Thursday, March 16, 2006

Getting Iran Wrong – Again

Kenneth R. Timmerman,
When making a revolution, allies matter. So do enemies. If you can’t identify your friends and target your enemies, you’re better advised to do nothing.

And that is just what our enemies hope we will do.

Washington Post reporter Karl Vick, reporting from Tehran this week, trumpeted that the new U.S. strategy to help pro-democracy groups inside Iran “could backfire,” by tainting activists as American agents.

We are under pressure here both from hard-liners in the judiciary and that stupid George Bush,” he triumphantly quotes an Iranian “human rights activist” as saying.

The only problem is, the “human rights activists” and “pro-democracy” folks Karl Vick quotes are nothing of the sort. They are members of the discredited “reformist” movement, which ruled Iran from 1989 until last year.

The reformist movement is not happy with the election of Iran’s current president, Revolutionary Guards officer and former Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Their candidate was Hojjat-ol eslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who as Majles speaker in 1986 launched Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program, then lavished it with money during his eight years as president from 1989-1997.

The only change the reformists want to see is an end to Iran’s isolation and to U.S.-led sanctions, so the regime can be free to develop nuclear weapons in peace. In other words, they are a shill for the regime.

America’s enemies are very eager for us to get it wrong. And the Islamic Republic of Iran is a sophisticated enemy. Their intelligence services were trained by the KGB at the height of the Cold War. We should never forget that. READ MORE

The Soviets mastered the use of “active measures,” aimed at planting disinformatzia and bogus stories to discredit the enemy, and maskirovka, strategic deception. They taught those techniques to the Islamist intelligence service in the early 1980s. Iran’s conspiracy-minded clerics and spymasters turned out to be star pupils.

Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright fell for Iran’s strategic deception campaigns repeatedly. So did the Europeans, who believed all during the 1990s they could engage in “constructive engagement” with a regime whose sole goal was to acquire European technology to build better missiles and nuclear weapons.

Today, the Washington Post is falling for it, too. They are following the lead of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which in 1997 allowed a newly-created “surrogate” Radio Free Iran to be transformed into “Radio Khatami.” (Known officially as Radio Farda (“Tomorrow”), the radio got its nickname because of its sycophantic treatment of Rafsanjani’s “reformist” successor, Hojjat-ol eslam Mohammad Khatami.)

It’s absolutely critical that we get Iran right.

On one side, we have a fake Iranian “resistance” group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which has jinned up a massive lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill. They are hoping to convince Congress to get the administration to lift the State Department’s designation of the group, which dates from 1994, as an international terrorist organization.

Imagine the message that would send to the Iranian people,” one administration official who is appalled at the MEK lobbying efforts told me. “So we’re telling them they should be ruled by some crazy terrorist cult?” As I reported recently, the MEK helped bring Khomeini to power in 1979, but had a falling out two years later over how to share power. Call them Iran’s Trotskyists, if you will.

On the other hand, you have the “reformists,” the Rafsanjani-Khatami clique that ruled Iran until just last year. On their watch, regime intelligence officers brutally hacked to death the leading anti-regime activist in Iran, Darioush Forouhar, and his wife, Parvaneh. They sent out hit squads that murdered more than 200 Iranian dissidents overseas. They murdered Iranian journalists, tortured Iranian students, closed universities, and machine-gunned demonstrators.

And yet, the Washington Post calls members of this failed “reform” movement “human rights activists.”

So, apparently, did the State Department, misled as ever by the Council on Foreign Relations and its acolytes. State careerists chose self-styled “reformists” to take part in workshops aimed at training Iranians in the history of non-violent conflict that were held last year in Dubai.

This is a recipe for failure. Iran’s “reformists” are not America’s friends, nor are they the people we should be supporting inside Iran. Once again, strategic deception is at work.

There was a real reformist movement at one point, but it didn’t last long. It emerged in the early months after Khatami’s first election in 1997, but was crushed by Khatami himself when he put down the July 1999 student rebellion at Tehran University.

