survey of opinion conducted by the Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network (AASN).
The survey of leading Ahwazi parties and activists found unanimous opposition to an Israeli strike on facilities related to the Iranian nuclear programme, but warned that sanctions will not be enough to encourage the regime to abide by its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in accordance with UN resolutions. Only multilateral military intervention aimed at overthrowing the oppressive, terrorist-sponsoring regime will prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons, say the respondents who urged Western governments to work with them towards democratisation.
The Ahwazi opposition is comprised of a number of disparate groups. Among those surveyed are the Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front (ADPF, a secessionist, secular socialist party), the Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz (DSPA, a federalist secular liberal party), the National Liberation Movement of Al-Ahwaz (NLMA, a secessionist party that advocates moderate Islam against what it sees as an extremist regime), the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) advocacy group and leading intellectuals and opinion-formers within the Ahwazi Diaspora. These groups have different ideas about the future of Al-Ahwaz or Arabistan, an autonomous Arab region until 1925. The central differences within the Ahwazi movement are whether to seek an independent state or greater autonomy within Iran and whether or not to wage an armed struggle.
The report remarks: "On the issue of the response to Iran’s nuclear programme, there are areas of consensus that the international community should heed. Living in an oil-rich region, the five-million strong impoverished and persecuted Ahwazi Arab minority will play a crucial role in regime change and they deserve to be heard."
There is broad support among Ahwazi groups for the toughest possible sanctions regime against the Iran government, including sanctions that would effectively shut down the Iranian economy to foreign trade. Ahwazi groups are unanimous in their opinion that sanctions have no negative impact on the welfare of Ahwazi Arabs, who are already suffering long-standing economic and social marginalisaton.
There is overwhelming support for the EU’s oil embargo, but also a belief that the international community should go further in using sanctions to penalize human rights abuse and facilitate democratic change.
The DSPA states that the current sanctions regime has had a “serious impact on the development of Iran’s nuclear programme” and says “we are pretty sure that the majority of political activists in Al-Ahwaz support sanctions against Tehran.” It adds that “the Ahwazis suffer deprivation rarely seen in the world and for decades have suffered economic sanctions imposed by the regime on their cultural, political, social and economic life.”
The ADPF is more sceptical about the effects of sanctions, stating that they “believe that sanctions won't work with this regime”. The party further adds that “we do not support any negotiation with this regime, which will prolong its life and make it stronger.”
The NLMA calls for a toughening of the sanctions regime, including a naval blockade to prevent all oil exports in order to bankrupt the Iranian government and destroy its ability to oppress its own people, particularly non-Persian ethnic groups. Such sanctions would wreck Iran’s nuclear programme and undermine its support for international terrorism, says the group.
In its list of demands, the NLMA effectively calls for a complete trade embargo with sanctions against any state trading with Iran. These sanctions should be backed up by military force, including a naval blockade of Iran’s sea ports and closure of all banking operations.
The NLMA acknowledges that “undoubtedly there are negative effects on the lives of the people of Ahwaz Arab due to these international sanctions, but our people will welcome them so long as they lead to the legitimate demand for an independent Ahwazi state including their national rights, working in accordance with international law […] and in the interest of international peace and security.”
Prominent Ahwazi journalist and commentator Hamed al-Kanani remarks that Ahwazi Arabs are unaffected in material terms by the sanctions due to their marginal status. While he supports the current sanctions, he says it has not been effective in preventing the development of the Iranian nuclear programme and on their own will not topple the regime just as sanctions failed to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. He adds that “the previous Iraqi regime was not overthrown by the Iraqis themselves. If the US and other Western countries were not [militarily] engaged, the regime would still be in power.”
BAFS criticizes the overwhelming emphasis on nuclear proliferation at the expense of human rights and good governance. It called for Western “investment” in Ahwazi Arab NGOs to build a stronger civil society that is better able to bring the regime to account.
The prospect of unilateral Israeli military action or strikes aimed at the nuclear sites is regarded with deep scepticism by Ahwazi groups. There is a consensus that unilateral action would be ineffective and that attacks by Israel tend to make its enemies stronger. Hamed al-Kannani points to the 2006 Lebanon War, which “made the terrorist group [Hezbollah] stronger than before.”
The NLMA believes any Israeli strike would be limited and would not lead to the toppling of the regime and therefore would have no positive impact on the liberation of Al-Ahwaz or other non-Persian peoples. It makes a parallel with the Israeli strike on Iraq’s Tammuz nuclear reactor in 1981, which had no impact on the regime itself. It also points out that an Israeli strike would simply escalate the security threats to Israel in the form of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories while Israel has no leverage to threaten the territorial sovereignty of Iran. Moreover, Israeli military action would “lead to a large public outcry in the Muslim world and Iran would be perceived as a hero, which would act in its favour.”
The DSPA shares this sentiment and states that an “Israeli strike would strengthen the regime politically as many Muslim countries in the area will find a religious motive to stand with the Iranian regime.” It believes that “if a military strike is the only solution to get rid of the Iranian regime then it would be better if it were carried out by NATO without Israeli involvement.”
The DSPA states that it would support a full invasion of Iran aimed at regime change in order to overthrow the oppressor of Ahwazi Arabs. The NLMA emphasizes that a decisive and quick war against the regime would be achievable simply by usurping Iranian control of Al-Ahwaz, which contains most of its oil production and therefore its main source of revenue. It believes that independence for Al-Ahwaz would establish peace in the Middle East and worldwide.
BAFS warns that military action comes with significant risks that should be thoroughly assessed along with careful planning of post-war scenarios. It points to the years of chaos following the invasion of Iraq due to an overly optimistic belief that a stable democratic system could be created from nothing and would be immune from corruption, terrorism and foreign intrigue.
Says BAFS: “Any risk assessment needs to be conducted with the involvement of a diversity of civil society groups in Iran. As they live in the most oil-rich and geopolitically sensitive area of Iran, Ahwazi Arabs should be central to any consultation over strategic military planning, particularly if action is aimed at regime change.
"Military action may be initially intended to take out sites involved in the nuclear programme and perhaps some command and control centres. However, any initial strike of any scale carries with it the potential to escalate into an all-out war that will include the unconventional methods Iran and its Hezbollah ally have mastered, including the use of terror cells in Arab and European states and elsewhere. As such, we urge Western military commanders to engage in consultation with Ahwazi human rights and opposition groups to tap their knowledge and support well ahead of any assault.”