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Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 2002 / 4 Tishrei, 5762

Michael Ledeen

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Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later | Friday Iran successfully tested a new ballistic missile, apparently of North Korean vintage. It was the first in a series of tests that will be carried out in coming days, involving five different missiles. Those in our diplomatic establishment who take seriously impending threats to our national security should pay close attention to these tests, as they should to the long-secret nuclear projects under way in Isfahan and elsewhere in the country. The regime's leaders have told their doomsday scientists and technicians that they desperately want to demonstrate a nuclear capacity by the end of the year.

To raise the ante even higher, last week our whole vision for Afghanistan was threatened by forces sponsored, organized, and armed by Iran. President Karzai was nearly killed, even though he had a retinue of American special-forces bodyguards.

And remember, please, that Supreme Leader Khamenei stated publicly that Iran would deliver a forceful response to President Bush's condemnation of the Iranian mullahcracy, and the response would be delivered "in the heartland of America."

Which is perhaps a long way of saying that much of the current debate is quite beside the point, because we are at war whether we like it or not, and sooner or later, in one way or another, we will have to deal with Iran. It is only proper, since Iran is the mother of all modern terrorism, the great engine of terror in the region, and the sworn enemy of the United States.

The two key figures are the infamous Gulbuddin Hekmatiar, the Iranian instrument who was prime minister of Afghanistan under the Taliban and now has offices in both Tehran and Mashad (the capital of Khorassan province), and Hassan Rassouli, a former commander in the Iranian army and currently the governor of Khorassan. Both travel between Afghanistan and Iran in great secrecy, handling money and weapons. Most of these transfers are carried out under cover of normal business, and their purpose was just seen in the series of bombings in Kabul and Kandahar.

At the same time that money and weapons flow from Iran to Afghanistan, al Qaeda terrorists move the other way, through Zabol, the main Shiite center in Baluchistan. Alarmed that the terrorists' movements may have been detected by the United States, the mullahs launched their usual disinformation campaign by having the Iranian interior minister complain to his Afghan counterpart about the migration, trying thereby to imply that Iran was afflicted by the movement of terrorists rather than being its commander. As reported earlier, the al Qaeda killers are headed for the training camps in the valleys of Lebanon, the Syrian dependency that has long served as the operational and training center for most of the region's terrorist groups.

Iran has been unlucky so far, barely missing Afghan President Karzai on one occasion, and U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on another. But luck eventually turns, and we cannot rely on good fortune to accomplish what poor security and limited vision cannot.

As in the past, our intelligence concerning Iran has been quite modest, and, as in past administrations, some of our top officials seem oddly determined not to know what is going on there, or to admit the significance of the often alarming information they do have, such as that concerning the country's nuclear program, Iran's primary role in the terrorist attacks against Israel, or, for that matter, the overwhelming evidence of Iranian complicity with al Qaeda.

It's luminously clear to anyone with eyes that Iran will go for our throats at every opportunity. And so they must: The mullahs would be gravely threatened by a free and successful society in Afghanistan and/or Iraq. Tehran has made contingency plans to attack us if we were to invade Iraq (as have the Syrians, by the way, and all have been promised assistance from the Saudis). They mean to teach us a lesson. In Rafsanjani's recent words to the female religious police, "the great powers [that's us] and the regional powers [i.e. Israel and perhaps Turkey] in conducting their policies must take into consideration the goals of the Islamic Republic."

Tough talk indeed, and their words are not based on fantasy, as so many of our leaders seem to believe. Iran has driven us and the Israelis out of Lebanon with our tails between our legs, and they see no reason why the pattern should not hold for Afghanistan and, if necessary, Iraq as well.

Like the Soviet empire and other failed tyrannies, Iran has a great capacity for evil outside their borders. Their Achilles' heel is at home, where their sway over the Iranian people grows weaker by the day. Although the regime is intensifying its repression against its critics, demonstrations continue apace throughout the major cities, and the open wound in the clerical body is getting ugly. In recent days, the celebrated Ayatollah Montazeri — the author of the famous fatwa a couple of months ago that condemned suicide bombing as an anti-Islamic action — wrote a letter to the newspaper Hambastegi in Tehran, saying that no one is obliged to support a religious government, since belief or disbelief in religious rule is not a crucial issue, either for good government or for good religion. This is yet another devastating attack against the religious legitimacy of the regime. Meanwhile, the oil pipeline in Tabriz has been shut down because workers haven't been paid for half a year, and the country is gearing up for national demonstration on September 11.

Late last week a journalist called me to ask why I thought the government wasn't more actively engaged in Iranian policy, and I replied by pointing out that it's a broader problem; no newspaper is following the Iran story, nor is any of our leading columnists of whatever political conviction. It's a general denial. Let's hope it doesn't prove fatal to our guys and to our friends.

Faster, please. What the hell are you waiting for?

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, The War Against the Terror Masters. Comment by clicking here.


09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen