By RAY McGOVERN
The Iranian government is celebrating the capture of Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of a violent group called Jundullah (Arabic for Soldiers of God), which Tehran says is a terrorist organization supported by the United States, Great Britain and Israel.
Jundullah is one of several groups that have been conducting bombings and other violent attacks against Iran’s Islamic regime with the aim of knocking it off balance.
In a July 7, 2008, article for The New Yorker magazine, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh quoted Robert Baer, a former CIA clandestine officer who worked in South Asia and the Middle East for nearly two decades, as saying that Jundullah was one of the militant groups in Iran benefiting from U.S. support.
Hersh also reported that President George W. Bush signed an intelligence finding in late 2007 that allocated up to $400 million for covert operations intended to destabilize Iran’s government, in part, by supporting militant organizations.
Hersh identified another one of the militant groups with “long-standing ties” to the CIA and the U.S. Special Operations communities as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, which has been put on the State Department’s list of terrorist groups.
But Jundullah has been spared that designation, a possible indication that the U.S. government views it as a valuable asset in the face-off against Iran, or in the parlance of the “war on terror,” as one of the “good guys.”
Gen. Mizra Aslam, Pakistan’s former Army chief, has charged that the U.S. has been supporting Jundullah with training and other assistance. But the U.S. government denies that it has aided Rigi or his group.
Since his capture this week, Rigi has been weaving intricate, though inconclusive, stories about his contacts with American officials. According to Iran’s Press TV, Rigi said the United States promised Jundullah military aid in support of its insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Rigi described contacts in March 2009, claiming that U.S. representatives “said they would cooperate with us and will give me military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran."
Rigi asserted that the U.S. representatives said a direct U.S. attack on Iran would be too costly and that Washington instead favored supporting militant groups that could destabilize Iran.
"The Americans said Iran was going its own way and they said our problem at the present is Iran… not al-Qaeda and not the Taliban, but the main problem is Iran,” Rigi said, according to Press TV.
"One of the CIA officers said that it was too difficult for us [the United States] to attack Iran militarily, but we plan to give aid and support to all anti-Iran groups that have the capability to wage war and create difficulty for the Iranian (Islamic) system,” Rigi said.
Rigi added that the Americans said they were willing to provide support “at an extensive level.” However, in Press TV’s account, Rigi did not describe any specific past U.S. support for his organization.
Iran's security forces announced that they had arrested Rigi on Tuesday by bringing down his plane over Iranian airspace, as he was onboard a flight from the United Arab Emirates to Kyrgyzstan, where he said he was expecting to meet with a “high-ranking” U.S. official.
Rigi’s capture represents an embarrassment for Western and Israeli intelligence, which have tried to stir up Iran’s minorities, comprising almost half of the population. Jundullah contends that it is protecting the rights of Sunnis in Shiite-dominated Iran.
The unwelcome spotlight on Rigi and Jundullah threatens to bring out of the shadows a broader U.S. and Israeli strategy for regime change in Tehran, a goal that dates back at least to President Bush’s “axis of evil” speech in 2002.
According to this analysis, the fear about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon in a few years – if it decides to restart the weapons part of its nuclear development program – is largely a synthetic rationale for ratcheting up tensions, much as Bush’s claims about Iraq’s non-existent WMD were a pretext for regime change in Baghdad.
Under such a scenario, “good guy” terrorists like Jundullah could be enlisted for purposes other than simple violence and disruption. For example, they could be used to sabotage any favorable Iranian response to President Barack Obama’s efforts toward engagement.
And this precisely is what Jundullah did last October, right after the Ahmadinejad government gave tangible proof that it was ready to engage on the nuclear issue in response to Obama’s call for negotiations.
On Oct. 1, 2009, Tehran shocked virtually everyone by agreeing to send most (as much as 75 percent) of its low-enriched uranium abroad to be turned into fuel for a small reactor that produces medical isotopes.
Even the New York Times acknowledged that this, “if it happens, would represent a major accomplishment for the West, reducing Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon quickly, and buying more time for negotiations to bear fruit.”
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, gave Tehran’s agreement “in principle,” at a meeting in Geneva of representatives of members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, chaired by Javier Solana of the European Union.
Reversing the Bush administration’s allergy to talking with “bad guys,” Obama had sent Under Secretary of State William Burns to the Geneva meeting. A 45-minute tête-à-tête between Burns and Jalili marked the highest-level U.S.-Iranian talks in three decades.