A key leader of that movement was Mohsen Sazegarah, a founder of Iran’s dreaded Revolutionary Guards corps. After leaving government in the late 1980s, he published newspapers that were repeatedly shut by the regime. After two stints in jail, he left Iran last year and told me flat out that the reform movement was “dead.”

“This is the first time in our history that the Iranian people are turning to a foreign country for help,” he told me. “I think the United States government can help the Iranian people very much.”

That is a message Iran’s leaders – and the anti-Bush crowd here at home – don’t want Americans to hear. So their latest strategy is to undermine the just-announced U.S. policy of spending $75 million to help the pro-democracy movement inside Iran.

Sazegarah believes the main tool the U.S. should use is political recognition of the opposition. He urged a boycott of last year’s presidential elections, as a first step toward convincing the international community to reject as illegitimate Iran’s Stalinist-style elections. The reformists, on the contrary, are still hoping to change the face of the current regime, to make it more palatable to the West.

The CIA has also fallen for Iranian maskirovka, repeating year after year in unclassified intelligence assessments that “no viable opposition” exists in Iran.

This is strategic deception at its best. You’d think that the few Cold Warriors left at Langley would teach their younger colleagues the old Soviet tradecraft.

In fact, the Tehran regime is going to extraordinary lengths to discredit, dismember, and discourage real opposition inside Iran. Not only are they murdering opposition leaders wherever possible, but they coopt activists during torture sessions in jail, then set them up with “false flag” organizations to discredit the real opposition leaders who remain underground.

The message is clear to the meek and the merely disorganized: oppose us if you dare.

And yet, despite this extraordinary level of intimidation, demonstrations erupt in one Iranian city or another virtually every week, but they get little coverage in the Western media.

On March 12, for example, violent clashes rocked the predominantly Kurdish city of Piranshahr, near the border with Iran, as angry residents attacked government buildings, banks, security patrol cars and trucks. The protests followed the murder of a town resident by Islamist militiamen and the refusal of the local authorities to restitute the body to his family.

On March 8, thousands of women demonstrated peacefully in Tehran’s Laleh Park to commemorate international women’s day. Digital video images, sent via the Internet to Iranians overseas, showed the brutal crackdown by regime security troops, led by an intelligence officer in civilian clothes. Hundreds of women were beaten and at least sixty were jailed, but little mention of the crackdown appeared in the West.

On February 13, Revolutionary Guards troops stormed a Sufi Muslim shrine in Qom, razing it to the ground and arresting upwards of 1,000 Sufi worshippers. Even Radio Free Europe acknowledged that the “scale and violence of the crackdown on the Sufis is unprecedented in the Islamic Republic.” The regime’s actions were strongly condemned by Ayatollah Ali Hossein Montazeri, a respected cleric who has been under house arrest since losing a power struggle to become Supreme Leader in 1989.

In recent months, anti-regime riots have erupted in Ahwaz, along Iran’s southern border with Iraq; in Iranian Kurdistan to the northwest, and in Iranian Balouchestan, along the border with Pakistan.

Concerned about the rising tension and the efforts by Iranian journalists to report on it, the regime apparently sabotaged a government C-130 packed with nearly a hundred Iranian journalists on December 12, killing everyone on board. (One journalist managed to call his wife on his cellphone shortly before the crash to report the crazed behavior of the pilot – a young replacement who boarded the plane under official escort shortly before takeoff).

No opposition in Iran? Here is a country that is falling apart. Since September, Tehran’s bus drivers have been on strike to receive back pay and better work conditions, and have braved regime hooligans day after day. In January, workers from the Miral Glass factory walked out, also to protest not being paid.

Every time there is a soccer match, tens of thousands of Tehranis take to the streets, chanting anti-regime slogans. The events have become so notorious as anti-regime protests that the regime has tried to outlaw them, without success.

Disinformatzia and maskirovka. The Islamic Republic’s massive strategic deception is aimed at making the West believe this crumbling regime stands on solid ground, and that any Western challenge to Iran’s nuclear weapons program will be met with a stinging defeat.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

This time around with Iran, we need to get it right. The lives of millions of people depend on it.