|Neo-cons move quickly on
By Jim Lobe
Reports that top officials in the administration of
President George W Bush will meet this week to discuss
US policy toward Iran, including possible efforts to
overthrow its government, mark a major advance in what
has been an 18-month campaign by neo-conservatives in
and out of the administration.
until last month by their much louder drum-beating for
war against Iraq, the neo-cons' efforts to now focus US
attention on "regime change" in Iran have become much
more intense since early May, and have already borne
A high-level, albeit
unofficial, dialogue between both countries over Iraq,
Afghanistan and other issues of mutual interest was
abruptly broken off by Washington 10 days ago amid
charges by senior Pentagon officials that al-Qaeda
agents based in Iran had been involved in terrorist
attacks against US and foreign targets in Saudi Arabia
on May 12. Tehran strongly denied the charge.
Now, according to reports in the Washington Post
and the New York Times, the administration is
considering permanently cutting off the dialogue - which
included its senior envoy for both Iraq and Afghanistan,
Zalmay Khalilzad - and adopting a far more
confrontational stance vis-a-vis Tehran that could
include covert efforts to destabilize the government.
Pentagon hawks, particularly Deputy Defense
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary for Policy
Douglas Feith, who have long been closely associated
with neo-conservatives outside the administration
centered at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI),
reportedly favor using the heavily armed, Iraq-based
Iranian rebel group, the Mujahideen-e Khalq
Organization, which surrendered to US forces in April,
as the core of a possible opposition military force.
They are also pursuing links with the Iranian
exile community centered in southern California, which
has rallied increasingly around Reza Pahlavi, the son of
the former Shah of Iran who was overthrown by the
Islamic Revolution in 1979.
According to a
recent story in the US Jewish newspaper The Forward,
Pahlavi has cultivated senior officials in Israel's
Likud government with which the neo-conservatives in
Washington - both in the administration and outside it -
are closely allied.
Besides charges - considered
questionable by the State Department and the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) - that Iran may be sheltering
al-Qaeda operatives allegedly involved in the May 12
attacks in Riyadh - the administration has voiced
several major concerns about the country's recent
Senior officials have accused Tehran
of accelerating a major nuclear program that they say is
designed to produce weapons and of infiltrating "agents"
into Iraq in order to create problems for the
US-dominated occupation there. They have also continued
to call Iran a major supporter of international
terrorism, primarily due to its backing for Hezbollah in
It was Tehran's backing for Hezbollah
that earned it a prominent place on the target list
produced by the Project for the New American Century in
an open letter to Bush on September 20, 2001, just nine
days after al-Qaeda's attack on New York and the
The letter's 41 mainly
neo-conservative signers urged Bush to retaliate
directly against Iran if it failed to cut off Hezbollah.
The same letter anticipated virtually every other step
so far taken by the administration in its "war on
terror", including invading Afghanistan, severing ties
to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and removing Saddam
Hussein from power in Iraq.
In October, 2001,
influential figures at the AEI and like-minded think
tanks launched a new line of attack on Iran by
publishing articles in sympathetic media, most notably
on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal,
arguing that the Iranian people were so disillusioned by
the ruling mullahs in Tehran, including the
"reformists" around President Mohamed Khatami, that they
were ready to rise up against the government in a pro-US
"Iran is ready to blow sky-high,"
wrote AEI scholar Michael Ledeen back in November 2001.
"The Iranian people need only a bright spark of courage
from the United States to ignite the flames of
When, much to the State
Department's dismay, Bush named Iran as part of the
"axis of evil" in late January, 2002, both Israel and
the neo-conservatives pressed their advantage, arguing
repeatedly that dialogue even with Khatami was a waste
of time and that Washington should cast its lot instead
with "the people" against the regime.
Gerecht, a former CIA officer and Ledeen's AEI
colleague, argued last August in the neo-conservative
Weekly Standard that the mere presence of US troops in
Iraq would bring about revolution next door.
"Popular discontent in Iran tends to heat up
when US soldiers get close to the Islamic Republic," he
wrote. "An American invasion could possibly provoke
riots in Iran - simultaneous uprisings in major cities
that would simply be beyond the scope of regime-loyal
specialized riot-control units."
intensity and frequency of the campaign against Tehran
picked up dramatically earlier this month. On May 5,
Standard Editor William Kristol, whose office is six
floors below the AEI, wrote that the United States was
"already in a death struggle with Iran over the future
of Iraq" and that "the next great battle - not, we hope,
a military battle - will be for Iran".
next day, the AEI hosted an all-day conference entitled
"The Future of Iran: Mullahcracy, Democracy and the War
on Terror", whose speakers included Ledeen, Sobhani,
Gerecht, Morris Amitay of the neo-conservative Jewish
Institute for National Security Studies and Uri Lubrani
from the Israeli Defense Ministry.
Hudson Institute Middle East specialist Meyrav Wurmser
(whose husband David worked as her AEI counterpart until
joining the administration), set the tone: "Our fight
against Iraq was only one battle in a long war," she
said. "It would be ill-conceived to think that we can
deal with Iraq alone ... We must move on, and faster."
"It was a grave error to send [Khalilzad] to
secret meetings with representatives of the Iranian
government in recent weeks," Israeli-born Wurmser said,
complaining that, "rather than coming as victors who
should be feared and respected rather than loved, we are
still engaged in old diplomacy, in the kind of politics
that led to the attacks of September 11."
days later, the Khalilzad channel was abruptly closed,
and a Christian Right ally of the neo-conservatives,
Senator Sam Brownback, introduced the "Iran Democracy
Act" that sets as US policy the goal of "an
internationally monitored referendum to allow the
Iranian people to peacefully change their system of
"Now is not the time to coddle this
terrorist regime," he said. "Now is the time to stand
firm and support the people of Iran - who are the only
ones that can win this important battle."