Monday, March 06, 2006

The Last Shah of Iran

Jamie Glazov,
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Houchang Nahavandi, former Minister of the last Shah of Iran. From 1974 to the time of the revolution president of the “Iranian Problems Study Group,” he was described by Pierre Salinger as “His Majesty’s Opposition Group.”

Mr. Nahavandi, together with a certain number of personalities such as Amir Aslan Afshar or Adeshir Zahedi, was against the departure of the Shah, and favoured the idea of backing up the army – as a last and only viable resort to restoring a balance and social peace. Mr. Nahavandi was condemned to death in absentia after the Islamic revolution. The reward for his capture was the equivalent of $200,000 at the time – he thought he was worth more than that. Today, he is the author of the new book: The Last Shah of Iran (also available directly at Los Angeles, CA) READ MORE

Glazov: Mr. Nahavandi, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Nahavandi: Thank you Jamie.

Glazov: I want to talk to you today about Iran's nuclear ambitions and the nature of the threat it poses. But let’s go back in time for a moment.

How would you describe the economic, social, cultural and political situation in Iran before the revolution?

Nahavandi: In 1977, during its last “normal” year, Iran gave the impression of being a powerful and stable country. The per capita income rose from $160 to $2,450 in fifteen years. There were more than 30 billion dollars in currency reserves. Iran was producing 10 million tons of cement, 6 million tons of steel in the public sector, and 800,000 tons in the private one. There were over 10,000,000 pupils in primary and secondary schools; 220,000 students. The agricultural resources covered more than 85% of the population needs. The population increase rate was brought down to 2.6% per year. We had one of the best armies in the free world.

Many more figures could be given here.

However, certain problems had arisen, especially since 1974: inflationist pressure, the corruption of a body implemented by Prime Minister Hoveyda, corporative chambers were a canker for social peace, the harbours and road networks were congested…thus there was a rise in discontent. The problems could be solved. Many other countries, even the ones which like to teach lessons, have problems, and had even more of them then.

What was troubling the Western World were Iran’s open ambitions.

Glazov: During the Shah's reign, what were the kind of relationships between Iran and Israel?

Nahavandi: Iran and Israel have no real, immediate disagreement. The Jews have been in Iran for 2,700 years. They are, and have always been, Iranians like the others. Don’t forget that Cyrus was the liberator of the Jews, and is referred to in the Old Testament as “God’s Anointed one”, “your Shepherd”. Iran recognized Israel de facto, as soon as it was created. The economic, technical, military and security cooperation between the two countries was of a very high level. I, myself, had launched a cooperation agreement between the Weizmann Institute – a prestigious research centre – and the University of Tehran, when I was its Rector.

It is Iran which helped with the immigration of the Jews from Iraq to Israel in 48-49. It is true that the support given by Iran to Egypt during the Yom Kippur War had annoyed certain Israelis.

But, as a whole, there is a fundamental geostrategical convergence in the region, between Iran and Israel. Once Iran has become Iranian again, this convergence will resume its course. The anti-Zionist vociferations of the Islamic regime are disgraceful, and go against our cultural and historical traditions.

I, personally, hope that after the creation of a responsible and peaceful Palestinian State, the latter will be able to play a positive role in the region. Unfortunately, we are far from it with the Hamas that have come to power.

Glazov: In spite of the tensions due to the oil crisis, how did the Shah's foreign policy influence the Middle-East region in general?

Nahavandi: The Iranian oil policy was based on a fair and stabilized price. Iran wanted to guarantee a normal oil flow to Europe. It even maintained it during periods of tension between the Hebrew State and the Arab countries. But Iran was in favour of a full control of its oil policy. The big companies had trouble with that policy. Their attitude had something to do with the Islamic revolution.

Glazov: The Shah had great ambitions for Iran and his people, why do you think the Carter administration, and England, not see these ambitions as legitimate and as assets for the Western world (the Shah was our friend and ally), but considered them as the ones of a regime to overthrow at any price?

Nahavandi: I am under the impression that Iran’s ambitions were in the way of certain Western powers who wished for a more easily influenced Iran, and I will show it with relevant documents and cast-iron proof. But Iran is Iran, it will always be ambitious. Its ambition must be sensible, however.

