Mona Charen
National Review, October 14, 2011

If the Iranian government doesn’t frighten you, you haven’t been paying attention. The regime in Iran has been killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan for many years and has sworn countless times in the past 30 years to preside over the destruction of the United States. But for a lucky break, Washington, D.C., this autumn would have been the scene of a massive explosion at a high-end restaurant, with scores and perhaps hundreds killed and maimed. The principal target of this terror attack was to be the Saudi ambassador to the United States, but as one of the plotters told another during the planning: “They want that guy [the Ambassador] done [killed], if the hundred go with him f**k’em.” The FBI suggests that several U.S. senators are also known to frequent the restaurant.

This carnage was only one of several violent attacks Iran was planning to perpetrate on American soil [Israel’s embassy in Washington is reported to have been another target—Ed.]. It seems safe to say that President Obama’s outreach to the mullahs is not going well.

Some press reports have stressed the enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia in attempting to explain this flagrant outrage. The U.S. Attorney involved in the case, Preet Bharara, also stressed that angle, saying, “Today’s charges should make crystal clear that we will not let other countries use our soil as their battleground.” But that misses a key point. This was an attack on the U.S. as well.

There are Saudi interests all over the globe. It’s not an accident that they chose to strike in Washington, D.C. For the terrorists in Tehran, killing a Saudi ambassador in America’s capital city would be a blow against two hated enemies at once. The murders would have happened under the noses of the Great Satan, thus conveying Iran’s contempt for everything we hold dea —the sanctity of life, the rule of law, international norms regarding diplomacy, and even the Geneva Conventions (which forbid deliberate attacks on civilians).…

The details of the thwarted attack read like a bad espionage novel. Mansour Arbabsiar, a naturalized American who was born in Iran, served as the middleman in a murder-for-hire plot. Directed by the Quds Force, an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Arbabsiar approached a Mexican drug gang and offered them $1.5 million to carry out the attack in Washington. Arbabsiar did not know that his Mexican interlocutor was actually an American informant.

And so the plot unraveled. Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29 at Kennedy airport, and has made a full confession. He has admitted that he was recruited, funded, and directed by men he believed to be senior officials in Iran’s Quds Force.

This is the same Quds Force that created or supports Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Mahdi army in Iraq. It is the same Quds Force that is currently helping the regime of Bashar al-Assad to brutally suppress the people of Syria who are demanding freedom. It is the same Quds Force that is arming and supplying the Taliban in Afghanistan, and providing $3 million a month to militias in Iraq.

Quds has a worldwide presence, including an active directorate in Venezuela, and in the tri-border region of South America (where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet), in the Magreb, in sub-Saharan Africa, and throughout the Middle East. It cooperates with al-Qaeda, and has been involved in countless acts of terror against Americans including the murder of CIA officer William Buckley, the murder of Navy diver Robert Stethem, the killing of 241 Marines in Lebanon, and the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 servicemen.

Quds is the beating heart of the Iranian regime, and that regime is barreling toward a nuclear weapon. Stopping it ought to be, but is not, the top foreign-policy priority of the Obama administration.…


Reuel Marc Gerecht

Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2011

There is still much to learn about the Iranian-directed plot to blow up the Saudi ambassador in a Washington, D.C., restaurant. But if the Justice Department’s information is correct, the conspiracy confirms a lethal fact about Iran’s regime: It is becoming more dangerous, not less, as it ages.

Since the 1989 death of Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Western observers have hunted for signs of the end of the revolution’s implacable hostility toward the United States. Signs have been abundant outside the ruling elite: Virtually the entire lay and much of the clerical intellectual class have damned theocracy as illegitimate, and college-educated youth (Iran has the best-educated public of any big Middle Eastern state) overwhelmingly threw themselves into the pro-democracy Green Movement that shook the regime in the summer of 2009.

But at the regime’s apex—Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, his praetorian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the clergy who’ve remained committed to theocracy—religious ideology and anti-Americanism have intensified.

