Obama’s Iran Deal Caused The Administration To Ignore Valuable Nuclear Intelligence


Foreign policy circles were abuzz over a May 5, 2016 New York Times Magazine profile of White House foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes. It boasted about manipulating “naïve” journalists into telling the American people how nascent moderation within the Iranian regime made the Iran nuclear talks viable. He also highlighted the White House creation of an “echo chamber” providing grants to outside nonprofit groups for pursuing the President’s objective to support so-called moderates in Tehran.

The network included journalists and media outlets, think tanks, nuclear associations, and pro-Tehran lobbies, including the infamous National Iranian American Council (NIAC). Last year, NIAC received $281,211; over the past five years, more than $814,000.

Contrary to the network that echoed the false narrative of the White House, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its largest component, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), exposed sensitive verifiable information and acted as the international community’s eyes and ears on the ground.

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Iran’s Terror Tunnels

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza BorderBreaking news about Cuba and North Korea has obscured equally important news about Iran. It is accelerating support for terror tunnels in Gaza aimed under Israel; rockets and missiles pointed toward Israel; as well as tunnels in Iran designed to hide cheating on nuclear obligations that could scuttle negotiations in Vienna.

Just as Israeli intelligence is unable to determine existence of terror tunnels without adequate human intelligence in Gaza, both Jerusalem and Washington have a hard time assessing nuclear tunnels in Iran. They lack appropriate human intelligence to reinforce signals and satellite intelligence. It is easier to track rockets and missiles from Iran into Gaza (and to Hezbollah in Lebanon). The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), based in Paris with an extensive network on the ground in Iran, has validated human intelligence capability. (Although controversy surrounds the NCRI about alleged payments to buy support, such claims are irrelevant to the merits of issues discussed here.)

Terror Tunnels

With Iranian assistance and funding, tunnels in Gaza display Tehran’s efforts to threaten Israel. By secretly helping its ally Hamas to build tunnels, Iran laid the predicate for the 2014 Gaza War. On Dec. 19, the Jerusalem Postreported that Hamas accelerated tunnel repair. Hamas admitted earlier this fall that tunnel construction had resumed. The Israeli military hasestimated that it cost Hamas $90 million to build the 32 tunnels that were uncovered. The tunnels required, on average, 350 truckloads of construction supplies each; contrary to using them for schools, hospitals, and housing, Hamas used supplies to rebuild terror tunnels.

After the 2008 Gaza War, Iran aided rehabilitation of tunnels destroyed or damaged in the fighting. During the Muslim Brotherhood one-year rule in Egypt (2012 to 2013), Iran accelerated transfer of rockets to Gaza by sea and land (Sudan and Sinai).

In his new book Terror Tunnels, Alan Dershowitz states that the 2014 War in Gaza required Israeli ground forces to gain access to the tunnels and shut them down. Israel was unable to determine their routes and exit ramps because they were too deep underground and not detectable from the air.

Israeli intelligence was largely unaware that Hamas had kept critical details about the tunnel network secret; Israel relies on technologies capable of eavesdropping on telecommunications in Palestinian territories. Hamas countered by wiring its longer tunnels with cables unconnected with the local telephone grid. Such is the importance of the tunnels that Israel’s Gaza War aim changed from mainly stopping rocket attacks to principally destroying the tunnels.

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Terror tunnels and nuclear tunnels after the midterms

Hamas-Tunnel-Terrorists-3Congressional Republicans and Democrats espouse a policy toward Iran that takes Israel into account; results of the 2014 elections may induce the Obama administration to consult more with Congress and Israel; they are concerned about lack of intelligence on tunnels in Gaza and Iran.

With Iranian assistance and funding, tunnels in Gaza displayed Tehran’s efforts to threaten Israel. By secretly helping its ally, Hamas—the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, build tunnels, Iran laid a predicate for the 2014 Gaza War.

There has been a resumption of tunneling in the aftermath of fighting. Hamas officials publicly acknowledge resumption of tunnel construction. The Israeli military estimates it cost Hamas $90 million to build 32 tunnels uncovered. The average tunnel required 350 truckloads of construction supplies; contrary to using these materials in building schools, hospitals, and housing, Hamas used them for tunnels.

After the 2008 Gaza War, Iran aided rehabilitation of infrastructure damaged in the fighting. During the Muslim Brotherhood one-year rule in Egypt, 2012-2013, Iran accelerated transfer rockets to Gaza by sea, land (Sinai and Sudan), and underground tunnels from Sinai.

Another Iranian ally, Hezbollah, may have an underground tunnel network leading into Israel’s north, which could be used to conduct an enormous terror attack on residents along the Israel-Lebanon border.

In Terror Tunnels, Alan Dershowitz makes a strong case for Israel’s “just war” against Hamas. The 2014 War in Gaza required use of Israeli ground forces to gain access to the tunnels and shut them down. Israel was unable to determine their routes and exit ramps in advance because they were too deep underground and not detectable from the air.

Israeli intelligence was largely unaware that Hamas had kept secret critical details about the tunnel network; Israel relies on technologies capable of eavesdropping on telecommunications in Palestinian territories. Hamas countered by wiring its longer tunnels with cables unconnected with the local telephone grid. Such is the importance of the tunnels, Israel’s Gaza War aim changed from mainly stopping rocket attacks to principally destroying the tunnels.

Regarding nuclear tunnels, Iran hides part of its facilities in networks of underpasses and bunkers across the country. Because it is difficult to determine what part of Iran’s nuclear program is hidden, there is a need for human source intelligence to complement electronic and satellite surveillance.

In 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an opposition organization that can continue adding to the multisource basis for verification of Iran’s nuclear activities, revealed that Iran was building a secret underground nuclear plant at Natanz. Later, the Institute for Science and International Security determined it was for enriching uranium and released imagery of Natanz in December 2002.

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Revocation of the Terrorism Listings of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK)

An Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, published the article below, Now the cards are on the table, on 28 September 2012 in its online and print editions as an insert in the International Herald Tribune in Israel. On the same date, the U.S. State Department formally announced revocation of the designation of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and related groups from its Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. Likewise, the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control revoked comparable designations from its Specially Designated Nationals List.

The State Department announcement included the following:

Property and interests in property in the United States or within the possession or control of U.S. persons will no longer be blocked, and U.S. entities may engage in transactions with the MEK without obtaining a license. These actions will be published in the Federal Register.

Below is the article commenting on the revocations by Professors Tanter and Sheehan.

Now the cards are on the table

In the wake of Secretary Clinton’s decision, Jerusalem and Washington should reset their Iran policy by embracing regime change there as a priority.

By Raymond Tanter and Ivan Sascha Sheehan
28 September 2012

CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL POST IN HAARETZ (Note: Must have subscription to read full article on the Haaretz website)

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s September 21 announcement that she will remove the Mujahedeen-e Khalq from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations is an important step toward correcting Washington’s Iran policy and an occasion for Jerusalem to adopt a fresh approach toward the Iranian opposition.

Delisting Iran’s primary opposition organization that rejects clerical rule is, in and of itself, a threat to the Iranian regime. Removal from the list is therefore an opportunity to assess and reset American and Israeli policy toward Tehran.

Removing the MEK’s terror designation plays on Tehran’s suspicions that an “unholy alliance” of Jerusalem, Washington and the MEK is colluding to launch covert attacks against Iran’s nuclear program. If there were such an alignment, it would also contribute to deterrence of Iranian assaults against Israeli diplomats and serve as a check on Iranian aggression.

