Family Security Matters
Nearly a decade after the attacks of 9/11, Americans remain terribly confused as to the nature of the terror threats we face. A jarring collection of disparate daily events appears to make little overall sense. Here at home, individual terrorists often claim to be doing “Allah’s will.” Some have shadowy connections to both terror groups and states. Overseas, we are trying to stabilize an Afghan government that is apparently intent upon making deals with the Taliban, the very group that gave training and sanctuary to the 9/11 attackers, and that promotes terrorism today.
In Iraq, an extraordinarily swift takedown of the Iraqi regime was unfortunately followed by three years of confused counterinsurgency efforts. Only after President Bush and General Petraeus changed strategy did we manage to defeat a terrorist movement that was supported by Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, often allied with ex-Saddam agents. Its savage brutality against fellow Muslims finally turned large swaths of Iraqi society toward an alliance with the Iraqi government and US forces.
Nevertheless, our policy community remains reluctant to recognize the role of current state sponsors of terror in promoting a form of hybrid warfare —call it “guided terrorism”. But this form of warfare is just as serious as the conventional cross-border invasion of Kuwait in 1991 (by Iraq) or of the Republic of Korea in 1950 (by North Korea). Part of its effectiveness lies precisely in the difficulty of discerning the role of a particular state in a particular terror attack, undermining the potential for deterrence.
Saddam, for example, was in fact a major terror master, as the annual State Department reports of the period indicate. For that reason alone, the liberation of Iraq — far from being a distraction — was critical to the war on terror. Our ally Pakistan receives billions in aid from US taxpayers, while harboring major internal (and official) elements that sponsor terror both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan itself. State sponsorship has somehow become the unmentionable aspect of terrorism. No wonder Americans are confused.
The country that is probably the most dangerous current sponsor of terrorism–Iran—is also pursuing a nuclear capacity, and may well harbor an intention to use it against both the US and Israel. Iranian President Ahmadinejad envisions “a world without America.” Former President Rafsanjani told an Iranian audience “one nuclear weapon would end the Jewish state,” and that no nuclear retaliation could “stop the revolution.” The founder of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, declared he did not care if Iran were reduced to rubble, as long as “the revolution continues.”
Many argued that 9/11 was a matter of our “chickens coming home to roost” — the logical result of bad US policy in the Middle East. Terrorists sounded this theme as well, complaining that the US presence in Saudi Arabia, “the land of the shrines,” provoked the attacks of 9/11. Some commentators argue that if we bring our soldiers home from Afghanistan and Iraq, these “Islamic soldiers” will no longer have “grievances” to motivate their attacks. But the grievance theory of aggression has been proven wrong in the past (remember the Sudetenland?), and it ignores the history of state-sponsored terrorism as a tool of expansionist policies and empire ambitions.
The Origins of Terrorism
In seeking a rationale for terrorist actions, commentators point to Islam’s grievances against America. Most often mentioned is the lack of a Palestinian state. Former President Clinton believed that, with the creation of a Palestinian state, most terrorism would disappear. (Osama Bin Laden, however, has said that failure to implement the global warming treaty Kyoto justifies further terror attacks against the US.)
The grievance template is nothing new — and neither is the unwillingness to acknowledge state sponsorship of terrorism.
· Former Senator Chris Dodd insisted that the communist guerillas in El Salvador, known as the FMLN, were motivated by social justice; in reality, they were a gang of murderers funded, trained and controlled by Cuba and the Soviet Union.
· In 1983 in Lebanon, “Hezbollah” or “terrorists” are universally blamed for the murder of U.S. Marines. Actually, Iran and Syria (then a Soviet client state) directed the attacks; the terror group only later morphed into Hezbollah.
· In 1988, a so-called “terrorist” bomb destroyed Pan American Flight 103, above Lockerbie, Scotland. All the evidence points to Libya and Iran as sponsors of the attack.
