December 8, 2006 | National Review Online

Negotiate with Iran?

The Iraq Study Group’s call for negotiations with Iran and Syria as “a way forward” has been widely derided. It is, abjectly, a return to September 10th thinking — to the days when terror masters like Yasser Arafat were feted as statesmen at White House galas, when terror organizations like al Qaeda operated with impunity from well-known safe havens, and when our government’s idea of countering atrocities was the filing of indictments against a handful of savages.

It is wrong, though, to lay that rap on the sages of this bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel. When it comes to “dialogue” with Iran, the ISG merely recommended a more transparent version of what the Bush administration has already been doing, just as its predecessors had long and naively done.

To be sure, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush conveyed the right message: Terrorists and their state facilitators, animated by a murderous, totalitarian ideology, cannot be negotiated with. They must be defeated. If not, they are emboldened. That translates, always, into dead Americans.

The administration followed through on its rhetoric with respect to al Qaeda — the public would have accepted nothing less. But as for Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, the approach has been strictly old school — as in, recklessly passive. That is a growing catastrophe. In their relentless anti-American jihad, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and al Qaeda are one. There is no rational justification for negotiating with Tehran’s mullahs or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad that would not equally validate a sit-down with Hezbollah’s Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, or with bin Laden himself.

Still, negotiating, appeasing, and looking the other way is exactly what we have been doing. And long before the ISG ever got involved.


Fresh from its 1979 siege of the U.S. embassy and the humiliating hostage-taking that ensued, the Islamic Republic of Iran — through the intercession of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — created Hezbollah in 1982. Primarily based in Lebanon, where American forces were massed to calm the bloody aftermath of Israel’s expulsion of Arafat’s PLO, the “Party of God” (Hizb Allah) claimed in its manifesto to be

the vanguard … made victorious by God in Iran. There the vanguard succeeded to lay down the bases of a Muslim state which plays a central role in the world. We obey the orders of one leader, wise and just, that of our tutor and faqih (jurist) who fulfills all the necessary conditions: [Ayatollah] Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini. God save him!

Over the quarter century that followed, Hezbollah received billions in aid from Iran, as well as aid, logistical support, and safe haven from Syria, with which it works hand-in-glove to strangle Lebanon and wage war against Israel.

Hezbollah’s founding quickly resulted in a spate of kidnappings, torture, and bombing. (See this useful timeline from CAMERA.) In April 1983, for example, a Hezbollah car bomb killed 63 people, including eight CIA officials, at the U.S. embassy in Beirut. More infamously, the organization six months later truck-bombed a military barracks in Beirut, murdering 241 United States Marines (and killing 58 French soldiers in a separate attack). These operations, like many other Hezbollah atrocities, were orchestrated by Imad Mugniyah, long the organization’s most ruthless operative.

On December 12, 1983, the U.S. embassy in Kuwait was bombed, killing six and wounding scores of others. The bombers were tied to al-Dawa, a terror organization backed by Iran and leading the Shiite resistance against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime (with which Iran was at war). The leader of Dawa’s “jihad office” in Syria at the time was none other than Nouri al-Maliki — now the prime Minister of Iraq (and who, having opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, currently squabbles with American authorities, draws his country ever closer to Iran and Syria, and professes his support for Hezbollah). Among the “Dawa 17” convicted and sentenced to death for the bombing was Imad Mugniyah’s cousin and brother in law, Youssef Badreddin. (Badreddin escaped in the chaos of Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.)

Meanwhile, in 1984, Hezbollah bombed both the U.S. embassy annex in Beirut, killing two, and a restaurant near the U.S. Air Force base in Torrejon, Spain, killing 18 American servicemen. On March 16 of that year, Hezbollah operatives kidnapped William Francis Buckley, the CIA’s station chief in Beirut. He was whisked to Damascus and onto Tehran where he became one of the hostages whose detention led to the Iran/Contra affair. Under Mugniyah’s direction, Buckley was tortured for 15 months, dying of a heart attack under that duress.