In a September 23 Washington Post article that proposed a fictive scenario involving an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, analysts imagined how Israel might be accused of working with the MEK. They speculate that the MEK will be widely perceived as reinforcing Israel’s air assaults with military operations on the ground in Iran: “Within hours, Twitter is alight with reports of explosions in various parts of Iran. All seemingly can be traced to one source: the Iranian opposition group Mujaheddin-e-Khalq.”

That the group stokes the regime’s fears by mobilizing broad political support in the expatriate community and holding massive rallies around the world does little to quiet the regime’s anxieties. A 2005 study found that the MEK was given 350 percent more attention by Iranian state-run media than all other opposition organizations challenging the regime.

The disproportionate number of protesters who were arrested or sentenced to death during the 2009 uprising because of their association with the MEK is also indicative of the regime’s intent to block the group’s political influence on the Iranian street.

The MEK is the largest dissident organization in the Paris-based de facto parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. It has long failed to meet the statutory criteria necessary for terror tagging under U.S. law. That it remained on the list can be attributed to persistent lobbying by the Iranian regime and miscalculation by successive U.S. presidents that concessions would appease Tehran’s theocrats and eliminate state-sponsored proxy violence.

If Clinton had failed to delist, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington would in any event have removed the organization from the list on October 1. By taking the initiative rather than hiding behind the judiciary, Washington signals to Tehran that regime change from within is on the table. Iran has threatened to curtail its negotiations with the West when it takes actions that favor the MEK; Clinton’s removal of the group’s designation thus acknowledges that engagement with Iran is no longer a top priority, although sporadic and unproductive nuclear talks might continue.

Removal of the terror designation in the midst of a hotly contested presidential election confirms that U.S. counterterrorism policy remains unpoliticized. Strong bipartisan support for the MEK on Capitol Hill, where Israel also commands strong backing, is further indication that the shift was not partisan.

American and Israeli officials should follow the delisting of the Iranian resistance with efforts to empower the opposition and support calls for democratic change. Free of the terror label, supporters can now put their money where their mouth is and embrace the opposition in its campaign for democracy.

In light of last week’s announcement by Secretary Clinton, here’s what can be done to help reset policy toward Tehran.

First, the worldwide pro-Israel community can help push back against the Iranian regime’s disinformation campaign against removal of the MEK from the State Department’s terror roster. The Iranian lobby in Washington is as well funded as it is deceptive and the opposition is enemy number one. Consider the unsubstantiated allegation made by Mohammad Javad Larijani, a senior aide to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. On February 9, 2012, Larijani alleged to NBC-TV News that the Mossad and the MEK were jointly responsible for the targeted killing of Iranian scientists. Though never backed up with evidence, this sensational accusation was frequently repeated to justify the group’s terror designation in the lead-up to the delisting.

Second, because the heat will be turned up by the pro-Iranian Iraqi government on the 3,000 MEK dissidents housed at Camp Liberty in Iraq, the pro-Israel community should speak publicly about the safety of the residents and press humanitarian concerns.

Third, in the wake of Secretary Clinton’s decision, Jerusalem and Washington should reset their Iran policy by embracing regime change in Iran as a priority. Support for the Iranian opposition would give further credence to threats to take military action and complement sanctions meant to coerce Tehran. Unless the survival of the regime is on the table, Iran will continue to pursue its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons as well as threaten Israel and the United States. The removal of MEK’s terror classification rings an alarm bell among the theocrats in Tehran that their illegitimate reign is coming to an end.


Prof. Raymond Tanter served on the senior staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan White House, and is president of the Iran Policy Committee. Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the negotiation and conflict management graduate program in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore.

Delaying or Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran

Professor Raymond Tanter

Paper Presented to the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT)
Twelfth World Summit on Counter-Terrorism, Herzliya, Israel 10-13 September 2012

Paper Delivered to DACOR (formerly Diplomats and Consular Officers Retired)

An Organization of Foreign Affairs Professionals

Bacon House Foundation Annual Conference, 28 September 2012, Washington DC

Scenarios for the World Order in the 21st Century

Panel on Authoritarianism & the End of the First Nuclear Era:

The Cases of Pakistan, Iran, & North Korea



In discussing how to delay or prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, consider the political system of the Iranian regime and its proliferation activities. The main argument is that because of the central role of ideology in the authoritarian nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran, traditional means of influence based on national interests have little prospect of success. Hence, there needs to be increased attention paid to bringing about regime change from within to avoid a choice between bombing Iran or living with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Given the revolutionary religious ideology of an authoritarian Iran, it is instructive to compare it with other states that have little or no freedom but have achieved nuclear weapons status, such as Pakistan and North Korea. Neither Islamabad nor Pyongyang is religion the ideology of the state. Although the official name of Pakistan is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and religion plays an increasing role in its culture and domestic politics, religion is not as dominant in Islamabad as in Tehran. As a result, it is more likely that Pakistan and North Korea would be subject to bargaining about national interest than Iran.

Freedom in the World 2012, published by Freedom House, applies one of three broad designations to states and territories: Free; Partly Free; and Not Free, based largely on respect for political rights and civil liberties. Pakistan is in the group of Partly Free, trending toward less freedom because of blasphemy laws and an increase in official attempts to censor internet-based content. Iran is in the Not Free category, trending toward even less freedom, due to imposition of stark restrictions on nongovernmental organizations and prosecution of an increasing number of civic leaders.

Of the 48 countries designated as Not Free, nine have the lowest possible rating for both political rights and civil liberties. North Korea is a one- party regime that received the dubious distinction of being in the Worst of the Worst category. Despite being in the Not Free category, Pyongyang is more capable of striking a deal based on national interest negotiations than is Tehran.

At issue is the connection among freedom, proliferation, and deterrence, other factors being equal, which they are not. Assume an early version of democratic peace theory holds; then the fewer the political rights and civil liberties within a country, the more likely the regime will be aggressive in its international relations and hence the more dangerous it would be with nuclear weapons.

But in the context of stable deterrence, e.g., during the Cold War, the nature of the political system is less relevant because of national interest calculations. If ideology trumps interest, as in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran, however, the nature of the political system is even more important in the hands of Iranian Islamists with nuclear weapons. And if the political system is unstable, as is the case of Pakistan, nuclear arms might fall into the hands of Islamists less likely to be deterred by a nuclear-armed India.

So, Pakistan and Iran may be more dangerous than North Korea—Islamabad because of the prospects for regime change from within that allows Islamists to seize the weapons and Tehran because its ideology is more important than interests, it is less deterrable, and potential for internal regime change are slim because dissidents are so divided and not empowered by outside forces.

What Makes Teheran Tick

Raymond Tanter and
Thomas McInerney,
What Makes Tehran Tick, Iran Policy Committee, Washington DC, 2006

Figure 1 demonstrates that Iran perceives threats to pan-Islamism and the Islamic Revolution with greater intensity than threats to its national interests. These include regional hegemony in the Persian Gulf, establishment of a sphere of influence around Iran, and prevention of a renewed threat from Iraq. While ideological imperatives and national interest considerations may be pursued at the same time, assume for the moment they can be separated enough to determine their relative impact on Iranian decisionmaking. In this respect, a primary conclusion of the Iran Policy Committee (IPC) book from which Figures 1-3 derive, What Makes Tehran Tick, is that Tehran is more motivated by its Islamist ideology than by its national interests.