Jalili also expressed Iran’s agreement to open the newly revealed uranium enrichment plant near Qum to international inspection within two weeks, which Tehran did.
However, on Oct. 18, 2009, Jundullah detonated a car bomb at a meeting of top Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders and tribal leaders in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan in southeastern Iran and mounted a roadside attack on a car full of Guards in the same area.
A brigadier general who was deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards ground forces, the Revolutionary Guards brigadier commanding Sistan-Baluchistan, and three other brigade commanders were killed in the attack; dozens of other military officers and civilians were left dead or wounded.
Jundullah took credit for the bombings, which followed years of lethal attacks on Revolutionary Guards and Iranian policemen, including an attempted ambush of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s motorcade as he drove through Sistan-Baluchistan in 2005.
The Oct. 18 attack – the bloodiest in Iran since the 1980-88 war with Iraq – came one day before talks were to resume at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna to follow up on the Oct. 1 breakthrough. The killings surely raised Iran’s suspicions about U.S. sincerity regarding better relations.
It’s a safe bet that the Revolutionary Guards went directly to their patron, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, with evidence that the West cannot be trusted. Khamenei issued a statement on Oct. 19 condemning the terrorists, whom he charged “are supported by certain arrogant powers’ spy agencies.”
The commander of the Guards’ ground forces, who lost his deputy in the attack, charged that the terrorists were “trained by America and Britain in some of the neighboring countries,” and the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards threatened retaliation.
A lower-level Iranian technical delegation did go to Vienna for the meeting on Oct. 19, but Iran’s leading nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili stayed away. The Iranians began to raise objections foreshadowing backsliding on their earlier commitment in principle to the export of most of their low-enriched uranium.
Still, since then, the Iranians have broached alternative proposals that seemed worth exploring — for example, sending for further enrichment smaller quantities of low-enriched uranium in stages.
However, the Obama administration has rejected these alternative proposals out of hand, reportedly at the instigation of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and neocon regional emissary Dennis Ross, whose apparent priority is to avoid anything that might strengthen Ahmadinejad.
In other words, despite the rhetoric about the need to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, regime change appears to remain the transcendent goal of neocon-lite Democrats at the White House and in Hillary Clinton’s State Department.
These neocon-lites seem to have adopted the benighted view that the Iranian regime will crumble, if enough outside pressure is applied.
Add to the mix, the constant harping about the “fraudulent” election last June and support for regime opponents who will not accept the election results, which non-propagandistic and reputable polls indicate Ahmadinejad really did win. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “US Media Replays Iraq Fiasco in Iran.”]
Oh, yes; “crippling sanctions” are also in the picture.
Tehran Still Ready to Negotiate
Despite these obstacles, Iran’s post-October 1 proposals on the nuclear issue strongly suggest that Tehran is still willing to negotiate. But it appears that Secretary Clinton and others inside the Obama administration, whether neocons or neocon-lites, don’t actually want a deal.
The way they seem to see it is that an agreement on the nuclear issue would make regime change that much more difficult.
Which raises the question of who provided Jundullah the kind of intelligence and direction that enabled the bloody attack of Oct. 1 — and why?
Cui bono? Who profits from the kind of violence that hardens the attitudes of the Revolutionary Guards and their patron Khamenei, and enables the West to portray them as reneging on the October agreement in principle.
Answer: Israel's right-wing government, the American neocons and others who won’t give up on long-cherished dreams of regime change in Tehran, which would then supposedly lead to a cut-off of Iran’s support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas.
The truth be told, few well-informed analysts in either the United States or Israel actually believe there is an imminent nuclear threat from Iran, which has encountered technical problems refining uranium even to low levels that are suitable for generating nuclear energy.
But that doesn’t stop the gamesmanship toward Iran anymore than the lack of WMD evidence stopped President Bush from whipping up an alarm about Iraq in 2002-03.
Does Secretary Clinton really expect to be taken seriously with her Rumsfeldian demand that Iran prove a negative — that it is NOT working on a nuclear weapon?
In a major speech last week in Doha, Clinton decried the fact that Iran “has refused to demonstrate to the international community that its program is entirely peaceful.” Remember when the Bush administration demanded that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein prove he didn’t have chemical and biological weapons?
In that same speech, Clinton let slip that Iran “doesn’t directly threaten the United States, but it directly threatens a lot of our friends, allies, and partners” — read Israel, which itself possesses an estimated 200-300 nuclear weapons in its undeclared arsenal.