Hezbollah hijackers seized a Kuwait Airlines plane in December 1984, murdering four of the passengers, including two Americans. Six months later, Hezbollah operatives hijacked TWA Flight 847 after it left Greece. The jihadists discovered that one of their hostages was a U.S. Navy diver named Robert Stethem. They beat him severely and then shot him to death before dumping his body onto the tarmac of Beirut airport. In early 1988, Hezbollah kidnapped and ultimately murdered Colonel William Higgins, a U.S. Marine serving in Lebanon.


By the late 1980s, the Sunni Islamic terror network that would become known as al Qaeda was emerging in Afghanistan out of the mujahideen’s jihad against the Soviet Union. It was directed, of course, by bin Laden, with key assistance from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the emir of the Egyptian al-Jihad organization, which would ultimately be folded into the al Qaeda network.

One of al-Jihad’s most capable operatives was Ali Abdul Saoud Mohamed. A shadowy former Egyptian army officer (who ultimately emigrated to the U.S. and served in the American army for three years), Ali Mohamed became a top al Qaeda trainer and bin Laden’s personal bodyguard.

At bin Laden’s direction, Mohamed conducted surveillance in 1993 at various potential bombing targets, including the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Five years later, al Qaeda used his handiwork to bomb that embassy — the same day it struck the U.S. embassy in Tanzania. The bombings claimed over 240 lives.

Mohamed was ultimately charged with participation in al Qaeda’s war against the United States. When he pled guilty in 2000, among the startling revelations he made was the following:

I was aware of certain contacts between al Qaeda and al Jihad organization, on one side, and Iran and Hezbollah on the other side. I arranged security for a meeting in the Sudan between [Imad Mugniyah], Hezbollah’s chief, and Bin Laden. Hezbollah provided explosives training for al Qaeda and al Jihad. Iran supplied Egyptian Jihad with weapons. Iran also used Hezbollah to supply explosives that were disguised to look like rocks.

In hindsight, disclosure of an Iran/Hezbollah/Qaeda partnership should have come as no surprise. In the aforementioned spring 1998 indictment, the Justice Department alleged that bin Laden had “stated privately … that Al Qaeda should put aside its differences with Shiite Muslim terrorist organizations, including the Government of Iran and its affiliated terrorist group Hezballah, to cooperate against the perceived common enemy, the United States and its allies.” Thus, the indictment explained: “Al Qaeda also forged alliances … with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezballah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States.”

This concord, according to the 9/11 Commission’s review of U.S. intelligence files, traces back to the early 1990s. The invaluable terrorism researcher Thomas Joscelyn relates that the alliance was corroborated by testimony from a former al Qaeda member, Jamal al-Fadl (at the East African embassy-bombings trial in 2000). Bin Laden, according to al-Fadl, met at a guesthouse in Riyadh City with an emissary named Nomani, representing Iran’s mullahs. It would be mutually beneficial, they concurred, to put aside their Sunni/Shiite divide and work together against the common enemy: America and the West. Other Iranian contingents, the 9/11 Commission notes, visited al Qaeda’s headquarters in Sudan — bin Laden and his top aides having been transported there under Mohamed’s protection.

Subsequently, the Commission states (p. 61), “senior al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for further training in explosives as well as intelligence and security.” That instruction, held at Hezbollah camps, included al Qaeda’s top military committee members and several operatives who were involved with its Kenya cells long before the 1998 embassy bombings.


The deadly fallout from this collaboration becomes increasingly clear. On June 25, 1996, a bomb was detonated near the American Air Force dormitory at the Khobar Towers complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The resulting massacre claimed the lives of 19 U.S. airmen (nearly 400 other people were wounded). In this land teeming with al Qaeda operatives and supporters, Hezbollah had been conducting surveillance on the target since 1993.

In finally responding — with an indictment — five years later, the Bush Justice Department announced that “the Iranian government inspired, supported, and supervised members of the Saudi Hizballah. In particular, … [Hezbollah] defendants reported their surveillance activities to Iranian officials and were supported and directed in those activities by Iranian officials.” Those officials, it is clear, acted with impunity: No Iranians were ever charged for Khobar, and no meaningful U.S. action against Iran was ever taken. In the interim, it has emerged that the operation was likely carried out with al Qaeda complicity. This was the conclusion of the CIA, reported fleetingly by the 9/11 Commission (at p. 60 & n.48).