As one analyst states:

Iran’s leadership clings to policies derived largely from [Ayatollah] Khomeini’s ideological vision even when such policies are detrimental to the country’s other stated national interests and even when a sizable portion of the ruling elite rejects them.

In other words, Iran’s revolutionary elite reinforces the regime’s ideological nature by adopting confrontation as a modus operandi. In this respect, “The Islamic Republic is different from its revolutionary counterparts in that the ideology of its state is its religion.” To maintain the ideological character of the Islamic Republic, Khomeini ordered the execution of political prisoners during 1988, as a litmus test of fealty to revolutionary ideals.

For the first decade of clerical rule, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri was anointed as the successor of Khomeini, founder and leader of the regime. In March 1989, however, Khomeini dismissed Montazeri because of his protest against the massacre of members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) and the other opponents of the clerical rule. About 30,000 political prisoners were executed in a very short period.

In view of this discussion of the domestic situation in Iran, consider how its ideology relates to Israel and the America. The regime seeks the destruction of countries, as well as the Sunni “apostate” countries in the Middle East. Consequently, there is very little about which to negotiate with Iran, and a regional realignment that isolates Tehran has a much greater chance of success on its nuclear file than an engagement strategy that seeks to negotiate national interest trade-offs. Now consider how Iran’s authoritarian and ideological nature relates to its hostility toward Israel and the United States as well as its perception of threat from them.

Fig. 2 and 3

Islamist Ideology Trumps Interests

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a prime-time example of an authoritarian state run by ideologically-determined clerics. The Iranian regime’s desire to destroy Israel arises mainly from incompatibility of values more than perceived economic or military threats. In this regard, consider the Figures 2 and 3 above.

During 2006, an Iran Policy Committee research team of Farsi and English speakers collected over 2,400 statements for the period 1979-2005. These statements came from the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (available in microfiche and via World News Connection) and BBC Worldwide Monitoring (via Lexis-Nexis). Search parameters were “Iran and United States” and “Iran and Israel.” The team searched for three two-week periods each year surrounding specific dates: Embassy Takeover Day (4 November), Jerusalem Day (the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan), and May Day (1 May). The team sorted the collected statements according to perception of threat and expression of hostility.

Figure 2 shows that out of a universe of Iranian expression of hostility statements, 36% (515) were directed at Israel and 64% (919) were directed at the United States. By contrast, Iran seems to perceive very little threat from Israel. The number of perception of threat statements referring to the United States remained relatively constant (938), but only 137 statements (13% of total) assessed a threat from Israel (Figure 3).

Figure 3 indicates that Iran perceives little direct threat from Israel, but Tehran nonetheless is extremely hostile toward Israel. Indeed, the number of Iranian statements reflecting perceived threat from Israel was so low that there were not enough to conduct a reliable statistical analysis of their intensity over time. The near absence from the Iranian leadership of perception of threat statements about Israel strengthens the argument that Iran’s expressed hostility toward Israel reflects ideological rhetoric rather than any genuine sense of threat emanating from Israel.

The regime’s hostility toward Israel derives its momentum from Iran’s existential engagement in an ideological two-front war: the war for leadership of the international Islamic revival and the war against the West. The fact that Tehran perceives no direct threat from Israel, however, does not mean its hostility should be discounted.

Because the unelected clerical rulers of Iran lack popular legitimacy, they claim the legitimacy of God, terming their principal opposition that rejects the ruling order, “Mohareb,” or “Enemies of God.” Velayat-e faqih, or rule by the jurisprudent, is the Islamic Republic’s ruling principle. The Faqih is an Islamic legal expert who also exerts worldly power. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, considers himself as the Faqih.

In addition to the Supreme Leader, unelected regime institutions include the Guardian Council, which is the most influential body; it consists of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament. It has the authority to vet and ban candidates from standing for elections to parliament, presidency, and Assembly of Experts. The latter appoints the Supreme Leader, monitors his performance, and in principle, could remove him if deemed incapable of carrying out his duties.

At the summit for the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement convened in Iran on 30 August 2012, the Supreme Leader invoked the authority of the cloth to say that Tehran considers nuclear, chemical, and similar weapons “a great and unforgivable sin.” This declaration is in contrasts to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report (also of 30 August 2012): It stated that the IAEA is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran; therefore the Agency is not able to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is for peaceful purposes.

Based in part on the IAEA report, the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) proposed to the IAEA Board of Governors a 13 September 2012 Resolution on Iran; The Board passed the Resolution, which stated that Iran “continues to defy” requirements and obligations of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the IAEA.

A Triangle of Influence on Iran

In view of the authoritarian nature of the Iranian regime and uncertainties about whether it is engaged in prohibited nuclear activities, one of the most pressing issues of the day is how to delay or even prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Figure 4 contains three legs of a triangle of options to influence Iran—threats, sanctions, and negotiations. Covert action and clandestine activities conducted by intelligence services undergird the triangle.

Threat of Military action is at the apex, an option of last resort when the other legs fail; although that threat remains on the table, military action per se is not one of the current legs of the triangle because it has yet to occur.

Also at the apex is regime change from within, which is only partly under the influence of external players. In the context of American military force used to change regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little support for an externally-driven regime change strategy to delay or prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. With Tehran’s suppression of street protests after the 2009 Iranian elections, there is scant expectation that regime change from within is viable.  Also, critics counter that the regime change clock ticks slower than Iran’s nuclear progress or Israel’s closing window of opportunity for a successful attack on Tehran’s uranium enrichment, detonator research, and missile sites. But unless internal regime change is on the table, its clock cannot begin to tick.

A first step toward regime change from within was to remove the U.S. terrorist tag from the main opposition organizations that reject clerical rule in Iran, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its largest unit, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which the Department of State did during September 2012.

A second step would be to persuade dissident organizations to work together for political change in Iran, despite their prior and current enmity toward each other. It is in the infamous tradition of revolutionary moments for there to be hostility among resistance groups that jockey for power as they envision regime change.

A third step is to continue applying each tool of the triangle under the assumption that together they constitute collective action short of war, yet do not preclude use of force or pursuit of a regime change at the end of the day. Such combined efforts by the international community might eventually destabilize the regime and pave the way for democratic change in Iran.

At the base of the triangle are covert action and clandestine activities conducted by intelligence services. They also collect and share invaluable intelligence on Iran’s nuclear progress, degree to which sanctions are working, and whether diplomacy is likely to persuade Iran to comply with international demands to cease enriching uranium, place a cap on level of enrichment, and remove all enriched uranium from Iranian territory; abstain from weaponization, and refrain from marrying highly enriched uranium with a trigger mechanism and missile delivery system.

Despite use of these tools of influence by the major powers, Tehran continues on a seemingly unstoppable path to become a nuclear-armed state. Although there is little publicly available evidence to indicate the Iranian regime has made a strategic decision to produce an actual nuclear weapon, it has taken preliminary steps to do so.

Fig. 4 - The Triangle of Influence on Iran

Intelligence underlies the triangle of influence on Iran. Without public acknowledgement, nation states like Israel and the United States benefit from nonstate, independent sources of information based on other methods of human collection, e.g., “lead intelligence,” to compare with that derived via other means. Without facilitating such collection, Jerusalem and Washington have gained insights on Iranian nuclear facilities from the NCRI and its largest unit, the MEK, which operates clandestinely within Iran to collect sensitive intelligence.