Today, a peaceful, powerful, secular and democratic Iran would be an asset for the western world.

The West should support the Iranian people against this regime which it hates. I do not have the feeling that this is the case, despite a few declarations.

Glazov: What role did the Left play in the Iranian revolution? For instance, Michel Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and other leftist “intellectuals” championed the Ayatollah Khomeini and his blood-stained revolution and tyranny. Why?

Nahavandi: The left, more particularly in France, mobilized to support a fanatical, ignorant and evil-doing mullah who was anti-Semitic and anti-West. Stalin had had his supporters in the past, and people got carried away with Pol Pot. I have not heard anything about these “intellectual mentors” expressing the slightest regret when they found out what was happening. They had praised Khomeini and a radical form of Islamism. It does not do them any credit.

Glazov: What role did Moscow and the Iran communist Party (Tudeh) play in the revolution? What was the relationship between Khomeini andMoscow?

Nahavandi: The collapse of a pillar of stability in the East, of its army, its pro-western regime was a golden opportunity for Moscow. It effectively did help, thanks to the role played by the “Tudeh”, the ultra-left – mujahideens etc… who were then manipulated by the K.G.B., by Qaddafi’s Lybia, then close to Moscow and which financed the revolution, by the support Damascus gave the revolution, by the role played by East Germany, etc…

What is surprising, or scandalous, is that it was all visible. All the analysts accept it now. But why did people look away at the time, and favour a radical form of Islamism? The rise of radical Islamism which threatens the civilized world today (and Muslim countries) dates back to that period of time.

Has there been a form of complicity? I’d rather think there was a play at being God.

Today, the Western World is paying the price for it.

Glazov: In your book, during the last months before the revolution, the Shah seems to be "lethargic", and he was ordering the army "not to resist," not "to shed the slightest drop of blood…" etc. Isn't this paradoxical coming from a king depicted by most of history books as a tyrant?

Nahavandi: The Iranian regime was, indeed, authoritarian, and had slowly started to evolve for two or three years. But the Shah was not a bloodthirsty tyrant, far from it. He always reprieved the very people who had made an attempt on his life. Towards the end, he was ill – but nobody knew it except his wife – and he really feared a civil war. He did not want to shed Iranian blood. A firm and enlightened policy towards the end would have spared Iran a bloodbath, the current tragedy and the problems the West has with the Islamic fundamentalists. But then the Western powers all encouraged him to yield to the revolutionaries by all possible means. They made the wind blow and now they have to deal with the storm.

It’s time the USA supported the Iranian opponents, only on a political and media level. The cycle of Islamic subversion started in Iran, it must be stopped by the fall of the Tehran regime. However, let’s be careful here, it is not the Iranian Ahmad Chalabis who will do anything about it.

Glazov: Who exactly orchestrated the hostage-taking of the personnel of US Embassy in Tehran? What was the real aim?

Nahavandi: The Soviets, without any doubt. There are documents, testimonies to their role which are irrefutable. The objective was to stop a reconciliation between Washington and the Islamic regime that had been negotiated by Dr. Brzezinski in Algiers with Bazargan and Yazdi. That objective was reached. America was plunged into the most serious crisis of its diplomatic history for 444 days. And when the Red Army invaded Afghanistan a few weeks later, the capacity to react of the Carter administration was limited.

In my next book, which will come out in French in May, and in English in September, I refer to this subject in detail, and give the relevant documents.

Glazov: Today, how would you analyse the international issue with Iran's nuclear ambitions and the nature of the risks? What must the U.S. and West do?

Nahavandi: Everything leads us to think that the Islamic regime will quickly have the nuclear weapon (in one or two years, apparently).

Iran has the entire right to master the process of nuclear technology.

However, this should be done within the framework of international treaties.

The goal of the Tehran regime goes further. They want to have the nuclear weapon to be “under the nuclear umbrella”, as Dr.Kissinger said, I believe. They want to be able to blackmail and threaten others. They’re going to have it. That’s where the danger lies.