The most dramatic recent case of ignoring evidence of state sponsorship relates to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The aim was to topple one tower into the other, killing 200,000 people (and simultaneously releasing a poisonous gas). That plot is universally attributed to either Sheik Abdul Rahman (associated with an infamous Brooklyn mosque) but who was never linked to the bombing) and/or “Al Qaeda” (which did not yet exist as an operational organization). In fact, the individual convicted for planning the bombing was Ramzi Yousef —known by his fellow conspirators as “Rasheed the Iraqi.” Yousef had traveled to New York from Baghdad (via Pakistan), on a valid Iraqi passport. Another of the conspirators, an Iraqi-American, fled from New York back to Baghdad where Saddam Hussein harbored him. These hints of an Iraqi intelligence role were never investigated further, even though his relative Khalid Sheik Mohammed was eventually arrested as the mastermind of 9/11.
State Sponsors of Terror
The idea that governments support terror operations to further their own ends has been controversial from the start. In 1980, Claire Sterling published The Terror Network, naming the Soviet Union the world’s premier terror master. (Among others, Yasser Arafat and Ali Khamenei both attended Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba Friendship University, known as the “Oxford of terrorism.”) Secretary of State Alexander Haig stated in his Senate confirmation hearing that the only way to deal seriously with terrorism was “to go to the source”—at that time, the Soviet Union and Cuba.
The reaction to Haig’s statement was dramatic. The supporters of detente were incensed by the suggestion that the former Soviet Union might be engaged in war against the United States and its allies by other means. To quell the uproar, the Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, ordered an assessment of Soviet support for terrorism. The resulting report confidently concluded that the Soviets did “not support terrorism,” citing a compilation of Tass and Pravda editorials.
Secretary of Defense William Gates reached the opposite conclusion in his 1996 book, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War. Reagan and Haig were right on the money and, if anything, had partially underestimated the extent of Soviet support for terror.
The Threat from Iran
The US Department of State describes Iran as the top supporter of terrorism in the world.
· Iran and North Korea cooperate in building ballistic missiles and exchanging nuclear weapons technology.
· The “Nukes ‘R Us” Pakistani Khan network had extensive dealings with Iran.
· Iran supplies Hezbollah and Hamas with more than $1 billion annually in weapons and training.
· Iran has extensive ties with Syria, collaborating to destroy Lebanon’s sovereignty.
· Iran supplies massive quantities of weapons to terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iran’s larger objective is to command the Muslim world. It also seeks to destroy Israel and eliminate US influence in the Middle East. To that end, it funds and trains terrorists.
Iran’s missiles have a range of at least 3500 kilometers, putting Western Europe at risk. Israel rocket expert Uzi Rubin released an Iranian photo showing a BM-25 rocket engine in Tehran — a 3500-4000 kilometer missile developed by North Korea, based on Russian designs. Critics responded that the missile that had been paraded in Pyongyang was merely made of paper mache. Then they said that, though the missile was real, it had not in fact been transferred to Tehran.
We persist in debating whether Iran will have a better missile or nuclear enrichment capability in one, two, three, or ten years, as if having enough lead-time will allow us to “normalize” the Iranian regime. Secretary of State Clinton said it well: “I don’t know that it gives much comfort to someone living in a country that Iran has vowed to destroy—that it is one year or three years.”
Iranian threats go beyond their enrichment program. The Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the main terror instrument of Iran, seeks to use Iran, Somalia and Yemen as platforms from which to control key Middle East oil transport routes, such as the Straits of Hormuz. As energy expert Gal Luft has explained, “Whoever controls the world’s oil supply controls transportation. Whoever controls transportation controls the world’s economy.”
As part of this effort, tankers and freighters are captured on the high seas and held for ransom —a form of terrorism. The pirates from Yemen and Somalia are not simply unemployed fishermen turned robbers; Iran is exploiting and using such piracy for its own political advantage. (See my
“Overcharged”: When You Fill Up Your Tank This Summer” May 10, 2010, Hudson Institute.)
The EMP Threat
Iran could do severe indirect damage with its ballistic missiles. From the sea, Iran could launch rockets to detonate a nuclear warhead some 70 miles above the earth’s surface. This would create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). In the case of Israel, an EMP attack with even a small warhead would bring the country’s economy to a halt.