The last round of senior-level negotiations between Iran and the major powers failed in Moscow on 19 June; lower-level talks on 26 June between a senior EU envoy and Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator to restart higher negotiations also failed.

In a meeting in Istanbul on 18 September, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s lead negotiator in talks with the major powers, called negotiations with European Union foreign policy head, Catherine Ashton, “constructive and helpful,” although the meeting did not produce any breakthroughs or even an announcement of follow-on discussions.

Despite threats of military force and additional sanctions as drivers, negotiators have deadlocked over issues like opening up Iran’s Parchin underground munitions testing facility. The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) reports private satellite imagery from 25 July 2012 of what appears to be sanitization and earth displacement activity at Parchin.

It appears as if Tehran is hiding evidence from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. IAEA and ISIS reports of November 2011 and August 2012, respectively, raised the issue of whether the Parchin site has been used for testing high explosives for nuclear arms. If it were true, then the regime would be cheating like it did for almost two decades until the NCRI exposed its double-dealing in a series of revelations beginning in 2002.


Although sanctions alone are not likely to reverse Tehran’s quest for nuclear capability or the bomb, they have been useful in creating an alignment against the Islamic Republic. Sanctions make sense, moreover, if they remove the economic base for manufacturing a nuclear weapon or are followed by military action when sanctions no longer seem to be removing that base before Iran acquires nuclear capability or weapon.

Consider the state of play for U.S. sanctions against Iran. During the first week of August, the U.S. House voted 421-6 in favor of the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012 to deprive Iran of revenue from energy production and shipping, its largest export sectors. The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote, and the measure went to President Obama for signature. The legislation punishes financial institutions, insurance companies, and shippers that help Iran sell its oil and closes loopholes that permitted Tehran to evade present sanctions. Despite such sanctions, there is evidence in recent international money-transfer investigations that Chinese banks may have flouted United States sanctions against Iran.

The president had already issued an Executive Order on 30 July that expands upon sanctions in the National Defense Authorization Act to make sanctionable knowingly conducting or facilitating significant transactions with a private or public foreign financial institution or other entity for the purchase or acquisition of Iranian oil.

Covert Actions

Sanctions combined with covert actions and clandestine activities also pressure Iran. In 2009, The New York Times reported that President Obama gave the order to speed up a wave of cyberattacks against Iran one whose existence had been exposed just three years before. But, “Tehran sensed his vulnerability, resumed enriching uranium at an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three years before.”

16 sep 2002 Natanz

But The Washington Post correctly credited, “An exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, [which] first publicly revealed the existence of Iran’s much larger uranium facility at Natanz in 2002.”

Additional aspects of covert action are attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. Although Tehran incredibly blames Jerusalem as working with the largest unit within the NCRI, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a book by two journalists, Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Spies Against Armageddon, more plausibly suggests the assassinations are “blue and white,” conducted by Israeli agents from start to finish. Jerusalem, however, neither confirms nor denies whether it collaborates with the MEK but benefits from the regime’s uncertainty regarding such a potential alignment. There are even unsubstantiated rumors that Jerusalem supplied intelligence to the MEK to make its 2002 revelations, among others.

Other illustrations of covert action are assaults against Iranian installations short of war. Iran’s senior atomic energy official revealed on 17 September 2012 that a month earlier there were separate explosions, which he ascribed to sabotage. They targeted power supplies leading to Iran’s two main uranium enrichment facilities, including an underground site that is the most invulnerable to bombing.

Clandestine Activities and Intelligence

Clandestine activities (passive information collection conducted in secret), aided by the Iranian opposition, would create a toxic mix to make the Iranian regime concerned that its nuclear program has been so penetrated by foreign intelligence services and dissidents that it would not be able to conduct a secret breakout without getting caught.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on 16 September 2012 that Iran would have enough enriched uranium in six to seven months. He said that by mid-2013, Tehran would be 90 percent of the way toward enough enriched uranium for a bomb. It is unclear, however, whether the Netanyahu statement derives from a formal intelligence estimate by Israel’s professionals.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had already introduced the much-debated notion of Tehran’s “immunity threshold,” a concept that begs for enhanced intelligence collection. Created by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Intelligence Corps, the Iranian zone of invulnerability refers to the regime’s hardening and hiding critical parts of its nuclear program in sites basically secure from external military attack.

Barak stated on CNN during April, “There is no difference in the assessment of intelligence” between Jerusalem and Washington; despite or perhaps because of such apparent consensus, there is a need for an independent source of information based on other methods of human collection, e.g., “lead intelligence” from the Iranian resistance.

But until September 2012, the NCRI and MEK were designated on the U.S. terrorist list, which the U.S. Federal judiciary increasingly saw as illegal; similarly, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey of the George W. Bush administration wrote in the Foreword to Terror Tagging of an Iranian Dissident Organization how the designation was both unwarranted and unwise. And even President Bush credited the NCRI with revelations that led to inspections of and sanctions against Iran.

The ill-advised designation diverted MEK resources from undermining the regime internally and collecting intelligence to struggling with consequences of designation. Although constrained, the resistance has still made blockbuster revelations that helped make the case for against Iran, according to an assessment by a scholar at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote, “The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revelations about Iran’s secret nuclear program did prove to be the trigger point in inviting the IAEA into Tehran for inspections…” And such inspections led to negotiations between Iran and the major powers.

Iranian Nuclear Installations

Iranian Nuclear Installations

As discussed above, during August 2002, NCRI intelligence exposed a secret nuclear facility near the City of Natanz. An independent think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), confirmed the revelation, identified the site as a uranium enrichment facility, and released imagery of Natanz in December 2002.

NCRI intelligence was the source of several other critical revelations, including:

August 2002, a heavy water production facility at Arak

ISIS stated, “The existence of this facility was first revealed publicly by the Iranian opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in August 2002. ISIS then located the site in commercial satellite imagery after a wide-area search. By United Nations Security Council resolution 1737 (2006), Iran was to suspend all work on heavy water related projects.”

Arak Installation

A nuclear facility at Lavizan-Shian

Again working independently from the NCRI, the ISIS wrote: “This site first came to public attention in May 2003 when the Iranian opposition group, National Council for Resistance of Iran, announced…the site.”

Lavizan-Shian 1

August 2004, laser enrichment facility at the Center for Readiness and New Defense Technology (known as Lavizan 2), built with equipment removed from the Lavizan-Shian site, kept off limits to international inspectors since its revelation by the NCRI.

Lavizan-Shiam 2

ISIS obtained imagery of the site located in Tehran from August 2003; it showed large buildings inside a secure perimeter. In imagery taken on March 2004, the buildings have been removed. Further clearing can be seen in imagery from May 2004. The site’s dismantlement raises serious concerns because it is the type of measure Iran might take if it were trying to defeat environmental sampling capabilities of the IAEA.

In December 2005, intelligence of National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed a nuclear site near the city of Qum: Tunneling activity in the mountains was initiated in 2000 to construct an underground nuclear facility; the Western allies publicly acknowledged the Qum site in September 2009.

Qum 2

Left image:DigitalGlobe image of the Qum site in June 2007. Construction materials may be seen adjacent to tunnel entrances and at construction staging areas. Right image: Image from DigitalGlobe of the Qum site in January 2009. There is much more construction and excavation activity two years later.