Meanwhile, according to al-Fadl (the aforementioned informant), among the top al Qaeda leaders who received instruction from Iran and Hezbollah in the early 90s was Saif al-Adel. As al Qaeda’s chief of military operations, Adel was not only a driving force behind the 1998 embassy bombings. He is, in addition, a longtime bin Laden intimate, largely responsible for al Qaeda’s infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and Yemen (where the U.S.S. Cole was bombed in October 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors), and believed to have trained some of the 9/11 hijackers.

Regarding 9/11 itself, suggestions at this point of an Iranian/Hezbollah role are sketchy but highly intriguing, while indications of Iran’s purposeful facilitation of al Qaeda are strong. As the 9/11 Commission summed up the state of play (at pp. 240-41):

[T]here is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers. There also is circumstantial evidence that senior Hezbollah operatives were closely tracking the travel of some of these future muscle hijackers into Iran in November 2000.

Declining to draw the obvious inference, the Commission speculates that perhaps “Hezbollah was actually focusing on some other group of individuals traveling from Saudi Arabia … rather than the future hijackers.” It admits, however, that this would be “a remarkable coincidence.” Speaking of remarkable coincidences, the Commission also details at least two occasions when senior Hezbollah operatives were on the very same Iranian transit flights as the future hijackers.

Leaving these provocative dots unconnected, the Commission says it “found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.” That, of course, is far from a clean bill of health: The vast majority of al Qaeda members, including, the Commission concedes, many of the hijackers themselves “were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation” during the time of their Iranian transit flights.


The sheer barbarity 9/11 prompted a vigorous American military response, routing the Taliban in Afghanistan and causing the terror network’s top ranks — i.e., those not killed or captured — to return or flee. In the aftermath, al Qaeda, as usual, found shelter from the storm in Iran. Among the many operatives still harbored in Iran — under what the mullahs laughably call “house arrest” — are Saif al-Adel and bin Laden’s own son, Saad. Indeed, the author Richard Miniter contends that Osama bin Laden himself fled to Iran for a time in 2002.The superb terrorism analyst Dan Darling relates that European intelligence services attribute the Iran/Qaeda safe-haven arrangement to the close tie between Zawahiri and Ahmad Vahidi (Commander, in 2001, of Iran’s elite Qods — or “Jerusalem” — Force).

With a soft place to land, al Qaeda reconvened the remnants of its shura (or “consultative”) council and reinvented itself. At a November 2002 summit in Iran, one of its top strategists, a Syrian named Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (aka “Abu Musab al-Suri”), urged that terrorist operations would now have to be dispersed outward to the network’s tentacles, rather than run from hubs like those al Qaeda once enjoyed in Sudan and Afghanistan. In “Current Trends in Islamist Ideology” (Vol. 2), an invaluable Hudson Institute series, terrorism researcher Reuven Paz describes Nasar as adamant that al Qaeda should redouble its efforts to attack the United States with weapons of mass destruction — to the point of openly urging Iran and North Korea to press on with their nuclear projects in the expectation that jihadists will one day reap the benefits. As Nasar has put it:

The ultimate choice is the destruction of the United States by operations of strategic symmetry through weapons of mass destruction, namely nuclear, chemical, or biological means, if the mujahideen can achieve it with the help of those who possess them or through buying them.

Here, it is worth pausing to recall a meeting just this spring between Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir, conducted even as Iran was being pressured (at least, what passes for pressure) to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Publicly and defiantly, Khamenei asserted, “Iran’s nuclear capability is one example of various scientific capabilities in the country,” and promised that “[t]he Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to transfer the experience, knowledge and technology of its scientists.”

Meanwhile, Adel and Saad bin Laden have thrived in the safety of their Iranian redoubt. Using the Saudi cells Adel had been instrumental in building, they orchestrated the May 12, 2003 suicide bombings of three Riyadh housing complexes, a direct challenge to the House of Saud so reviled by bin Laden. Perhaps more significantly, Adel had a house guest in 2002: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.


