An Old Enmity

By Myddelton, Richard | The Middle East, September 1996 | Go to article overview

An Old Enmity


Myddelton, Richard, The Middle East


Iran and the United States have been at loggerheads for 16 years, regularly accusing one another of terrorism and arrogance. But over the last few weeks, relations between the two have taken a decidedly nasty turn - moving away from a traditional trading of insults, toward more open confrontation.

The United States of America is under attack. On 26 June a truck bomb blew off the front of an American military installation in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 servicemen and wounding 386. On 18 July, a TWA passenger jet exploded above the New York coastline. And on 26 July a pipe bomb marred that most prestigious of events, the Olympics, leading to a frenzy of speculation over possible terrorist involvement.

The rhetoric from the US establishment concerning terrorism has been prolific. The Clinton administration has been waging a high-profile diplomatic war against groups inimical to American interests world-wide for months, culminating in a G7 summit on 30 July almost entirely devoted to a US-defined terrorism. But these most recent attacks have knocked the stuffing out of US government statements reducing them to a mixture of wounded national pride and gung-ho bravura unparalleled since the Gulf War.

"We have to show them that we are rougher than they are," came the war cry from retired US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, following the Al Khobar bombing.

Almost every statement made by US politicians since the start of the bombings has had Iran, implicitly or explicitly, as its focus. So far, the evidence is weak, but while Iran may yet be found responsible for these attacks, in many ways its involvement or otherwise is irrelevant.

Ways of linking Iran to the Al Khobar bombing do exist. The size of the explosive device is unusual for a domestic guerrilla attack, and of the two previously unknown organisations that have claimed responsibility, the Movement for Islamic Change and Hizbollah-Hejaz. The name Hizbollah if nothing else, can be directly linked to the Iranian-backed movement in Lebanon. The TWA explosion is another example of an unsubstantiated link. The first suggestion that Iran was involved came, according to US intelligence officials quoted by The Times, when an unnamed but. reliable exiled Iranian contacted the American embassy in Rome, saying the plane had been targeted by Iran.

The validity of this information is open to question, but its source is important. Recent Iranian successes in silencing its opponents (which the US regularly uses for intelligence gathering purposes, if not covert operations against the Iranian regime), have irked the US intelligence services, and given the US all the more reason for confronting Tehran, with or without firm proof of its involvement in more recent terrorist attacks.

In March this year, a mortar with a range of 700m was discovered aboard an Iranian ship by Belgian customs authorities. Members of the Iranian National Council of Resistance, based in Europe, say the mortar, and others like it being smuggled into Europe, were destined for use against Council leaders. That is not all.

In May last year, former Iranian Minister Reza Mazlouman was assassinated in Paris. A case is also underway in Germany in which one Iranian and three Lebanese are accused of the 1992 execution of three leaders of the anti-Tehran Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) in Berlin. An arrest warrant has even been issued for the current Iranian Intelligence Minister, Ali Fallahiyan.

On 23 July a journalist was sentenced to death in Tehran over an alleged plot to assassinate Iranian President Rafsanjani in 1994, and on the same day, three Iranians were executed for spying for Israel during the Iran-Iraq war.

The time-span between these events is long but they have been highlighted at a time when America is under threat, and needs to respond quickly if it is to appear in control. A link, any link, between Iran and attacks against US targets, or US-supported targets, is enough for the American intelligence and military machine to start salivating. …

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