.

For over three decades, the terrorist regime in Iran has executed a sophisticated agenda to compel the international community to accept the rule of its illegitimate theocracy in Tehran. This agenda has been facilitated through an extensive web of institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), corporations, and even academic departments within universities. The regime has actively engaged in the identification, recruitment, and employment of individuals willing to advocate for its interests within the three branches of power in Western nations.

Certain individuals within this network, either influenced by familial connections or driven by material incentives, have successfully attained prominent positions within government bodies, think tanks, or media outlets. Leveraging their positions and the trust vested in them by the system, they proceed to disseminate information that aligns with the interests of the clerical regime in Iran to decision-makers and the public at large.

The biggest lie that the clerical dictatorship managed to seed was the perception it had no viable alternative to its rule. While the recent revelations and exposed individuals represent just a fraction of the extensive network of the regime’s advocates and agents abroad, it remains essential to examine how they have actively contributed to Tehran’s substantial defamation campaign against the Iranian Resistance movement, even though this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

One of the individuals highlighted in the Semafor report is Dina Esfandiary. She holds a position as a fellow at the Centre for Science and Security Studies within the War Studies Department at King’s College London and is also an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Her work is frequently featured in and used as a source by numerous US government agencies, think tanks, and various publications. Moreover, Esfandiary consistently contributes policy recommendations concerning Iran.

On December 5, 2019, in an analysis published by the Washington Post titled “Why did Iran’s government shut down protests so quickly and violently?” she presented a perspective emphasizing the resilience of the clerical regime and attributed the swift and forceful suppression of protests to the firm policy of the US government against Tehran.

Esfandiary wrote, “The Trump administration — which provides a platform to groups like the Mujahideen-e Khalq, an exiled Iranian resistance group once listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government and with little support among Iranians, and said it is ‘pleased’ with protests — is a gift to the government in Tehran, which points to these as proof of the foreign plot to unseat it.”

According to Semafor, “Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021.”

Her name can be found in numerous studies and reports used by government institutions and mainstream media. Next to policy recommendations on Iran in various domains, she has been harboring a particular passion for smearing the People’s Mojahedin Organization (PMOI/MEK) for many years.

In 2014, she wrote for the National Interest, “The voices supporting the MEK are ignoring the lessons of some of the most catastrophic U.S. foreign-policy mistakes in the past few decades, urging Washington to repeat history.”

In a RAND study that was presented before the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism on January 28, 2020, Tabatabai writes, “Although the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy has clearly suffered and popular discontent continues to grow, U.S. policy toward Iran must be based on reality. Clearly, the United States should seek to be prepared for all scenarios, including a potential collapse of the regime—which could bring about a friendly democratic government (which remains a low probability scenario for the foreseeable future) or lead to another authoritarian regime, such as one led by the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK), an unlikely contender for power with a troubling history.”

Adnan Tabatabai, another so-called “Iran analyst” residing in Germany, advises German and European policymakers as well as businesses on Iran-related matters. He takes pride in mentioning that he has been involved in organizing dialogues between Iran and Saudi Arabia since 2015.

He is particularly engaged in feeding Western think tanks and the German language media with slander and disinformation about the MEK.

Among other numerous accounts, in 2019, the Neue Zurcher Zeitung wrote, “Because of its role in the Iran-Iraq war, the group is ‘more hated by Iranians today than al-Qaeda and IS,’ says Iran expert Adnan Tabatabai. Since 1981, the group has used the euphonious name National Council of Resistance (NCRI), but the council is completely dominated by the MEK. Although the MEK had taken up the cause of democracy, freedom, and human rights after fleeing to France, this was above all rhetoric. ‘It is fatal to believe that such a group could positively influence the political process in Iran,’ says Tabatabai.”

Whether or not the recent revelation will lead to serious action and eliminating Tehran’s eyes, ears, and mouthpieces in Western capitals, the damage they have inflicted on the host countries and their citizens over the years is beyond rectification.  For decades, the Iranian Resistance has been warning these countries about the regime’s intelligence operations on their soil and even though it was faced with deaf ears, the Iranian Resistance will continue to expose and shed light on the farthest places of the globe where the clerical regime continues to plot. This isn’t just a Western problem; It is directly and entirely tied to the fate of the clerical dictatorship.