NCRI intelligence revealed, during September 2009, two additional sites in and near Tehran, where the Iranian regime may be working on detonators for nuclear warheads, one of the points in dispute between the IAEA and Tehran and in the nuclear negotiations.

Prompted by such publicity, the Iranian regime admitted in September of that year existence of a uranium enrichment facility about 20 miles north of Qum. And by January 2012, Iran stated it had begun enrichment at the heavily fortified site—the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.

One aspect of validation concerns how there has been subsequent follow-on of revelations in which the NCRI also played a role. With respect to the Fordow facility, built beneath a mountain outside Qum, the IAEA report of August 2012 focuses on Fordow and Parchin, two facilities publicly identified in NCRI intelligence revelations before they became part of the mainstream public narratives about Iran. Again working independently of the NCRI, an ISIS report of September 2004 suggested Parchin was a suspect nuclear site, which complements revelations of the NCRI a year later.


Left image:Satellite image of Iran’s Fordow enrichment facility near the city of Qum, 27 September 2009. Right image: Image from DigitalGlobe of the same site. There is much more construction and excavation activity, 15 August 2012

Regarding the validity of Iranian resistance revelations, Dr. Frank Pabian, Senior Nonproliferation Analyst at the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, stated, ‘They’re [the NCRI] right 90 percent of the time. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but 90 percent is a pretty good record.” Even if the NCRI and MEK did not have such an impressive track record, nonstate intelligence from resistance sources is at least of value as a “lead” to compare with State-derived information using other sources and methods.

From Authoritarianism toward a Free Iran

First, it was and is in the interest of both Jerusalem and Washington that the State Department removed the NCRI and the MEK from the Department’s terrorist list in September 2012, as a first step to embrace and thus empower the Iranian resistance that rejects clerical rule in Tehran and augment collection of intelligence about Iran. Now that the terror tag has been removed, collection of dissident information as lead intelligence can accelerate and complement that of western services to bolster talks and sanctions regarding Iran. Removal of the terrorist label enhances collection of intelligence because resources used by the resistance to get off the terrorist list will be available again for intelligence collection and dissemination.

Second, facilitating resettlement of Iranian members of the MEK who remain in Iraq would help energize the organization’s intelligence capacity against Iran, and the worldwide pro-Israel community has a chance to become active in such a cause via its contacts in western parliaments.

Third, because sanctions and talks are failing to change the trajectory of the Iranian regime to become a nuclear-weapons capable state, now is the time to enhance the quality of intelligence about Iran by empowering efforts of dissident organizations that reject clerical rule and have a demonstrated capacity for collecting and distributing intelligence about Iranian nuclear progress—the National Council of Resistance and Iran and its largest unit, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.

Finally as freedom replaces authoritarianism in Iran, whether it has nuclear weapons or not would be of less consequence than it is now. And as an ideologically-driven Iranian regime transitions to a more secular democracy, the nuclear issue would be less of a threat to global and regional international security.


Professor Raymond Tanter is former member of the senior staff at the U.S. National Security Council, 1981-82; former representative of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in Europe, 1983-84; President of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee since 2005; and Professor Emeritus at The University of Michigan since 1999.

Iran Ramps Up Its Genocidal Rhetoric

What Makes Tehran Tick: Islamist Ideology and Hegemonic Interests

Israel Defense Forces Lt Col (ret) Michael (Mickey) Segallis an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East; he is also a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Below is a summary of one of his articles for the Center’s Blog, which is repeated below because his qualitative research reinforces conclusions of Iran Policy Committee (IPC) quantitative research on a similar topic in a book entitled What Makes Tehran Tick.

Michael (Mickey) Segall, “Iran Ramps Up Its Genocidal Rhetoric,” Vol. 12, No. 20, 28 August 2012

  • Each year since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian regime marks international Jerusalem (Quds) Day on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan. As in previous years, the Iranian leadership called for the destruction of Israel and of “world Zionism,” as demonstrating masses shouted: “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” during rallies and addresses by the leadership.
  • For Shia Iran, the struggle against Israel and its Western allies is almost its sole common denominator with most of the Sunni Arab domain. Now, with the rise of Islamist regimes – especially in Egypt, which Iran views as having broken the taboo on peace accommodations with Israel – Iran is making enhanced use of the Palestinian issue and denial of Israel’s right to exist, in order to win the hearts and minds of Muslims across the Middle East and beyond.
  • From Iran’s standpoint, the Arab Spring – or Islamic Awakening as Iran terms it – has revalidated Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision, and Iran feels great confidence in the righteousness of its approach, which it sees as part of a broader historical course of divine intervention. The gathering of more than 100 non-aligned nations in Tehran this week together with the participation of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the newly elected Egyptian president – despite U.S. efforts to prevent it – further strengthens Iran’s belief in the triumph of its alternative Islamic revolutionary vision of the new world order.
  • The current leaders of Iran also associate Khomeini’s vision with repeated successes in the national and regional arenas: the nuclear program that keeps advancing despite the West’s and Israel’s efforts to stymie it, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, Hizbullah’s “victory” against Israel in the Second Lebanon War, the Palestinians’ firm stance in the subsequent Gaza War, and the Islamic Awakening, which Iran appropriates to itself.
  • It is believed that, like the fulfillment of Khomeini’s prophecies about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Saddam, his prophecy of Israel’s destruction will also be realized and the mission is in Iran’s hands.
  • The Iranian leadership’s virulent anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, much in evidence before and during Jerusalem Day on Aug. 17, in fact recycles the original slogans of Khomeini’s revolution, recalibrated to the Islamic mood now prevalent in the Middle East. In this context, Iranian spokesmen claim that the Syrian crisis is not part of the Islamic Awakening but an attempt by the West to strike at one of the main strongholds of the anti-Israel and anti-U.S. struggle. 

Below is a summary from Chapter Two of the IPC book, What Makes Tehran Tick, which relates to the Segall findings.

The IPC performed quantitative content analysis on an extensive database of  about 2,400 Iranian leadership statements collected from the period of 1979-2005.

The research question:

To what extent do Iran’s perceptions of threat from Israel and the United States drive Iranian regime hostility toward Jerusalem and Washington, respectively?

The principal finding:

Iran is consistently more hostile toward Israel than the United States. Iran perceives little direct threat from Israel, but Tehran nonetheless is extremely hostile toward Israel.

The left Figure shows that out of the universe of Iranian expression of hostility statements collected by the research team, 36% (515) were directed at Israel and 64% (919) were directed at the United States. By contrast, Iran seems to perceive very little threat from Israel.

The number of perception of threat statements referring to the United States remained relatively constant (938), but only 137 statements (13% of total) assessed a threat from Israel (right Figure).

The near absence from the Iranian leadership of perception of threat from Israel strengthens the argument that Iran’s expressed hostility toward Israel reflects ideological rhetoric rather than any genuine sense of threat emanating from Israel. By contrast, Iran’s expression of hostility to Washington is basically in proportion to Tehran’s perception of threat from the United States.

In the case of Segall’s “Iran Ramps Up Its Genocidal Rhetoric,” quoted above, he draws on statements made by the Iranian leadership on Jerusalem (Quds) Day, the last Friday of the month of Ramadan, 17 August 2012, when Iranian leaders traditionally call for the destruction of Israel. The IPC book, What Makes Tehran Tick, focuses not only on Jerusalem (Quds) Day but also on Embassy Takeover-Day—the annual celebration of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran as well as May Day—as a neutral control date to enhance validity.

