|Posted on Friday, August 18, 2006 - 03:38 am: ||
At a meeting in Teheran last week, the Islamic Republic's supreme guide Ali Khamenei took questions from some 150 "Islamic guidance" officials operating around the world.
According to those present, the ayatollah responded with well-rehearsed answers, often consisting of one-line slogans. One question made him hesitate: Is the Islamic Republic at war against the United States?
According to leaks, the ayatollah tried to get around the question by claiming that it was the United States that was at war against "our Islamic Revolution."
Leaving aside semantic subtleties, it is fair to say that the US has been at war with the Khomeinist regime ever since the mullahs seized power in Teheran in 1979.
Much of this war has been of the cold type. But its history also includes lukewarm and hot episodes.
The opening shots were fired in February 1979 when Khomeinist gunmen invested 27 listening posts set up by the US in Iran to monitor Soviet missile tests in accordance with the SALT II accords. The posts had been created with the consent of the USSR and as Iran's contribution to global arms reduction programs. Within weeks all 27 posts were closed and their American personnel, briefly held hostage, expelled from the newly created Islamic Republic.
In October 1979 the Khomeinist regime and the US appeared to be heading for an understanding when Mehdi Bazargan, the ayatollah's first prime minister, met with president Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Bzrezinski, in Rabat. Carter had addressed a flattering letter to Khomeini, praising the ayatollah as "a man of God."
In a show of goodwill, Carter lifted the ban he had imposed during the revolutionary turmoil on arms exports to Iran.
A few days after the Bazargan-Bzrezinski meeting, however, Khomeinist militants raided the US Embassy in Teheran and seized its diplomats hostage. The drama was to last 444 days. In April 1980 Carter ordered a military operation to free the hostages.
This was the first time since 1941 that US forces were involved in hostile action in Iran. The operation ended in disaster, leaving behind the charred bodies of eight American troops in the Iranian desert.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Over the years the mullahs developed a sophisticated strategy for waging low-intensity war against the US. The Hizbullah movement was created to make life difficult for US allies in the region, notably Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
For its part, the US played a key role in encouraging Saddam Hussein to attack Iran in September 1980. Washington's financial and intelligence support also contributed to Saddam's ability to fight for eight years. Washington also waged economic war against Teheran by freezing some $24 billion in Iranian assets and denying the Islamic Republic access to global capital markets, World Bank loans, and new technology.
By 1987, the Islamic Republic had organized the killing of hundreds of Americans, including 241 marines in Beirut, while Teheran agents seized 27 Americans hostage in Lebanon at different times. They also kidnapped and hanged an American colonel working for the United Nations in Lebanon. Kidnapped and murdered as well in Teheran was the head of the CIA in Beirut.
In 1987 a US task force, sent to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers against Iranian attacks, engaged the Iranian navy in the biggest battle it had seen since 1941. The battle ended after more than half of the Iranian navy had been reduced to fuming flotsam and jetsam. The mullahs got the message and soon arranged for an end to their war with Iraq.
The war between the US and the Islamic Republic was then fought in other theaters, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
But the biggest proxy battles were fought between the Lebanese branch of the Hizbullah and Israel. The mullahs believe that they won because they forced Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon.
For 25 years the Islamic Republic has helped prop up various anti-American regimes, including those of North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Cuba, with cheap oil, cash gifts, and general political and economic support.
Today, this strange war is being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, Teheran is supporting Ismail Khan, the "emir" of Herat, while the US has put its chips on President Hamid Karzai. In recent months the mullahs have helped the Hazara Shi'ites create a 10,000-man army within a day's march to Kabul. To make life more difficult for the US-led coalition, Teheran is also helping the Pushtun fundamentalist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has just concluded an alliance with the remnants of the Taliban.
In Iraq, the mullahs have a string of client groups not only among the Shi'ites but also in the Kurdish areas. And last month they reached a tactical alliance with the main Arab Sunni insurgent group led by Abu-Masaab al-Zirqawi when the latter visited Iran.
With the mullahs determined to deploy nuclear weapons, the stakes are certain to rise regardless of who wins the US presidential elections.
The writer, an Iranian author and journalist, is editor of the Paris-based Politique Internationale.