A 2005 Congressional Commission concluded that an EMP attack against the United States could effectively shut down wide swaths of the US economy. Millions would perish in a short period. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, chairman of a key military subcommittee, pointed out that such an attack could be made without attribution, thus undercutting the system of deterrence. (Mr. Bartlett secured passage in the House of legislation protecting the US electrical grid from EMP. The bill then languished in the US Senate.)
An Iranian freighter could attack from the sea with a nuclear-armed missile. An airburst over New York City would kill and injure millions, furthering Iranian President Ahdemenijad’s vision of “a world without America.”
The policy response
Too many countries fail to take this threat seriously. US policy regarding Iran consists mainly of economic sanctions. Some suggest we can rely on nuclear forensics — determining the origin of an exploded nuclear device through sampling. However, we lack the capability to do this reliably. It is also hoped negotiations will secure agreement to halt the Iranian uranium enrichment process, reducing the supply of potential nuclear weapons grade material.
Both sanctions and a mysterious “internet worm” have slowed Iranian activity, buying us time. But time for what? The negotiations cannot fundamentally change the nature of the regime in Tehran.
A policy of engagement — negotiations plus sanctions — is based on the assumption that the current Iranian regime can be reformed or at least modified. Our current policy assumes Iran has some “grievance” or “needs” that, if resolved or met, would end its campaign of supporting terrorism and pursuing the nuclear option. How realistic is this assumption?
· Iran is at war with many of the nations of the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan, where Iranian-sponsored terrorist forces are killing US soldiers.
· The regime now has ballistic missiles that are capable of reaching Western Europe.
· They have test-launched missiles in an EMP mode.
· They have created puppet military forces with Hezbollah and Hamas — a threat to both Lebanon and Israel.
· Iran is reported to have made arrangements to ship to Venezuela missiles such as the Shahab 3 which can target Miami from Caracas.
· According to newly released testimony of the Israeli intelligence community, Iran is roughly a year away from being able to build a nuclear device from the point in time it decides to do so.
A majority of Congress supports regime change in Iran — as it did in Iraq, for similar reasons. In the absence of regime change happening anytime soon, however, it is imperative that the US buy insurance. That would include missile defenses capable of defending the CONUS from EMP or other missile threats, especially those emerging from our coastal and maritime regions. The recent related proposal (on NRO) by IFPA President Robert Pfaltzgraff and former SDIO Director Hank Cooper has great merit. It is also critical as part of an overall strategy to protect the US from EMP attacks. In that light, the Senate should pass the grid protection act which the House unanimously approved last year.
It is a pointless diversion to ask what it is we must do to engage the mullahs in Tehran if the objective is to treat them as one of the “normal” states in international commerce. Likewise, the push for a Palestinian state, as a means of settling “grievances” within the Islamic world, is a diversion, a smokescreen for the aims of the Iranian state terrorists and their allies. This “grievance” continues to be used as an excuse for mass murder by the mullahs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Even if sanctions significantly delay the Iranian search for sufficient nuclear weapons fuel, they do not deal with Iran’s status as a state sponsor of terror. The current negotiations are aimed primarily at Iran’s enrichment facilities, not its rocket systems or other weapons of terror. This narrow focus is based on the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as implemented by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency. But this whole structure assumes a willing and compliant NPT member state, which Iran is not. It is therefore heartening to see that some key figures in the European Union are calling for even tougher sanctions as a means of dealing with not only Iran’s nuclear program, but its sponsorship of terror and its abominable record on human rights.
Iran is indeed a lead partner in the axis of evil. Terrorism and murder are twin policies with which its leadership is wedded. They see themselves as being directed by Allah himself to do this. Nuclear weapons would be a horrific tool in the hands of such a regime but a tool they see as indispensable to reaching their goals.
US policy needs to be oriented toward hastening the end of the regime — a goal shared by many of its own people, led by the Green movement. In the final analysis, that is the key to eliminating this form of totalitarian terror from Iran. This would markedly improve the prospects of peace in the Middle East and with it protect and enhance US security.