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US academics urge Biden to confront Iran with aim of stopping Middle East chaos

A sizable list of US academics is urging President Joe Biden to take a firmer stance against Iran and come out in support of democratic resistance aimed at overthrowing the country’s autocratic government in response to the chaos enveloping much of the Middle East after 7 October.

The date, which marked a deadly attack by Hamas militants against civilian and military targets in Israel, has also come to signify the beginning of a new era for the Middle East which has been thrown into disarray by the outbreak of war in the Gaza Strip. Violence stemming from the conflict has already spread to nearby Jordan and Lebanon, while in the Red Sea militants linked to Houthi rebels in Yemen have attacked merchant ships bound for Israel and other vessels including US warships.

Several of the militant groups on the edge of being drawn into the fighting including the Houthis and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon are thought to be supported tactically and financially by Tehran, a factor the US once tried to mitigate through the now-abandoned 2015 nuclear accord. Now, with little cooperation between the US and Iran to speak of, many groups backed by Iran remain in a sort of soft conflict with the West.

This week, a group of US academics including some with Iranian-American backgrounds re-issued a letter to the US president urging him to formally support democratic resistance movements within Iran and cease efforts to appease the regime in Tehran through diplomatic means. Some Iran hawks with allies in the former Trump administration have pushed for such a policy to be the official course pursued by the US for years, arguing that Washington should follow a path of maximum pressure including sanctions against the Iranian government and support for popular movements holding the stated goal of overthrowing it.

Originally put together over 2022-2023, the letter was re-issued to the president this week with a larger number of signatories (more than 4,400) in response to the carnage that has developed over the region since October. More than 30,000 people have died just in Gaza, the majority as a result of Israeli strikes, since the initial Hamas attack.

Those same groups, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), state their opposition to direct US involvement in regime change.

“The Middle East is at an inflection point. Unfortunately, the current policies are only obstacles to the noble cause of the people of Iran. At this critical juncture, the United States must instead choose to stand with them and adopt an unyielding policy of firmness and decisiveness against the mullahs,” the letter to the president reads.

“We assert that the real power to sever the ‘heads of the snake’ in Tehran and bring about a just peace to the Middle East lies with the Iranian people,” it continues.

It would be a risky course for the US and the State Department, which remains stung by the failure under Barack Obama of the Syrian democratic resistance forces to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the authoritarian leader of that country who remains in power after a bloody civil war tore apart his country and being accused of war crimes at the international level.

“My colleagues and I from across the United States are advocating for a decisive stance on Tehran’s regime. To date, US policies have not achieved a peaceful and prosperous Middle East. The time for a change in policy towards Iran, addressing the head of the snake in Tehran, is long overdue,” Kazem Kazerounian, the dean of the school of engineering at the University of Connecticut who spearheaded the recent effort, told The Independent.

The US public also remains heavily sceptical of any sustained military involvement in the Middle East following the controversial and messy withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in 2021, which came as the country was retaken by Taliban forces after two decades of fighting. Many Americans question whether a more direct approach against Iran would inevitably draw the US into a military conflict.

In the months before Hamas’s deadly attack last fall, US officials were thought to be continuing informal talks with representatives of Iran’s government around the issues of Tehran’s nuclear programme and support of militant groups. However, State Department officials have acknowledged that there remains little political will to resume any kind of formal negotiations amid the renewed conflict in the region.