Wars have started over less. The March 23 seizure of 15 British sailors and marines by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy can be called many things, but spontaneous isn’t one of them. It was another in a long series of tests of Western resolve that Iran has posed and we have failed. Iran is — cleverly and gradually — escalating its war for control of the Middle East.
In 1979 Iranian revolutionaries — probably including a young Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — seized the American embassy in Tehran and held its staff hostage for 444 days. Diplomacy failed so in April 1980, so Jimmy Carter launched and personally micromanaged into failure a military rescue mission in which eight Americans died in an aircraft collision at Desert One.
That failure and the ones to come taught Iran that it could provoke — even commit acts of war — without suffering any penalty. In the years since, it has — either directly or through its terrorist proxies such as Hizballah — committed a long series of terrorist acts resulting in many American deaths.
For over 20 years, Iran has lied to the UN Security Council about its nuclear programs. Instead of opening them to UN inspectors, Iran has dispersed its nuclear facilities and buried them in hardened sites to prevent destruction by air strikes.
In December 2005, I was among a small group of military analysts that met with the top American commanders in Baghdad. In one briefing, we learned about the Iranian-manufactured “explosively-formed penetrator” — “EFP” in the inevitable acronym — which was then and is now the weapon that causes more American deaths in Iraq than any other. It is made in Iran, smuggled in by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers, and given to militias and insurgents to kill Americans. Iran’s government has paid no price for, again, shedding American blood.
While killing Americans in Iraq, Iran’s government is escalating gradually, maintaining control of the pace and direction of its war to become the hegemon of the Middle East. Its government is a complex one. Its public face, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, probably has power to do little more than make inciteful speeches. The real power rests in “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the “Assembly of Experts” (86 Shiite clerics that control accession to the “Supreme Leader” post) and the 40-man “Expediency Council” in which policy is debated under their version of Islamic law. In our political lingo, they are an Islamofascist regime.
America has pursued a policy aimed to isolate Iran. President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apparently believe that UN sanctions and furrowed brows can affect the course of Iran’s conquest of the Middle East. So far, Iran is so isolated that: 1) Russia is openly building and supplying its nuclear program, and has supplied Iran with sophisticated anti-aircraft missile systems that essentially preclude air strikes against the nuclear sites by all except stealth aircraft or missiles; 2) China is trading arms and technology to Iran for oil; and 3) Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has allied his nation with Iran (and China) in hopes of gaining weapons and technology and constricting American access to oil. At this rate, isolation could soon earn Ahmadinejad a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.
In earlier times, Americans had a greater ability to deal with reality. Before Jimmy Carter caused the failure at “Desert One,” there was another plan to rescue the American hostages in Tehran. The late great Ben Rich, the genius engineer who headed Lockheed’s super-secret “Skunk Works” and inventor of stealth aircraft, once described it to me over several glasses of an adult beverage for which we shared a liking.
Ben’s plan, cobbled together in a matter of days after the Iranians seized our embassy, was elegant for its simplicity and enormous risk. There are rocket packs that can be mounted on the C-130 Hercules to assist takeoffs from short airfields. Why not, Ben explained, mount some takeoff packs on the back, and mount another set on the nose pointing forward? Ben wanted to fill the sky over Tehran with fighters, land a C-130 on the street in front of the embassy and bring it to a really, really short stop by firing the forward-mounted rockets. Out pour a couple of platoons of Marines or rangers, they shoot their way into the embassy, grab our folks, load everybody back into the C-130, and fire the backward-pointing rockets to blast out of there under heavy air cover. Think of the lesson Iran’s ayatollahs would have learned had America shot its way into and out of their capital city. Instead, they came to believe we are a paper tiger.
We should not be speaking openly of military action to rescue the British soldiers and marines now reportedly held in Tehran. That’s the Brits’ call, and if they want our help we should give it unhesitatingly. Meanwhile, we have to rethink our policy toward Iran.
Iran’s gradual conquest of the Middle East proceeds uninhibited. Its supporters, China and Russia principally, have no intention to limit Iran’s ambitions. Khamenei and his face man, Ahmadinejad, are claiming dominance over the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf. Their capture of the British troops coincided with a large naval wargame that emphasizes the point. Every neighboring nation — including our allies such as Kuwait and Israel — is threatened.
We need to challenge Iran to greater effect than it challenges us. To do so we need not — openly — go to war with Iran. But we should begin by imposing real penalties on Iran for each act of aggression. Every time an American is hurt or killed by an EFP in Iraq, Iran should pay the butcher’s bill. Every act of war, every act to subvert friendly governments in the Middle East, every attack on one of our allies by an Iranian force or proxy should be answered quickly with acts that cost Iran dearly, and assists Iranians to rebel against the ayatollahs. Each of our allies should be assured — publicly — that we will defend them against Iranian aggression.
People speak of “the military option” against Iran as if it consists only of a massive ground invasion, huge air attacks and an occupation like Iraq. Nonsense. We have so many options — some of them secret — that we should begin employing now. For example, there are ways to fry electronic systems with an electromagnetic pulse that isn’t created by detonating a nuclear device. (HUMAN EVENTS is not the New York Times. We do not leak secrets. This weapon was spoken of openly in 2003). The next time the Iranian navy sits in port one dark night, such an “EMP” weapon could render its ships inert. I’m guessing, but I think Ben Rich would have smiled at that thought.