Zarqawi was also placed under “house arrest” by Iranian authorities. The Jordanians had long sought Zarqawi in connection with a plot to bomb an Amman hotel on the eve of the Millennium, as well as the October 2002 murder of an American diplomat, Laurence M. Foley. Jordan thus sought Zarqawi’s extradition. Iran did not merely reject Jordan’s demand; it gave Zarqawi safe-passage into Iraq.

The rest is history: Zarqawi proceeded to lead the ranks of “al Qaeda in Mesopotamia” in a ruthless jihad — bombings, torture, beheadings, and the fomenting of sectarian strife. To this day, the rampage continues, with Iraq at the abyss despite Zarqawi’s killing by U.S. forces six months ago.

Zarqawi, however, does not begin to describe Iran’s contribution to the anti-American war effort. As the Iraq Study Group acknowledged even as it proposed negotiations, Iran has armed and trained the militias that still, day after day, fight and kill U.S. and coalition troops. It has done so brazenly, and simultaneously with the hands-on support it provided to its forward militia, Hezbollah, in this summer’s jihad against Israel — transparently, a proxy war against the United States.


In a startling October 2005 speech at Iran’s annual “World Without Zionism” conference, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his audience, “We are in the process of an historical war between the World of Arrogance and the Islamic world, and this war has been going on for hundreds of years.” He elaborated:

In this very grave war, many people are trying to scatter grains of desperation and hopelessness regarding the struggle between the Islamic world and the front of the infidels, and in their hearts they want to empty the Islamic world. … They [ask]: “Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism?” But you had best know that this slogan and this goal are attainable, and surely can be achieved.

“Very soon,” he haughtily proclaimed, Israel, “this stain of disgrace will vanish from the center of the Islamic world — and this is attainable.”

Is it any surprise Reuters and the German press reported this summer that the Iranians dispatched Saad bin Laden to the Lebanese border to assist Hezbollah’s attacks against Israelis? You’ll be shocked, I’m sure, to learn — as we mull negotiations with the Islamic Republic — that hundreds of Revolutionary Guards personnel reportedly joined in the fighting.

By the way, the Iranians have developed a missile called “Zelzad 1.” Its namesake is a Koranic verse that tells of a conflagration that precipitates Judgment Day. The missile is emblazoned with the slogan: “We will trample America under our feet. Death to America.”

Meanwhile, less than a month ago, MEMRI recorded Yahya Safavi, a commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, repeatedly referring to the United States as “the enemy” in an interview on Iranian television. “The Americans,” Safavi brayed, “have many weaknesses. In fact, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they clearly displayed their strengths and weaknesses. We have planned our strategy precisely on the basis of their strengths and weaknesses.” He added that Iran had been studying “the enemy” and determined that there wasn’t “any motivation among the American forces in Iraq. They are very cowardly…. When their commanders encounter a problem, they burst into tears. We did not see such spectacles in the eight years of the Iran-Iraq war. I can therefore say that our advantage over the foreign forces is moral and human.”

The bravado echoes what top Iranian officials have been saying for years. “We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization,” claimed Hassan Abbassi, a Revolutionary Guard intelligence advisor, in 2004. “[W]e must make use of everything we have at hand to strike at this front by means of our suicide operations or by means of our missiles. There are 29 sensitive sites in the U.S. and in the West. We have already spied on these sites, and we know how we are going to attack them.” It was nothing new. Ayatollah Khamenei, who, as we have seen, brags about the potential of Iran’s nuclear program, has also insisted:

We have no need for a nuclear bomb. We have overcome our enemies so far, without the nuclear bomb. The Iranian people have been defeating America for the past 25 years, is it not so? America has been defeated by the Iranian people during the past 25 years. What has it been defeated with? Have we defeated America using a nuclear bomb, or by our determination, will, faith, and awareness? The world of Islam has been mobilized against America for the past 25 years.

The peoples call, “death to America.” Who used to say “death to America?” Who, besides the Islamic Republic and the Iranian people, used to say this? Today, everyone says this.

