The Mullahs' Shock
September 07, 2003
New York Post
Until just a few weeks ago, Iran and Britain, having completed a diplomatic honeymoon, appeared to be destined for a mutually enjoyable partnership.
On Tuesday, however, the British government, having recalled its ambassador Richard Dalton, announced the "temporary closure" of its embassy in Tehran. The decision came hours after shots had been fired at the embassy building in the center of the Iranian capital.
Asked who might have been responsible, the Iranian authorities said they did not know. But this seems hardly credible -since hundreds of people, including more than a dozen policemen, some of them supposed to be guarding the embassy, watched the whole bizarre episode.
It is clear that the Islamic Republic wished to pass a "strong message" to "perfidious Albion," and in the only way it knows best: by threatening violence and murder.
Tony Blair's government has invested a great deal in courting Iran's ruling mullahs. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited Tehran four times in less than two years, equaling the record set by his Syrian counterpart, Farouq al-Shara.
Even before Baghdad had been liberated, both Blair and Straw announced that Britain would not join the United States in any "regime change" move against Iran. In all his meetings with President Bush, Blair hammered in the theme of "constructive dialogue" with Iran as alternative to "regime change."
BY last March, Britain had emerged as Iran's most ardent supporter in the European Union, assuming a role that Germany and France had played for more than two decades. The British assumed the leadership of efforts to conclude a trade agreement between the EU and the Islamic Republic.
London also supported Tehran's bid to join the World Trade Organization, despite Washington's reservations. The Blair government allowed Tehran to organize a major economic "roadshow" in London to attract British and other Western investment, especially for Iran's oil industry, which is now in a state of crisis.
Relations got so warm that some of the ruling mullahs began to come to London for medical checkups while others dispatched their offspring to British schools. Some Khomeinist militants received scholarships to study at British universities. It was one such student who became the cause of a sudden end to the Anglo-Iranian courtship.
The man in question is Hadi Suleimanpour, who had enrolled at Durham University to study Islamic civilization. Now in his early 40s, Suleimanpour was no ordinary student. Having joined the Khomeinist revolution in his teens, he had been one of the first to join the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a paramilitary force created by Khomeini in 1979 to crush his opponents.
Suleimanpour served as a bodyguard for various political mullahs and, eventually ended up as the Islamic Republic's ambassador in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
His tenure as ambassador coincided with the blowing up of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires - an attack that killed scores of Argentines, many of them Jews. Iran always denied any involvement in the attack, and blamed Argentine pro-Nazi police and army officers. By the mid-1990s, the episode seemed to have been shelved amid reports that then-President Carlos Menem received a fat bribe from Tehran to hush things up. (Menem says this is a slur.)
LAST year, an Argentine court reopened the case and ended up formally pointing the finger at Tehran. It issued arrest warrants for a number of Iranian officials - including the unfortunate Suleimanpour, who had just landed in Britain to start a new life as a middle-aged student.
Contacted by Interpol, the British police picked up Suleimanpour without informing the Foreign Office in London.
That led to what could only be described, if not as "a clash of civilizations," as a clash of political cultures.
TEHRAN'S mullahs simply cannot understand that the British government may well be unable to just order the police to let Suleimanpour loose. They see the episode as part of a sinister "Zionist-Crusader" plot whose aim is to prepare international public opinion for a "regime change" plot against the Islamic Republic.
The mullahs' anger at Britain is partly understandable. After all, on many occasions, EU states have ignored their laws to let Iranian suspects escape police arrest. In 1996, a Berlin court issued an arrest warrant for Ali Fallahian, a mullah who was the Islamic Republic's Minister for intelligence and Security at the time. Fallahian had been charged with participation in the murder of four Kurdish dissidents in Berlin in 1992. At the time the warrant was issued, Fallahian was visiting Germany at the invitation of his counterpart, Brend Schmidbauer. Learning of the warrant, the German authorities arranged for the mullah to fly back to Tehran before the police arrived.
The French have done even better. In 1994, Prime Minister Eduarad Baladur ignored a Swiss demand for the extradition of two Iranians charged with political murders in Switzerland and helped them fly back to Tehran - first class.
Before that, in 1986, President François Mitterrand allowed Tehran's key terror agent in Europe to return home without answering any questions by the French government's own anti-terrorist judges.
Even earlier, the Italian government ignored the fact that Tehran's embassy in the Vatican had become a center of terrorism in Europe. Four Iranians involved in a series of assassinations in Italy were never troubled, although they had been called in for questioning by Italian courts.
Britain's own record wasn't so bright. John Major's government allowed an Iranian agent, convicted by a British court of murdering two Iranian dissidents in London, to return home after serving half of a three-year prison term. The man was received as a hero in Tehran and, when he became a candidate for parliament, based his campaign on his success in "eliminating two evil anti-Islamic elements" in Britain. There are similar cases concerning other European countries.
BETWEEN 1979 and 2000, Tehran's agents murdered 46 Iranians, 17 of them in France, and killed more than 80 non-Iranians in various terrorist operations in the European Union. On each occasion, the European country concerned made some angry noises, and, in some cases, gestures such as closing the embassy and recalling the ambassador. In the end, however, they all ended up eating humble pie at the hand of the triumphant mullahs.
The Islamic Republic exerted pressure on the Europeans in a number of ways. These included kidnapping their citizens on fake charges and releasing them in exchange for Iranian officials arrested in Europe. The Islamic authorities also organized raids on various European embassies, beating up staff, seizing documents and setting parts of the buildings on fire. In one case, the French ambassador, Guy Georgy, was held hostage until France allowed an Iranian terror mastermind to leave Paris before he could be arrested.
In every case, the blame was put on "angry volunteers for martyrdom" who had supposedly acted against the wishes of the Iranian government.
THE biggest showdown, of course, concerned Salman Rushdie, the Anglo-Indian novelist who was sentenced to death in a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.
Having defined the issue as "a matter of fundamental principle," the Europeans withdrew their ambassadors for a while only to send them back later with "apologies" to Tehran. The issue was fudged to cover the cowardice of the Europeans. But the fatwa was never annulled.
The mullahs believe that international politics consist mostly of plots and conspiracies, and that the Western powers, devoid of moral scruples, would sell their mothers to secure profit for their businessmen who, in turn, finance the political parties.
Suleimanpour is not the only senior Iranian official to be subject to an Interpol arrest warrant on charges of terrorism. The latest list of wanted Iranians contains 48 names, including that of the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenehi, former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati.
(On Wednesday, the Islamic Republic decided to forbid, until further notice, all foreign travel by those on the list.)
Will the latest tussle between Tehran and London confirm the mullahs' opinion of the West?
Sadly, one has to say: Yes.
JAVIER Solana, the European Union's "foreign minister," has just completed a visit to Tehran in which he spent more time criticizing the United States and Britain for the "quagmire in Iraq" than telling the mullahs that they cannot send agents around the globe to kill people without, one day, being held accountable.
Almost two decades ago, Khomeini summarized his policy toward the Western powers thus: Kick them in the teeth, and they will kiss your hand!
- Benador Associates http://www.benadorassociates.com/article/557