The Magazine

Tehran Needs to Stop Meddling

Iran goes abroad in search of Westerners to destroy.

Jul 13, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 40 • By HOWARD GUMNITZKY and JONATHAN SCHANZER
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While Iranian citizens demonstrate against the dubious results of their presidential election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims that America is interfering in Tehran's affairs. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accuses outside forces of fomenting riots, declaring "the enemies of the Iranian nation" are at work. Ahmadinejad warned President Obama: "If you continue your meddlesome stance, the Iranian nation's response will be crushing and regret-inducing."

The irony is palpable. For a generation, Iran has spread unrest around the world both directly and through proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas. Tehran's leaders have held conferences, issued edicts, and provided arms to strategically undermine its political foes. Iran has sponsored attacks on U.S. soldiers and citizens.

In 1983, Hezbollah operatives, trained by Iran, attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, killing hundreds of American soldiers who were part of an international peacekeeping force. A simultaneous attack killed 58 French soldiers in their barracks in Beirut. Later that year, Iranian-backed militants bombed the American and French embassies in Kuwait, along with the country's airport and main oil refinery. In 1996, Khamenei authorized the bombing of an apartment tower in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, housing U.S. Air Force personnel. Nineteen American servicemen died in the attack.

U.S. officials believe Hezbollah was involved in abducting 30 Westerners between 1982 and 1992. In addition, Hezbollah's Imad Mugniyah was connected to the 1984 hijacking of a Kuwaiti airplane that was diverted to Tehran, where hijackers killed two Americans.

Iran used the Salman Rushdie affair to foment mayhem on the streets of foreign cities. In February 1989 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa to kill Rushdie, a British author, because his book, The Satanic Verses, included an irreverent depiction of the prophet Mohammed. Islamists subsequently firebombed the offices of a New York newspaper, the Riverdale Press, that ran an editorial defending the author. Orchestrated riots took place in Bombay (Rushdie's birthplace) in which 12 died. A Hezbollah agent blew up himself and two floors of the hotel where he was staying in London, unsuccessfully trying to prepare a bomb with which to assassinate Rushdie. The following year, attackers stabbed Rushdie's Japanese and Italian translators. Iran's loyalists shot the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses and targeted its Turkish translator in a hotel arson that killed 37. It is worth noting here that Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei--who now deplores "foreign agitation"--renewed the fatwa in 2003.

Tehran has also caused mayhem in Latin America. Argentine officials in 2003 finally indicted senior Iranians for masterminding the 1994 Jewish community center bombing in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. Argentine prosecutors believe that senior Iranian leadership was behind the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy there.

Iran encourages Palestinian violence against Israel. Tehran hosted three global conferences to fan the flames of the al-Aqsa Intifada, a bombing campaign that followed the collapse of Middle East peace talks in 2000. In the midst of Western efforts to end the spiraling violence in early 2002, Iran shipped some 50 tons of weapons to Gaza.

Tehran's intervention in Iraq goes far beyond mere "meddling." The Islamic Republic was behind countless lethal roadside attacks on U.S. and allied forces there. The Mahdi Army, one of the most obdurate Iraqi militias, receives philosophical guidance from Tehran's clerics. Its leader, Moktada al-Sadr, on occasion directed his soldiers from Iran.

Iran went to extensive efforts to influence Baghdad's 2005 elections. Iraqi president Ghazi Yawar charged Tehran with coaching candidates and political parties sympathetic to Tehran, and of pouring money into politically aligned campaigns. Jordan's King Abdullah accused Iran of paying salaries and providing welfare to unemployed Iraqis to build pro-Iranian public sentiment. Moreover, Abdullah claimed that one million Iranians crossed into Iraq to vote in 2005.

The ayatollahs play a hand in destabilizing Afghanistan, too. A U.S. Treasury Department report says that Tehran's Revolutionary Guard provided "material support" to the Taliban. An al Qaeda-linked Kuwaiti militant, Mubarak al-Bathali, affirmed that Iran supported insurgents fighting American troops in Afghanistan.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah destabilizes Beirut's government, building on efforts that began with the 1983 Marine barracks bombing. An international investigation into the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri links Hezbollah to his 2005 murder. Just this past month, Hezbollah gunmen clashed in Beirut with supporters of the newly elected government.

Despite its stated support for the Palestinian cause, Iran exacerbates the political tension between Palestinians. After Israel completed its disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Hamas and Fatah engaged in a power-struggle there until June 2007, when Hamas launched a military coup to wrest control of the area. Rival Fatah faction members accused Iran of funding the Hamas coup and training its fighters. In April, it was revealed that Iran's reach extended to Egypt. Cairo authorities announced they had discovered a Hezbollah plot to destabilize the country with "hostile operations."

Tehran, in short, has a long record of exporting terror and destabilization to other nations. Washington remained on the sidelines of Iran's election controversy because President Barack Obama insisted that "it's not productive . . . to be seen as meddling." Indeed, Obama and his Western counterparts have failed to support the Iranian protests that could help bring an end to the dangerous theocracy that has ruled Iran since 1979, and is itself a meddler par excellence.

In other words, the West is not stopping the Islamic regime from repressing its own citizens. Instead, it is the people of Iran who are finally giving the ayatollahs a taste of their own medicine.

Jonathan Schanzer is deputy director of the Jewish Policy Center. Howard Gumnitzky is studying international law at the
University of Maryland.