Specifically, the IPC team selected 2,400 statements from the two weeks surrounding three different dates: Embassy Takeover Day (4 November), Jerusalem Day (the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan), and May Day (1 May). Rather than collecting the universe of statements from the Iranian regime from 1979-2005, the IPC used targeted sampling.

To keep sample size manageable and content consistent, IPC researchers collected from two databases: the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and the BBC International Monitoring Reports. FBIS microfiche archives were accessed first to obtain a requisite 25 statements from each date set for each year. FBIS materials after 1997 are available through the Internet-based World News Connection, while BBC International Monitoring Reports were obtained via Lexis-Nexis.


First, because of the ideological base for Iranian hostility toward Israel, there is little or no prospect for a negotiated settlement involving Israel and Iran or between the major powers and Iran about its quest to develop a nuclear arms capability; Israel’s threats directed toward Iran are not taken seriously by Tehran; and because Iran follows its hostile rhetoric with threats of military action, Israel and Iran may be on a collision course of war unless other options complement the triad of threats, sanctions, and talks.

Second, a policy of regime change from within can place the Iranian regime on its back foot by forcing it to choose between regime survival and pursuit of an ideological goal of destruction of Israel. Regime change from within requires the kind of coalition of dissidents that brought down the Shah of Iran in 1979.

Third, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), the main Iranian opposition organization that rejects clerical rule, played a critical role in toppling the Shah and is poised to repeat such a performance to help depose the clerical regime. But because the MEK is on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list and its members languish under siege in Iraq, the group is constrained from assuming its rightful role in a coalition of oppositionists in Iran. Irrespective of whether other dissident organizations say they oppose the MEK, the others are likely to move with the MEK against the regime once the MEK is off the American terrorist list. Why? Among other opposition groups, the Iranian regime pays the most attention to the MEK, it has the most support among the Iranian expat community, and the MEK does not seek or require funds, military arms, or other assistance from States to help bring down the Iranian regime. Finally, the pro-Israel community can play an instrumental role in persuading Members of the U.S. Congress to remove the terrorist tag on the MEK and related organizations that reject clerical rule in Iran.

Tehran’s Anti-MeK Propaganda Machine


by Raymond Tanter
The National Interest
October 27, 2011

If disinformation is defined as deliberate and covert efforts to plant false information to bias media reporting and intelligence collection, the UN’s Durban conferences constitute a prime example. Although organized around an “anti-racist” agenda, they focus on ways to delegitimize Israel and are an icon of intolerance.

A participant in the Durban conferences is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Just as it tries to delegitimize Israel, Iran does the same to its opposition while portraying itself as defender of human rights. By releasing American hostages as a “humanitarian” gesture to “improve” the standing of the regime as President Ahmadinejad arrived at the UN, Tehran shows it is a past master of propaganda.

The Islamic Republic treats Israel and Iranian oppositionists in the same way because both are committed to the rule of law rather than to rule by clerics. In research for my forthcoming book on how to facilitate Iranian democracy, I concluded that the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK), an Iranian opposition group, is genuinely committed to democracy and not pretending just to gain support. My conclusions echoed those of under secretary of state George Ball, who stated in 1981 that the MeK intended to replace the Islamist regime “with a modernized Shiite Islam drawing its egalitarian principles from Koranic sources rather than Marx,” and of a State Department report of 1984 asserting: “The Mujahedeen unsuccessfully sought a freely elected constituent assembly to draft a constitution.”

The Iranian regime also misinforms publics, delegitimizes and seeks to destroy the MeK because it challenges clerical rule. By contrast, other dissident organizations, such as the Iranian Green Movement faction headed by Mir Hossein Mousavi, accept clerical rule.

Intelligence communities are targets of Iran’s disinformation. Consider a letter of August 2, 2011, called the “Joint Experts’ Statement on the Mujahedin-e Khalq.” One signatory stands out because of his distinguished background in intelligence: Paul Pillar, former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia and now at Georgetown University.

The letter repeats false allegations of the Iranian regime, such as, “Widespread Iranian distaste for the MeK has been cemented by MeK’s numerous terrorist attacks against innocent Iranian civilians.” It resembles regime propaganda against the MeK; see an allegation in the Fars News Agency, the Islamic Republic’s radio and television network, which broadcast alleged statements of two MeK members who “confessed” they had planned to set off homemade bombs in Iran during June 2010. The broadcast includes an interview with Intelligence Minister Moslehi. But when recounting “terrorism” of the MeK, he only pointed to the group’s political and public-relations activities, including sending information outside the country, rather than actions against civilians.

A search of the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS) for that period fails to link the MeK to the alleged incident described in the Fars Broadcast. (The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center no longer publishes the WITS.) Since 2001, there have not been any military attacks by the MeK, even against regime targets, much less against civilians. Consequently, there is growing bipartisan support for removing the terrorist tag on the MeK, e.g., at least 96 members of Congress, including Chairs of the House Select Intelligence, Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

As Iranian-Americans rallied in pro-MeK protests against Ahmadinejad when he spoke at the UN in 2010 and 2011, such well-attended rallies indicate support for the MeK among émigrés, which in turn can be read as evidence of support within Iran. One Iranian specialist who studies the MeK also finds support for the organization in Iran: Patrick Clawson of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy states:

One of the signs that the MEK still has supporters in Iran is that they occasionally provide blockbuster revelations about Iranian clandestine activities. None was more explosive than their revelations about the Iranian nuclear centrifuges at Natanz—revelations that led to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the subsequent unraveling of Iran’s eighteen-year tissue of lies about its nuclear activities, repeatedly condemned by the IAEA and the U.N. Security Council.

More recently, based on similar MeK sources, there was an August 2007 revelation about how the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) dodged international sanctions by using front companies to import nuclear enrichment equipment and take over the Iranian oil and gas sectors, mainstays of the economy. In October 2007, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on the IRGC.

Another revelation on October 14, 2011, exposed the role of the IRGC-Quds Force (QF) in a plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and blow up the Saudi Embassy in Washington. That disclosure reinforced additional sanctions Treasury placed on the IRGC-QF three days earlier.

And what is Tehran’s response to evidence of complicity in the assassination plot? The regime blames Israel and the United States and asserts MeK involvement. The State Department promptly denied MeK responsibility and accused Tehran of “fabricating news stories” and spreading “disinformation” to exploit skepticism about the plot.

In its efforts to suppress dissent, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) shapes opinion about the MeK throughout the world. The MOIS also targets the American intelligence community. The ministry plants false stories in the media; then they are used by U.S. intelligence to justify a false narrative against the MeK.

On September 12, 2007, the Mehr News Agency, a MOIS news outlet, announced that before one of the bombings in Karbala, closed-circuit cameras around the Imam Hossein shrine caught a woman and a youngster gathering information from various entrances of the shrine: “After their arrest, it became clear that they had been sent by the Mojahedin Khalq Organization [MeK] to locate ways to sneak into the shrine for terrorist operations, ”states Mehr.

Iran’s Habilian Society, a regime-sponsored group posing as a human-rights organization, published a U.S. Federal Appeals Court’s description of declassified American documents. One carried Iranian stories alleging MeK involvement in Karbala. Several state-run media reproduced the report. On August 14, 2010, Fars wrote:

According to reports recently published by the U.S. intelligence community, the Monafeqin [MeK] maintain their readiness to conduct terrorist attacks and resort to violence; based on recently declassified documents, the U.S. intelligence community emphasized…that…[the MeK] claim regarding having voluntarily renounced violence in 2001 was nothing but a hoax, and this organization maintains its capability to conduct terrorism.

