The Magazine

Next Stop: Iran

From bad to worse in the Islamic Republic.

Jan 16, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 17 • By PETER HANNAFORD
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Tehran Rising
by Ilan I. Berman

Rowman & Littlefield, 204 pp., $24.95

LIKE A MINUET IN WHICH the steps are known in advance by all the dancers, the seemingly endless talks of the Europe Three--Britain, France, and Germany--continue. Europe's goal: a promise (merely the latest) by Iran to forswear enrichment of uranium and, hence, nuclear weapons production. Iran's goals: buy time in order to continue its path toward becoming a nuclear power and, simultaneously, separate European policy from that of the United States.

So far, according to Ilan Berman, Iran is succeeding; the Europeans are buying its minuet steps, while the United States masks policy paralysis with occasional declarations of support for pro-democracy Iranian dissidents.

Tehran Rising sets forth the serious and imminent threat Iran poses in its own region and to the United States and its allies. The theocrats who control Iran are using billions of dollars of their oil wealth to develop a nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal, to fuel the Iraqi insurgency, and to develop a web of strategic alliances in the "post-Soviet space"--countries of the former Soviet Union in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The author contends that Iran's Islamist war against the United States began in 1979--well before 9/11--with the revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Not long after assuming power, Khomeini declared, "The governments of the world should know that Islam cannot be defeated. Islam will be victorious in all the countries of the world, and Islam and the teachings of the Koran will prevail all over the world." And he lost no time in organizing Iran's radical religious militias in this cause. The Pasdaran (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) was organized as a strike force, which, in turn, recruited and trained the Basij, a large, radical, "people's" militia whose mission was to maintain internal social order.

Lebanon was the first proving ground for Khomeini's strategy. It signed a military agreement with Syria, then bankrolled and organized Hezbollah in Lebanon. The latter proceeded to carry out attacks on Israel, bombings of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, and hostage-taking.

Khomeini died in 1989, but any hope that Iran's radicalism would be softened by his successors was short-lived. The new Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, "reaffirmed the centrality of 'exporting the revolution' in the post-Khomeini era," according to Berman. This pair was as good as its word, working with Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to establish terrorist cadres in Europe. In 1992, in Germany, Iranian and Lebanese radicals assassinated four Kurdish dissidents, and a German court tied this act to senior levels of the Iranian regime, including Khamenei and Rafsanjani.

Berman describes Iran's "informal accord" with al Qaeda, including its willingness to let its operatives transit from Afghanistan to Iraq, hospitality for Ayman al-Zawahiri, and "an intimate relationship" with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Bringing the threat closer to home, Berman quotes a May 2004 speech by a Pasdaran official named Hassan Abassi: "We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization and for the uprooting of the Americans and the English." He claimed that there are 29 sites in the United States, and elsewhere in the West, that Iran has targeted, and "we have already spied on these sites and we know how we are going to attack them." To this should be added the recent pronouncements of Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on nuclear weapons and the destruction of Israel.

To make sure readers take all of this seriously, Berman devotes two detailed chapters to the development and implications of Iran's nuclear weapons program (with notes on chemical and biological weapons as well). He says that Iran's nuclear program is scattered over some two dozen sites, making military strikes--such as Israel's 1981 bombing of Iraq's lone nuclear facility--very difficult. He adds that Iran is well along the road to being able to produce enough highly enriched uranium to make 15 to 20 nuclear weapons a year.

The swift collapse of Saddam Hussein's armed forces demoralized Iran's mullahs and their military, the author contends. They decided that "the key to preempting U.S. strategy lies in the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction." Whether their actions were defensive or aggressive is largely beside the point, for the evidence points to an intention to develop nuclear arms capabilities prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2002 the European Union decided to revive a "critical dialogue" with Iran, which quickly turned into a discussion of Iran's nuclear intentions and, by 2004, an "accord" by Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program (an accord soon broken).