Iranian exiles worry about attack on homeland

Speculation that Israel may launch military action against Iran has alarmed Iranians abroad, many fearing it could wreck the country's economy and play into the government's hands by provoking a wave of patriotic fervour.

TV stations catering to the diaspora of 3 million Iranians in the United States and Europe have been buzzing with debate about possible strikes on Iran's nuclear sites after a U.N. report said Tehran had worked to develop an atomic bomb design.

Analysts said many exiles -- ranging from supporters of the domestic Green Movement opposition to leftist and liberal anti-government groups abroad -- opposed strikes against Iran and tougher sanctions, which they see as hurting ordinary Iranians.

A group of more than 100 intellectuals and activists called on Iran to open up its nuclear programme to international inspections to avoid a pre-emptive attack.


"Democracy does not come from the barrel of a gun. We oppose military action against our country Iran based on any pretense, including concern over the regime's irresponsible nuclear activities," the group, mostly exiles, said in a statement.

"We strongly urge the Islamic Republic to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency... to clear up ambiguities about its nuclear programme so there won't be any reasons for threats of war and destruction," said the group, which includes prominent liberals, leftists and nationalists.

Activists backing the Green Movement, battered by a crackdown after protests in 2009, also oppose military action.

"Such an attack would cause instability both in Iran and in the region and stop the normal trends towards democracy," said Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, a top adviser to opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, who is under house arrest in Iran.

"Democracy cannot be manufactured abroad and exported," Amir Arjomad told Reuters by telephone from France.

On social media, some Iranians said an attack would allow the government to strengthen its rule by appealing to the nationalist feelings of the Iranian people, as it did during an eight-year war with Iraq which lasted until 1988.

"War would be a boon for the Islamic Republic... They (Iran's leaders) are provoking Israel so a war breaks out and the clerics can stay in power for another 30 years," a blogger called Sirous wrote from the United States.

Others said they would welcome an attack, despite the costs, if it helped bring down the Islamic government which came to power after a 1979 revolution.

"I wish an attack does come to get rid of this corrupt and inhuman regime once and for all," Ali wrote from London.


Analysts said few exiled opposition groups openly advocated an attack. Seeking foreign support has been taboo for most, due to the West's past interventions in Iran and support of the dictatorship of the shah, toppled by the 1979 revolution.

"After the Arab Spring uprisings and especially Libya, some groups may lean towards seeking outside intervention and support, but they still seem too shy to come out and say it out loud," Ali Hajighasemi, a sociologist at Sodertorn University in Stockholm, told Reuters.

Analysts said few Iranians expected a rapid downfall of the well-entrenched Islamic government, and feared any conflict that could break out after Israeli or U.S. military action.

"Many ordinary Iranians and exiled opposition groups think such an attack would deal a heavy blow to Iran's infrastructure and economy," said Kazem Kardevani, a Berlin-based Iranian analyst.

"They think of Iran's national interests first, regardless of what they may think of the government."

Iran's economy is already hurting under sanctions which have cut foreign investment to its key energy sector.