The planned assassination in Washington was a bold act: The Islamic Republic’s terrorism has struck all over the globe, and repeatedly in Europe, but it has spared the U.S. homeland because even under Khomeini Iran feared outraged American power.

Iran truck-bombed the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon during Reagan’s presidency, calculating correctly that the Lebanese operational cover deployed in that attack would be sufficient to confuse U.S. retaliation. But the accidental shoot-down of Iran-Air flight 655 in July 1988 by the USS Vincennes unquestionably contributed to Tehran’s determination that the White House had allied itself with Saddam Hussein and therefore the Iran-Iraq war was lost. The perception of American power proved decisive.

One of the unintended benefits of America being at the center of Iran’s conspiracies is that the U.S. is often depicted as devilishly powerful. Running against that fear, however, is another theme of the revolution: America’s inability to stop faithful Iranians from liberating their homeland—the entire Muslim world—from Western hegemony and cultural debasement. American strength versus American weakness is a dangerous dance that plays out in the Islamist mind.

Within Iran, this interplay has led to cycles of terrorism of varying directness against the U.S. Khamenei, who many analysts have depicted as a cautious man in foreign affairs, has been a party—probably the decisive party—to every single terrorist operation Iran has conducted overseas since Khomeini’s death.

The once-humble, unremarkable Khamenei—who was given the office of supreme leader in 1989 by the once-great Don Corleone of clerical politics, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (who assumed Iran’s presidency that same year)—has become the undisputed ruler of Iran.

It was Khamenei who massively increased the military and economic power of the Revolutionary Guards Corps while often playing musical chairs with its leadership. The supreme leader has turned a fairly consensual theocracy into an autocracy where all fear the Guards and the Intelligence Ministry, which is also now under the supreme leader’s control.…

Khamenei’s growing power and sense of mission have manifested themselves abroad. He has unleashed the Guards Corps against the U.S. and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the Treasury Department recently revealed, Tehran has ongoing ties to al Qaeda. These date back at least a decade, as the 9/11 Commission Report depicted Iranian complicity in the safe travel of al Qaeda operatives and chronicled al Qaeda contact with the Lebanese Hezbollah and Tehran’s éminence grise to Arab Islamic radicals, the late Imad Mughniyeh.

Many in Washington and Europe would like to believe that the assassination plot in Washington came from a “faction” within the Iranian government—that is, that Khamenei didn’t order the killing.… [But] Lord help Qasim Soleimani—the man who likely has control over the Revolutionary Guards’ elite dark-arts Qods Force, which apparently orchestrated this assassination scheme—if he didn’t clear the operation with Khamenei. He will lose his job and perhaps his life.…

For 20 years the U.S. has sent mixed messages to the supreme leader. Under both Democratic and Republican presidents, the U.S. has tried to reach out to Iran, to engage it in dialogue that would lead away from confrontation. For Khamenei such attempts at engagement have been poisonous, feeding his profound fear of a Western cultural invasion and the destruction of Islamic values.…

Khamenei probably approved a strike in Washington because he [now] no longer fears American military might. Iran’s advancing nuclear-weapons program has undoubtedly fortified his spine, as American presidents have called it “unacceptable” yet done nothing about it. And neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama retaliated against Iran’s murderous missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Obama has clearly shown he wants no part—or any Israeli part—in a preventive military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites. And Mr. Obama has pulled almost all U.S. troops out of Iraq and clearly wants to do the same in Afghanistan.… That’s an invitation to someone like Khamenei to push further, to attack both America and Iran’s most detested Middle Eastern rival, the virulently anti-Shiite Saudi Arabia.…

The Obama administration will be tempted to respond against Iran with further unilateral and multilateral sanctions. More sanctions aren’t a bad idea—targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards and the sale of gasoline made from Iranian crude can hurt Tehran financially. But they will not scare it. The White House needs to respond militarily to this outrage. If we don’t, we are asking for it.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, the U.S. failed to take Secretary of State George Shultz’s wise counsel after Khomeini’s minions bombed us in Lebanon. We didn’t make terrorism a casus belli, instead treating it as a crime, only lobbing a few missiles at Afghan rock huts and a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant. But we should treat it as a casus belli. The price we will pay now will surely be less than the price we will pay later.

