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Jewish World Review
June 1, 2007
/ 15 Sivan, 5767
The Invisible Crisis: What if Iran took hostages and no one noticed?
Rarely have so many journalists, politicians and commentators so totally missed a headline. There are now five American hostages in Iran. Each case has been largely treated by itself, almost as if it were an oddity, something requiring a special explanation, instead of another piece in a luminously clear pattern whose meaning should be intuitively obvious to us all.
The five American hostages are:
Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and the wife of the distinguished historian Shaul Bakash;
- Parnaz Azima, a journalist for radio Farda, the Farsi-language component of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty;
- Ali Shakeri, a founding board member at the University of California, Irvine’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding;
- Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant working for George Soros’ Open Society Institute.
- Robert A. Levinson, a former FBI officer reportedly investigating tobacco smuggling on behalf of a private client. He disappeared after he flew to Iran’s Kish Island in March.
The two women — Esfandiari and Azima — were regular visitors to Iran, and both were visiting their mothers at the time of their arrests.
Iranian and Iranian-supported terrorists have been trying unsuccessfully to capture Americans in Iraq for some time (a hostage-taking operation failed last September, for example), but they found that the Americans fought back. They have now snatched unarmed Americans within Iranian borders. Several of them have been charged with espionage. Esfandiari has been accused of an additional crime: being married to a Jew. In the words of a website closely tied to President Ahmadinejad, Esfandiari is “married to Shaul Bakhash, a Jew, (and) is one of the leading figures in the international Zionist lobby planning the overthrow of the Iranian regime, including the Zionist regime’s plans to attack Iran.”
Actually, Esfandiari is one of the leading figures in the intellectual/scholarly opposition to the Bush administration, Azima works for an organization that has been a feckless voice of confusion and a frequent critic of American policy in the Middle East, and Tajbakhsh and Shakeri are advocates of dialogue with Iran. I don’t know anything about Levinson’s politics or religion.
Not that the actual views of the hostages have anything to do with their plight; they are hostages simply because they are Americans.
The Americans were taken hostage for the same reasons the regime has routinely taken foreign hostages from the first year of its existence: to resolve internal power struggles, to demonstrate to the Iranian people the hopelessness of their condition by directly challenging the infidels to do anything about the humiliation of their countrymen, and to impose their will on a Western world the mullahs view as feckless and paralyzed. When the American embassy was overrun in the fall of 1979, Khomeini famously proclaimed that the Americans “can’t do a thing,” and today the regime is trying to show that neither the Americans nor the Brits (five more of whom were taken hostage in the past couple of days) can do anything to challenge the mullahcracy.
Political Civil War
The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, suffers from inoperable cancer and has already outlived his doctors’ prognosis. The political war over his successor has been raging for several months between partisans of the country’s two most prominent political figures: Ahmadinejad and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. Two months ago Rafsanjani went to Qom, the city of the grand ayatollahs, in an attempt to gain the support of the leading clerics, at which time he tried to convince them to name a successor even before the Supreme Leader’s demise. Nothing came of it, nor did anything come of the much-ballyhooed efforts to “impeach” Ahmadinejad or shorten his term. The latest dustup came over the talks with the Americans in Baghdad, which were violently condemned by Ahmadinejad’s followers.
The wave of hostage-taking undoubtedly plays a role in this political war, for it demonstrates the great strength of the hardliners around Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, and weakens Rafsanjani’s standing with the clerical elite.
Message to the Iranian People
Two of the American hostages — Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh — have been charged with attempting to subvert the Islamic Republic and organize a “soft revolution” against the regime. At the same time, the mullahs have launched a new wave of political repression against students, teachers, women, intellectuals and, most recently, scientists. The information ministry, a.k.a. the secret intelligence service, recently declared that any Iranian who attended overseas conferences would automatically fall under suspicion of cooperating with foreign-espionage operations. All these measures are symptomatic of a regime that knows it is hated by most Iranians, and fears a popular uprising.
It is a basic tenet of the Iranians’ worldview that nothing of great significance will occur in the world without American support, which in practice means they are unlikely to launch a revolution until and unless they see signs of such support. It also means that the mullahs constantly seek to demonstrate that America is impotent, thus hoping to discourage potential challenges from below. What better way than to take American (and British) hostages, and show that the United States (and Her Majesty’s government) are powerless to do anything about it?
War Against the Infidels
Finally, there is the ongoing war against America, which has been waged from Tehran since 1979, and which the mullahs firmly believe they are winning. They are supremely confident that the United States will be driven out of Iraq — largely by terrorists armed, funded, trained, and guided by Tehran — by the end of Bush’s tenure. They are similarly optimistic about Afghanistan, where the Karzai government and NATO military officers are increasingly outspoken about Iran’s role in arming both the Taliban and terrorists associated with Gulbadin Hekmatyar. As Amir Taheri has recently pointed out, the Iranian hand is manifest in lethal activities from Afghanistan to Lebanon, Iraq, and Gaza. The capture of American hostages is an integral part of that strategy, aiming blow after blow against the perceived tottering giant whose fall will open the floodgates of jihad against the infidel West.
The mullahs believe that their aggression is divinely sanctioned, that the violence they are unleashing on the region will hasten the return of the 12th Imam, and thus the days of the final judgment of all mankind. Such people cannot be reasoned out of their mission, whatever the utopians at the Department of State may believe.
Messianic movements of the sort led by the Islamic Republic can inspire masses of people, but they are uniquely vulnerable, because any dramatic setback raises a frightening question: Has divine support suddenly been removed? It follows that we should strain to defeat them, primarily by supporting their own gravediggers, the people of Iran.
Alas, not even that celebrated warmonger, George W. Bush, has the will to support democratic revolution in Iran, or even to say the simple words “we want regime change in Tehran.” His secretary of State insists that we do not want regime change, but only a change in the behavior of the regime. Which is rather like saying that the best way to fight evil is by reading the Psalms. Instead of vigorously defending the Americans outrageously arrested and incarcerated in Iran, we opened a new round of negotiations with their captors, and the killers of our troops in Iraq, on Memorial Day. Yes, there are American warships in the Gulf, but no one in his right mind expects them to do anything other than show the flag.
But then, nobody even seems to have noticed the existence of a hostage crisis. Why would anyone expect the American government to do anything about it?
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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.
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