Clinton’s diplomatic missile launched at Tehran

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By Raymond Tanter, Ivan Sascha Sheehan
03 October 2012

Clinton revoked the US terrorist designation of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), causing much dismay in the Islamic Republic.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blasted Tehran with a diplomatic bombshell that is ricocheting throughout the mosques and bazaars of Iran: Clinton revoked the US terrorist designation of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), causing much dismay in the Islamic Republic. Iran’s foreign ministry strongly condemned the decision to revoke the designation and stated that it held the United States responsible for terrorist acts of the MEK in the “past, present, and the future.”
IN CONTRAST, dozens of major Iranian-American organizations hailed Secretary Clinton for her decision to de-list the group. Because the MEK is the main Iranian dissident group that rejects Iranian clerical rule, Tehran pays the most attention to it and dislikes the MEK more than all other opposition organizations combined, according to one study. The de-listing does little to disabuse the regime of their dislike and, in fact, stokes its fears.
It is no coincidence that human rights organizations indicate that most of those sentenced to death or executed after the 2009 summer uprising in Iran belonged to the MEK. A reason the regime pays so little attention to other oppositionists is that they toe the line with Tehran. Consider a leader of the so-called Iranian “Green Movement” faction, Mir Hossein Mousavi, whom many in the West misconstrue as a moderate. Mousavi not only accepts clerical rule in Iran, he also has a history of anti-Israel activities, such as calling for it to be “annihilated.”
And according to documents of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supplied to the organization by Tehran, Mousavi also approved the secret purchase of centrifuges for Iran’s covert nuclear program when he was prime minister in March 1987. At the time he noted that the “consequences of giving up the country’s nuclear program would be ‘irreparable.’”
In contrast to Mousavi, the MEK opposes an Iranian nuclear capability or weapon; and to back up its words, the MEK has revealed Tehran’s covert activities to procure uranium enrichment and weaponization materials. If the organization wanted to keep open the option of developing such arms, it would hardly disclose intelligence about them.In issuing blockbuster information on Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapons capability, moreover, the MEK and its parliament in exile, the National Council for Resistance of Iran (NCRI) laid the framework for international inspections of Iran, according to the Center for International and Strategic Studies.In response to the revocation of the terrorist listing, Maryam Rajavi, president- elect of the NCRI, states in no uncertain terms, “We propose a nonnuclear Iran.” And in Rajavi’s 10 Point Platform for a Future Iran, she writes, “We want the free Iran of tomorrow to be devoid of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.”Consistent with such statements, 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 in August 2002, a heavy water production facility at Arak, Iran.

The ISIS stated, “The existence of this facility was first revealed publicly by the Iranian opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran 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.”

NCRI intelligence exposed a nuclear facility at Lavizan-Shian, Iran. 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.”

In December 2005, intelligence disseminated by the 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.

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. The matter became a point of dispute between the IAEA and Tehran and also in the nuclear negotiations involving the P5+1.

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.

IN VIEW of such prior revelations, the Iranian regime is rightly concerned that the terrorist revocation of what it calls “Enemies of God,” will jump-start their intelligence collection activities. It will.

Unburdened by the need to allocate scarce resources to getting off the US terrorist list – and especially after the issue of Camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq are resolved and Camp Liberty is stabilized – the NCRI and its largest unit, the MEK, can accelerate exposing Tehran’s progress toward becoming a nuclear-armed state. At the same time, de-listing provides an avenue to empower Iranian dissident organizations to work in tandem against the regime.

Clinton’s diplomatic missile launched at Tehran has unleashed the Iranian regime’s main opponents that reject clerical rule at a time when Israel and the United States are in dire need of independent sources of information about Iran, as well as an internal counterbalance to keep the regime in check.

This is the time to align with the MEK, which has a proven capacity to obtain “lead intelligence” from its sources on the ground in Iran. Such insights can, of course, be compared with information collected via other sources and methods.

To paraphrase the great Rabbi Hillel, “If not now, when? If not the MEK, who?” Now is the time, and the MEK is the movement. As a part of the diverse opposition coalition of the NCRI, they can grow by incorporating other groups that reject clerical rule. Together, they can deter and facilitate regime change in Iran before the clerics get the Bomb.

Prof. Raymond Tanter served on the senior staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan White House, is a frequent visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 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.

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

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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.

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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.