(Mr. Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer,
is a senior fellow at the
Foundation for Defense of Democracies.)


David D. Kirkpatrick

NY Times, October 14, 2011

Egypt’s military rulers are moving to assert and extend their own power so broadly that a growing number of lawyers and activists are questioning their willingness to ultimately submit to civilian authority.

Two members of the military council that took power after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak said for the first time in interviews [last] week that they planned to retain full control of the Egyptian government even after the election of a new Parliament begins in November. The legislature will remain in a subordinate role similar to Mr. Mubarak’s former Parliament, they said, with the military council appointing the prime minister and cabinet.

“We will keep the power until we have a president,” Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Hegazy said. The military had pledged in formal communiqués last March to hold the presidential election by September. But the generals now say that will come only after the election of a Parliament, the formation of a constitutional assembly and the ratification of a new constitution—a process that could stretch into 2013 or longer.

A transition to civilian rule before and not after the drafting of a new constitution was also a core component of a national referendum on a “constitutional declaration” that passed in March as well. The declaration required that the military put in place democratic institutions and suspend a 30-year-old emergency law allowing arrests without trial before the drafting of the constitution to ensure a free debate. But by extending its mandate, the military will now preside over the constitutional process.

The military’s new plan “is a violation of the constitutional declaration,” Tarek el-Bishry, the jurist who led the writing of that declaration, wrote this week in the newspaper Al Sharouk, arguing that the now-defunct referendum had been the military’s only source of legitimacy.

The United States, where concerns run high that early elections could bring unfriendly Islamists to power and further strain relations with Israel, has so far signaled approval of the military’s slower approach to handing over authority. In an appearance this week with the Egyptian foreign minister, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged an early end to the emergency law but called the plan for elections “an appropriate timetable.”

Within Egypt, however, the schedule is a fresh source of tension between the military council and civilian political leaders from liberals to Islamists. Political leaders say they were shocked last week when two dozen Coptic Christian demonstrators died in clashes with soldiers guarding a government building. Some protesters were run over by military vehicles and others were shot.

Confidence in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces—known as SCAF—reached a breaking point, many political leaders say, three days later when the military council placed blame for the deaths on the aggression of the demonstrators and denied that the soldiers used live ammunition. The military has blocked any civilian investigation into the clash.

“No political party can trust the SCAF now,” said Emad Gad, an analyst at the state-financed Al Ahram research group and now an active member of the Social Democratic Party. “We are seeing the real face of the SCAF, after the lifting of the mask.…”

Last spring, the military was viewed by some liberals as moving too quickly toward new elections. They feared that the military’s original timetable for transition to democratic rule, with elections of Parliament, a new president and the drafting of a new constitution all taking place within a few months, could effectively hand power to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that was Egypt’s main political opposition under Mr. Mubarak. That was when some liberals began arguing publicly that the military should define for itself its own powers and role under the new constitution, including the broad autonomy and authority to intervene to protect the secular character of the state.

Some now call the military’s deadly violence against the Coptic protesters a wake-up call for such liberals. “The liberal elite was so blinded by the fear of Islamists’ taking over that they were willing to accept the security blanket of the army,” said Mr. Bahgat of the Egyptian Initiative for Individual Rights. “But Sunday’s massacre was a turning point because they saw what the army was capable of—brutality that came as a very early reminder of what things were like under Mubarak.…”

Selecting a committee to draft a constitution will be the most important function of the new Parliament. The military has said it will impose certain diversity requirements on the membership. Parties and candidates running for Parliament acknowledge that they do not know what powers it may have while the military controls the government. But several politicians said they planned to compete for seats, in part to have a platform for potentially challenging the military. “What else can we do?” asked Mr. Gad, of the Social Democratic Party.