The U.S. intelligence community classified a news account that had been planted in the media by the Iranian regime, allowing it to complete a disinformation cycle—a news-intelligence-news loop. The MOIS plants false allegations in its media, which become classified U.S. documents in the middle and end with Tehran reporting declassified U.S. intelligence as “proof” of MeK involvement in terrorist planning. But during this time period, the MeK in Iraq was under U.S. or Iraqi electronic surveillance. Thus, the MeK could not secretly plan or implement attacks on Karbala without being detected.

Under pressure of the Federal Court order, the State Department on May 20, 2011, released additional classified documents relevant to the terrorist designation of the MeK. One was an AP report of February 9, 2008, about alleged MeK involvement in Karbala plotting. In addition to the irony of classifying a public report later used to justify redesignating the MeK, the report also recalled statements about MeK training of suicide bombers placed in the media by Tehran.

General James Conway, U.S. Marine Corps (retired), former commandant of the Marine Corps who participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the first battle of Fallujah, paints a picture of disinformation by the Iranian regime against the MeK:

The MOIS plants stories in the press of potential threats faced by American military commanders. And then the MOIS goes to those individuals and says, ‘You know, Camp Ashraf, where MeK members reside in Iraq, is a den for suicide bombers. The MeK is training them, and that’s a threat to American forces.’

Regarding Paul Pillar, he is a noted critic of “politicization of intelligence”—and thus it is surprising to find his name among those who wish to keep the MeK listed as a terrorist group. Because the absence of terrorism or terrorist activities during a legally relevant period of two years prior to a redesignation decision does not support maintaining the MeK on the list and there is hard public evidence of a political motivation for the listing, those who oppose politicization of intelligence should also support removal of the MeK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list.

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton makes her decision whether to remove the MeK, there is also a need to encourage others to act against bona fide terrorists. So long as the MeK is on the terrorist list despite its absence of terrorism and terrorist activities, the list is politically suspect. And if a decision to redesignate a group as terrorist were made on political grounds instead of evidence, the list would become a political instrument and reduce counterterrorism utility.

Finally, as the State Department dithers in its decision to remove the MeK terrorist designation, Tehran delegitimizes its main opposition, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force pressures Baghdad to destroy members of the MeK in Camp Ashraf Iraq near the Iranian border.

Monday: Muhammad Sahimi, lead political columnist for Tehran Bureau, responds to Dr. Tanter.

Raymond Tanter served on National Security Council staff and as personal representative of the Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in the Reagan-Bush administration. A professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, he is currently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. His most recent book is Terror Tagging of an Iranian Opposition Organization (Iran Policy Committee, December 2011).

Image: www.kremlin.ru

Not by Sanctions Alone: Using Intelligence and Military Means to Bolster Diplomacy with Iran

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), steams alongside the British Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (R 06) in the Persian Gulf on April 9, 1998.  DoD photo by Airman Robert Baker, U.S. Navy.

Stringer/Iran/Reuters – Military personnel place a flag on a submarine during the Velayat-90 war games by the Iranian navy in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran December 27, 2011. Iran is rapidly gaining new capabilities to strike at U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, amassing an arsenal of sophisticated anti-ship missiles while expanding its fleet of fast-attack boats and submarines.


In “Not by Sanctions Alone: Using Intelligence and Military Means to Bolster Diplomacy with Iran,” Michael Eisenstadt of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy recommends ways to reinforce American diplomacy regarding Iran, and thereby diminish the prospects of military confrontation with Tehran. He suggests the United States intensify intelligence operations and use the military instrument in ways it has not been willing to thus far:

Successful diplomacy may well depend on the administration’s ability to convince Tehran that the price of failed negotiations could be armed conflict. To make this threat credible, Washington must first show Tehran that it is preparing for a possible military confrontation—whether initiated by Iran or a third country—and that it is willing and able to enforce its red lines regarding freedom of navigation in the Gulf and the regime’s nuclear program.

Eisenstadt concludes:

If nuclear diplomacy with Tehran is to succeed, Washington must be prepared for the kind of brinkmanship it has not engaged in since the Cold War. This means ratcheting up pressure, while, backstopping diplomacy with preparations that underscore its readiness for a confrontation, in order to deter Iran from additional steps toward a nuclear breakout. To this end, Washington should reinforce three key notions in Tehran: that the Iranian nuclear program has been penetrated by foreign intelligence services, that the regime would not be able to conduct a clandestine breakout without getting caught, and that if it does try to build a nuclear weapon, the United States will destroy its nuclear infrastructure. In this way, the administration would make clear to Tehran that the only way to obtain sanctions relief, escape from its growing isolation, and avert the possibility of war is through a diplomatic solution—one that meets Iran’s desire for peaceful nuclear technology without allowing for the possibility of a breakout.

While IPC research is in line with most of the recommendations of Eisenstadt, the research also suggests:

Removal of Iranian opposition groups, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), from the U.S. foreign terrorist organizations list to send a signal to Tehran that survival of its regime is on the table.

Enhanced use of Iranian dissident information as “lead intelligence” to complement surveillance information based on United States, Arab Gulf States, and Israeli services to make it more difficult for Tehran to plan or implement retaliatory action in the event of Israeli or American military strikes.

MAR 2012, Image of police presence in Camp Liberty

Employment of maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on the Government of Iraq for it to implement minimum humanitarian life support requirements to facilitate departure of residents from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, Iraq. The residents are members of the largest unit with the NCRI—the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), and it is critical for them to survive as an indication the Iranian regime’s survival is at stake.

Regime Change from within Iran to Counter Tehran’s “Talking about Talks”

Yukiya Amano

Yukiya Amano, Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency
Photo: http://www.iaea.org

Head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, Yukiya Amano, made premature remarks about “progress” in getting Tehran to discuss inspections of what may be a nuclear weapons trigger.  Eager for “good news,” the Western media  became overly optimistic about the 23-24 May 2012 Baghdad Talks between the Iranian regime and the major powers.Underlying this hopefulness is that diplomacy is buying time and hence delaying any plans for Israel to launch attacks against Iranian nuclear sites. Iran rejects a new package of proposals put forward by the powers, seeks to get into a “proposal-counter proposal” process, and reverts to its pattern of  “talking about talks.” Iran demands sanctions relief and a wider agenda, while the major powers insist on discussing Iran’s nuclear file without such relief at this stage. Not surprisingly, the two sides agreed to hold a fourth round of talks in Moscow on 18-19 June 2012.

In the context of endless negotiations, the military option arises again as the default alternative. But what about a third option—regime change from within Iran—in addition to placing added emphasis on the military alternative as the May Baghdad round of diplomacy failed like prior rounds in Geneva during December 2010 and Istanbul in April 2012?

Critics answer that before regime change can occur, Iran’s “zone of immunity” from attack will increase as it uses time to make nuclear sites relatively invulnerable to attack. But the Islamic Republic is already using “diplomatic time” to become more immune to airstrikes, while the regime change clock is barely ticking.

To accelerate regime change from within requires Jerusalem and Washington to have friends in Tehran, which is the topic of an article Raymond Tanter wrote as an op-ed for the 22 May 2012 Jerusalem Post,  a slightly revised version of which appears below.