Like other senior U.S. officials – and all major U.S. news outlets – Clinton forgets to mention that on Sept. 18, 2009, the IAEA member states formally voted to call on Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and submit its nuclear facilities to the same oversight that nearly all other nations do.
Israel issued an official statement that it “deplores” that vote, and U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies rejected the resolution, claiming that it unfairly singled out Israel.
In her Doha speech, Clinton insisted that it is the Iranian “nuclear weapons military program” that all should be concerned about. She bemoaned “the rise of influence and power by the Revolutionary Guard — which is really tragic.”
Well, Madam Secretary, you might want to talk to CIA Director Leon Panetta about putting the reins on Jundullah and other violent groups so as not to empower the Revolutionary Guards still further — unless the hardening of lines on both sides suits some grander purpose.
We know from official British documents (the “Downing Street Memos”) that, on July 20, 2002, former CIA chief George Tenet told the head of British intelligence that President Bush had decided to make war on Iraq for regime change and that the war would be justified by spreading fear that Saddam Hussein might give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.
The British intelligence chief, Richard Dearlove, explained to Tony Blair and his top national security officials that, according to Tenet, the intelligence would be “fixed” around the policy.
Not only full-scale neocons but also wannabe neocons like Secretary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice are now taking the same line and doing the same “fixing” about Iran.
Ambassador Rice recently charged that Iran is pursuing “a nuclear weapons program with the purpose of evasion.” Clinton professes to be “deeply concerned” over what she calls “Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
Clinton and Rice should check with National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, who is still using the subjunctive regarding the possibility of a restarted Iranian nuclear weapons program.
As for me, I’m deeply concerned at the widespread impression that the Secretary and others have fostered. A CNN poll last week indicated that 70 percent of Americans are in the same indicative mood, believing that Iran already has a nuclear weapon. That’s downright eerie — a flashback to Iraq.
If memory serves, that’s about the same percentage of Americans who were convinced that Saddam Hussein had WMD on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.
During her final year as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was racking up so many frequent-flyer miles jetting back and forth to Israel that wistful Arabs decided that the definition of “condoleezza” must be perpetual motion signifying nothing.
Now, her successor – joined by other senior U.S. officials – is engaged in similarly peripatetic endeavors.
Leon Panetta, National Security Adviser James Jones, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen have all visited Israel since January, and Vice President Joe Biden will be there next week.
Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is visiting Washington this week, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will arrive next month.
Perhaps, we should hope that this is just pointless whirling about, rather than something more serious. But these high-level meetings are occurring against a continued backdrop of U.S. and Israeli disdain for international law.
Senior American officials, dating back at least to the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal, deemed aggressive war to be a war crime. Although I don’t recall anyone rescinding the Nuremberg principles or amending the U.N. Charter, one hears cheerful talk from both American pundits and some U.S. officials that “everything is on the table” regarding Iran.
One asks: including another war of aggression? The answer: Don’t you know what “everything” means?
This is profoundly unsettling for those of us who thought that disdainful trashing of post-World War II agreements would stop when Bush and Cheney rode off into the sunset. Even if couched in the Orwellian language of “preventive” or “preemptive” war, “a public threat to engage in aggressive war” is itself a violation of the U.N. Charter. Does no one care?
Neocon pundits continue to stoke these fires. In Tuesday’s Washington Post, for example, columnist Anne Applebaum listed a number of utilitarian reasons why President Obama will not bomb Iran. (International law was not one.)
Applebaum suggests, though, that Obama’s “defining moment” could come when he is awakened at 2:00 AM by a call from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who tells him “Israel has just carried out a raid on Iranian nuclear sites. What then?”
“If that ever happened,” Applebaum writes, “I do hope that this administration is ready, militarily and psychologically … for an unwanted war of necessity.”
The message? Disregard the intelligence that doubts the Iranians are building a nuclear bomb: no, better still, “fix” it to suggest that they are.
Then, turn loose the Jundullahs to worsen tensions and to strengthen the hands of Iran’s hardliners who will cite violent provocations as proof that the United States is not acting in good faith; that will add to the impression of a gathering threat; next institute crippling sanctions to further ramp up the anger.
And be ready, in case Netanyahu starts something the United States will have to finish.
If this kind of scenario is allowed to play out, hostilities with Iran will make the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan look like volleyball games between Mount Saint Ursula and Holy Name high schools. Can President Obama be so naïve as to be unaware of the stakes here?
Ray McGovern was an Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.