Walter Russell Mead

American Spectator, October 12, 2011

As a horrified world watched coverage of Christian demonstrators dying at the hands of Egyptian soldiers this week, it underlined the possibility that the Arab Spring might permanently change Egypt after all. Coptic Christians, who have lived in the Land of the Pharaohs since Biblical times, are making an Exodus in all directions. The La Stampa affiliated site Vatican Insider reports: “Since March, increased religious tension in Egypt has led to the emigration of about 100 thousand Christians. The Egyptian Union of human rights organisations has spoken out against this, saying that this mass exodus could alter the Country’s demography as well as its economic stability.… According to analysts, this high rate of emigration is mostly a consequence of the Arab Spring revolts which began in December 2010 and are supposed to have boosted the power held by the Islamic component within Egyptian society.”

Egypt’s Copts welcomed Islamic forces as liberators in the 7th century AD; the Orthodox Church considered the Copts to be a heretical sect and under the Byzantine emperors the Copts faced persecution. Since then, relations with Muslims have had their ups and downs and in recent centuries Copts have been outsiders in Egyptian society: prosperous enough to have influence, but not populous enough to demand equal treatment as a matter of right. They depend on the ruling establishment for protection but are also convenient scapegoats for governments which rule by playing competing factions against one another.

Religious tension has grown as the Egyptian ‘revolution’ stagnates. Rising economic problems stir up anger against a religious minority many Egyptians feel benefited from special treatment during the Mubarak years. Competition over land and water in the south often pits Muslim and Christian villages and villagers against one another. Some of the Islamists reaching for political power in Egypt today are less sympathetic to the concerns of the Copts than others are.

Christian emigration from the Middle East is not new. For the last 150 years Christians have fled the region in droves.… The flight of the Copts… [and they] are more than a significant demographic presence in Egypt; they are an important pillar of the country’s economy—and of its embattled liberal tradition in politics. An Egypt without Copts, like so much of the Middle East that has steadily been losing the cultural and social diversity that once so enriched it, would be a narrower, poorer, more radical and less hopeful place.… A picture of former President Mubarak in a cage may make the front pages, but the destruction of the Copts will do more to define Egypt’s future.


Father Raymond J. de Souza
National Post, October 13, 2011

…The scenes from Sunday night in Cairo confirmed the worst fears of Christians in Egypt: An armoured personnel carrier, careening through a crowd of protesters, apparently firing in all directions. Some 25 were killed, 17 of them Coptic Christians participating in a protest against, amongst other things, government inaction in the race of anti-Christian violence.

Government action may indeed be even worse. It’s not just a Christian concern. All those concerned about religious liberty are alarmed. The Canadian federal government, which has made religious liberty a higher priority in its foreign policy, will establish an office of religious freedom to advance that end. The new office will be all the busier given what regime change is bringing to the broader Middle East.

Last month’s religious freedom update from the U.S. State Department detailed the sorry state of affairs in Afghanistan. The report confirmed that there are no Christian churches and no Christian schools left in Afghanistan. There are not many Christians in Afghanistan, but what few remain have not a single house of worship. In Iraq, the situation is not quite as dire as that, but Iraq once had a large and thriving Christian population. It has been hemorrhaging steadily over the years.…

These are countries where foreign troops are providing stability and security, and the international community has midwifed new constitutions in which religious liberty is at least nominally guaranteed. What will happen in Egypt, and perhaps Syria, where revolutions bring to power Islamist factions unchecked by any foreign influence, military or otherwise? Is Sunday’s bloodshed in Cairo a sign of a religious war that is to come?

The outcome of such a war is known even now. Egypt’s Christians are a significant minority of some eight to 10 million, numerous but not powerful. Should the full force of Islamist violence be turned on them, the streets would run with blood. If the military were to abet the attacks, the number of corpses would be more horrific still. A new age of martyrdom is set to rise in Egypt.…

The massacre in Cairo fills the Christians of that land with deep foreboding. Christians have been in Egypt since the first Christian centuries.… An Egypt without Christians would be the product of a cultural vandalism equivalent to an Egypt without the pyramids. The pyramids are the tombs of the past. The Christians of Egypt fear that their fellow citizens are preparing for them the tombs of the present.