Yes, everyone. But Iran, unlike “everyone,” has been at war with us for a quarter-century. The Islamic Republic hasn’t the slightest misgiving about it, and it is certain — with all the millennial zeal radical Islam can muster — it will win. It is, the jihadists believe, their destiny. It is what their religion commands.

In contrast, the United States declines to recognize what is plain to see. What, in fact, one must work overtime not to see.

This is not merely a failing of the Iraq Study Group. True, the notion that Iran will be brought around by negotiations is harebrained. But the ISG is simply taking its lead from the Bush administration. The president once famously, and, as we have seen, with abundant justification, placed Iran smack in the middle of the “Axis of Evil.” But the disintegration of order in Iraq — prominently fomented by Iran — has made appeasement of the Islamic Republic the order of the day.


It is September 10th all over again. To its credit, the administration at least branded Iran as the culprit behind the vicious act of war at Khobar Towers, something the Clinton administration willfully suppressed in its quest for the Holy Grail of an Israeli/Palestinian settlement — the very fool’s errand now reprised by the ISG. But the Bush response to this state-sponsored carnage was the filing of an indictment, an exercise the administration once belittled as woefully insufficient to deter terrorists. No Iranians were named, and no defendant charged was ever extradited for prosecution.

Iran’s bold interference in Iraq — acts of war, killing and menacing American troops — has been ignored. Further, Iran’s patent hand behind Hezbollah’s war against Israel was not merely ignored; it was denied — for a time, the administration refused to admit that there was even a war going on, much less that Iran was pulling Hezbollah’s strings.

And finally, there is Iran’s nuclear program. The president has publicly maintained that Iran must not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons. Yet, the administration’s tactic of choice in this facedown has been classic appeasement.

The ISG wants us to talk to the mullahs? How can we blame them? That’s exactly the course the administration has chosen for the life-and-death challenge of the jihadist nuke. To mollify “the international community,” for which no evil is beyond “dialogue,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed for an end to the inconvenience of American moral clarity. We should abandon this notion that Iran is an implacable enemy, she insisted. We should join with our “partners.” Let’s reason with the mullahs. Ply them with breathtaking incentives: security assurances; economic aid; high-technology; aviation, energy, telecommunications and agriculture assistance.

The Bush Doctrine? You’re with us or against us? Unrealistic. No need, after all, to sour the mood by demanding an end to Iran’s terror mongering. And sticks to go with these carrots? No, not to worry. The Iranians would surely be moved to comply, and, if they didn’t, why, surely the Russians and the Chinese would back some sticks … notwithstanding that Iran is into them like a shylock.

You know, of course, the result. The Iranians laughed at us. So impressed were they by this nuanced display of soft power that … they sicced Hezbollah on Israel, armed up their Iraqi militias, and blithely went on building their nukes.

ISG Chairman James Baker, a foolish man, looked Congress in the eye on Thursday and explained his master plan. Did it seem foolish to propose negotiations with Iran, our implacable enemy? Sure. But, the “realist” doyen puttered, if we invite them to negotiate about Iraq’s future, and they demur, why, we’ll expose their intransigence for all the world to see.

Right. They slaughter and abet the slaughter of our marines, our airmen, our sailors, William Buckley, Robert Stethem, William Higgins, and countless others. They tell us their defining goal is a world without America, a world in which our allies are wiped from the face of the earth. But, at long last, we’ll know who they really are … if they don’t show up for a meeting.

Blue-ribbon panels can afford such juvenilia. They are, after all, unaccountable. What’s the administration’s excuse?

What makes a superpower super is power. If we don’t use it, what’s left? Iran believes they will destroy us and acts on that conviction every day. We … seek negotiations.

I’m not a hugger, but I hugged my four-year-old son as I wrote this. We abdicate now. We turn a blind eye as our implacable, insatiable enemies pick off our best and our bravest. We shrink from the duty a quarter century of mayhem imposes. We don’t have the will.

It will be for my son, and yours, to face down this challenge. A challenge that endures because we offer to talk while they plot to kill.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.