The angelic policy of the three European countries, the “troika” (EU 3), has helped Tehran save three years’ time. It was a mistake with far-reaching consequences. The troïka was duped and ridiculed.

The Tehran regime must be prevented from having nuclear warheads to preserve peace and tranquillity in the region. They already have missiles with a 3,000 kilometre range. Have a look at the map. A military intervention is unthinkable. Not one Iranian will support it, and it will be a total fiasco.

A strike of surgical precision will be used by the regime as a pretext to intensify its repressive policy. It will help the extremist ayatollahs, the “nazislamic” fundamentalists instead. It will be counterproductive for everybody.

Political sanctions can be efficient, if they are enforced. More than anything else, the Iranians must be helped to make the regime evolve and change. It is possible.

A democratic, secular, responsible and peaceful Iran will automatically be a solution to the problem.

Glazov: What is the situation as far as human rights are concerned today in Iran, in the 21st century?

Nahavandi: Excellent question. Unfortunately, the Tehran regime is breaking records: there are thousands of political prisoners, torture has become official and is widespread, women who are accused of extra-marital sexual relationships are lapidated, the press and the publishing world are censored (even more so in the last few months), the authorities interfere in people’s private lives. The religious minorities –including the Sunni Muslims, who represent 20% of the population - are deprived of many rights. Let’s not talk about women who are the victims of a real segregation in many fields. They are not free to dress the way they like, are barred from many jobs; they do not have the right to enter a stadium during a sporting event, etc.

This is not what some opponents actually say. You just need to read the local press. The people with a “clear conscience” look away. It is time to denounce these violations of human rights in Iran out loud, and to do it without respite.

A last observation: Iran has the world record for suicides (especially among young people) and executions. How sad.

Glazov: Is a secular regime possible, is it compatible with the Islamic faith?

Nahavandi: Iran is a country with a majority of Shiites. The Head of State has never been the commander of the believers in Iran. For centuries, and each time the government was strong, politics ruled. The Iranians are Iranian first, then Muslim (Sunni or Shiite), Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian…This has always been the case.

The respect of all religions, and naturally of Islam, is necessary, and should be guaranteed by the Constitution, just like the freedom of religion. However, all the opinion polls – notably those carried out by the Ministry of the Interior of the regime which were published in the press- show that a vast majority of Iranians are in favour of a separation of the church and the state. Tomorrow’s Iran will have secular institutions. The Iranians are put off by the interference of the mullahs – often fake mullahs, on top of that- in political life, because radical Islamism has ruined the prosperity of Iran. The Iranian “ Mullahcracy” is more like a kind of gangsterism of the state. Islam must be respected like any other religion. However, the exercise of national sovereignty is something that belongs to the Iranian people, and only to them. May I add that the Islamic Republic of Iran is neither a republic – it does not come from the people- nor Islamic – what they do does not seem to be compatible with a correct interpretation of Islam- and it is especially not Iranian – it goes against our culture, our traditions, our history.

It is a sort of transplant which will be rejected sooner or later. The sooner it happens, the better for Iran and the whole world.

Glazov: Overall, what does the future hold for the Islamic regime in Iran? Do the peoples in Iran hold secretly in their hearts a kind of nostalgia for the Shah's era? Is a change of regime possible, and how?

Nahavandi: The Tehran regime has not been that weak, that vulnerable for years. It is a paper tiger. I know the domestic situation well enough. A quick change is feasible. The Iranian people will have to operate it, but with the help of the West; especially political help.

There must be a whiff of nostalgia in Iran. Many people regret the prosperity, the security of the time of the Shah, the respect Iran was paid in the world…Strangely enough, this nostalgia is more strongly felt among the young people who never knew that period, and who reproach their elders with participating in the revolution.

But the page is turned.

After the liberation of Iran, a provisional coalition government must be set up with all the political tendencies represented, including the sound and good elements of the present regime, provided they have no blood on their hands.

Once order has been restored, elections will be organized and a constituent assembly will debate on a new constitution.

Iran is not Iraq. It won’t be difficult.

Iran will rise from its ashes.

Glazov: Mr. Nahavandi, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

Nahavandi: Thank you, Jamie.