Jerusalem, Tehran, and Washington

22 May 2012


Ahmadinejad at nuclear ceremony in Tehran

Ahmadinejad at nuclear ceremony in Tehran. Photo: Reuters

As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pulls main political groups into a wall-to-wall coalition, he is in position to choose either military attacks on Iranian nuclear sites or to wait for international sanctions and covert action to compel Tehran to cease progress on a nuclear weapons capability. At issue, however, is whether these are the only alternatives available.

A third option involves regime change from within Iran, of the kind to make less likely pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. Such an approach requires Jerusalem and Washington to have friends in Tehran.

While the enemy of my enemy might still be my enemy, assume for the moment the conventional wisdom is correct: An enemy of the Iranian regime is a good candidate to be a friend of Israel.

In fact, the main Iranian dissident group that rejects clerical rule in Tehran, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK), reaches out to Washington and does not oppose Israel.

By contrast, the Iranian Green Movement faction, headed by Mir Hossein Mousavi, accepts clerical rule and has a history of anti- Israel activities, such as calling for it to be annihilated.

As the U.S. State Department decides whether to remove the MeK from its terrorist list, the drive to be delisted would benefit from a push from the pro-Israel community. Because delisting would send an implicit but unmistakable signal to Tehran that regime change from within is on the table, one would think the pro-Israel community would be active in the fight for removal of the MeK from the list. But there is no sign of the community’s influence in the delisting process. The community, however, is very active in the sanctions process.

As sanctions pressure Iran to make concessions at the May 23-24 Baghdad Talks on Iran’s nuclear file, it is useful to note that Mousavi of the Iranian Green Movement said consequences of giving up Iran’s nuclear program would be “irreparable.”

In contrast, the MeK opposes Iranian production of nuclear weapons; and to back up its words, the MeK reveals Tehran’s covert activities to procure uranium enrichment and weaponization equipment. In issuing blockbuster intelligence on Iranian progress toward nuclear weapons capability, the MeK laid the framework for international sanctions imposed on Iran.

There is an assumption among pundits of an alliance of convenience between Israel and the MeK, but it rests on thin evidence of unnamed officials and an Iranian intelligence agent, Massoud Khodabandeh.

Allegations of a covert alignment works in favor of those who would keep the MeK on the U.S. terrorist list, weakening its ability to help build a coalition to remove the clerical regime from power in Tehran. While uncertainty about such an alignment may reinforce Israel’s deterrent posture vis a vis Iran, it may be only a Pyrrhic achievement in view of costs incurred in inadvertently maintaining the MeK on the U.S. terrorist list.

In a research trip to Iraq during 2008, I reported on interviews and documents that corroborated a tight relationship between the MeK and the US military in Iraq, but not with American diplomats. In addition, I reported how Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) spreads false narratives about the MeK, some of which US diplomats echo.

In October 2011, MeK-supplied information reinforced U.S. intelligence to expose Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force for plotting to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and blow up the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

That disclosure reinforced additional sanctions the U.S. Treasury placed on the IRGC-QF three days earlier.

And what is Tehran’s response when confronted with evidence of its complicity in the assassination plot? The Ministry of Intelligence and Security blamed Israel and the United States, while also claiming MeK involvement.

To its credit, the State Department promptly denied MeK responsibility, accused Tehran of “fabricating news stories,” and of spreading “disinformation” to exploit skepticism about the plot.

While it might make some strategic sense for Israel to remain silent about any involvement with the MeK and sit on the sidelines in the group’s effort to be removed from the U.S. terrorist list, there is no excuse for the pro-Israel community to refrain from seeking removal of the MeK from the list and helping to allay suffering of its supporters in Iraq, who languish under prison-like conditions, hoping to be resettled in friendly countries rather than forcibly repatriated to Iran.

The State Department has said it was looking favorably at delisting the MeK if it continued cooperating by vacating a former base inside Iraq, called Camp Ashraf, to another location, Camp Liberty.

There are about 1,200 MeK members remaining in Ashraf and some 2,000 already in Liberty.

But the fly in the ointment is that the State Department also said it might still rule against delisting the MeK if evidence turned up of a capability and intent to commit terrorism in Ashraf after complete relocation to Liberty, a condition described by former U.S. military commanders as “absurd,” because they supervised inspection of Ashraf, it was under American military control from 2003-2009, and Iraqi military monitoring and control thereafter.

Such a condition is a virtual invitation for Iranian agents to plant weapons in Ashraf, which then could be used by the State Department as indicators of capability and intent for the MeK to commit terrorism.

It is in this final phase of decision making at the State Department where the American pro-Israel community might make a difference, but it sits quietly on the sidelines of an epic struggle: whether Israeli and U.S. policy should include not only talks, sanctions, and threats to take military action but also a “regime change from within” option for Iran.


The writer was a frequent Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is Emeritus Professor at the University of Michigan, and former member of the Senior Staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan-Bush administration.

NBC Duped by Iran’s Attack on Israel

Israeli Flag

On Wednesday, 8 February, the NBC Rock Center TV program website ran a provocative story, “Israel teams with terror group to kill Iran’s nuclear scientists, U.S. officials tell NBC News.” The main sensational allegation of the story is that in conducting covert operations in Iran, Israel’s intelligence uses the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK), an Iranian dissident organization that the State Department classifies as a terrorist organization, despite the law and facts.

In an article published in the National Interest, I discuss how Tehran and its allies in Baghdad routinely blame the MeK for terrorist actions in Iran and Iraq, despite evidence to the contrary.

In an effort to suppress dissent, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) shapes opinion about the MeK. The Ministry plants false stories in the media that are used to justify a false narrative against the MeK. For example:

In October 2011, the MeK exposed Islamic Revolutionary Guards Force Quds Force (IRGC-Quds Force (QF) for plotting to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and blow up the Saudi Embassy in Washington. That disclosure reinforced additional sanctions Treasury placed on the IRGC-QF three days earlier.

And what is Tehran’s response when confronted with evidence of its complicity in the assassination plot? The Ministry of Intelligence and Security blames Israel and the United States and asserts MeK involvement. The State Department promptly denied MeK responsibility and accused Tehran of “fabricating news stories” and spreading “disinformation” to exploit skepticism about the plot.

In Iran Policy Committee’s book Terror Tagging  contains a reference to the bombing of  the Imam Reza shrine in Mashad/Mashhad in June 1994, which was mentioned in the NBC report, allegedly implicating the MeK and linking it to one of the operatives in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing— Ramzi Ahmed Yousef. But one source accuses a Pakistani militant not the MeK as having links to Yousef for the 1994 Mashad bombing:

“Although [the Iranian] government blamed the Mujahedin-e-Khalq in a TV show to avoid sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni, the Pakistani daily ‘News’ of March 27, 1995 reported, ‘Pakistani investigators have identified a 24-year-old religious fanatic Abdul Shakoor residing in Lyari in Karachi, as an important Pakistani associate of Ramzi Yousef. Abdul Shakoor had intimate contacts with Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and was responsible for the June 20, 1994, massive bomb explosion at the shrine Imam Ali Reza in Mashhad.'”

At the time of the 1994 bombing, the MeK denied any role. And a few years later, during the regime’s factional feuding, a former member of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence stated the bombing had been perpetrated by the MOIS, and in particular, by Saeed Emami, then a deputy of the Ministry.

For a more detailed background on the unwarranted terrorist listing of the MeK, check out the book Terror Tagging

Photo: samlavi, Creative Commons