By Lily Galili, Haaretz Correspondent
Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the last shah of Iran, suggests taking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threat to annihilate Israel very seriously. However, he suggests refraining from military action against his country.
That's not what scares the regime there," he explains. "What scares it are the opponents from within, who should be strengthened. An attack from outside could give this regime carte blanche to do anything, and even lead to a nationalist awakening that would bring into its camp people who do not belong to it now."
Pahlavi spoke with Haaretz at a gathering in Prague of dissidents from 17 countries that was sponsored by the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center. For the past 19 years he has lived in Washington, where he married a woman of Iranian descent and fathered three daughters. He operates from the exile he entered at age 19 like a bench player who practices determinedly for the moment when he is called to step back onto the court. Two years ago he even went on a hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners, even though he cannot escape the fact that during his father's reign there were many political prisoners in Iran.
I am not saying there were no mistakes made under the previous regime," he says. "But you have to remember the context of that time. Those were the days of the Cold War, and there was in Iran a sense that the Soviet Union wanted to turn us into its satellite. I can understand why the public went along with the revolution, but I also know that no one wished for the tragic result of today."
Iranian exiles, who come from polar opposite groups, have a complicated attitude toward the Shah's son, and their interests truly overlap only in the desire to overthrow the current regime.
Asked whether he supports a return of the monarchy, Pahlavi replies diplomatically. "The people will decide," he says. "One of the options is indeed a parliamentary monarchy. That suits the character of our people. In heterogeneous societies, the monarchy is a symbol of unity".
Pahlavi says he has been feeling encouraged lately, especially following the recent statements on Iran by France's new president.
"It is possible that the divide-and-conquer system that sabotages the efforts to eradicate such regimes is now being replaced by greater unity," he says hopefully. "We have in Iran now an inquisition like the one they had in Europe and that was followed by the Renaissance. We are not far from that. Iran needs a further push, additional pressure on the regime by means of sanctions that hurt the system without hurting its citizens.... The Iranians must become convinced that the world is serious enough not to abandon them along the way."
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Shah's son is accorded a wary respect. He wasn't an original invitee to the conference, which was organized by Natan Sharansky, Vaclav Havel and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and whose high point was an appearance by George Bush en route to the G-8 meeting. With so many conflicting interests among the regimes the human rights crusaders hailed from including Egypt, Sudan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and others it was hard to spot the unifying political interest, aside from the participants' subjective feeling that they represent absolute good opposing the absolute evil in the world. At times, the uniting factor was anger at Bush, like that which linked Garry Kasparov, a vehement Putin opponent, and Saad al-Din Ibrahim, a noted freedom fighter from Egypt and longtime opponent of Mubarak's. For years they have felt that Bush betrayed them along the way, based on erroneous considerations, and they got a chance to tell him so during a brief meeting with the U.S. president in Prague.