Tehran's Return To Talking in Terror
by AMIR TAHERI
December 24, 2008
Explosive sticks are found in the biggest department store in Paris. A hitherto unknown group calling itself "Afghan Liberation Front" claims this as a message to President Nicolas Sarkozy. "Take French troops out of Afghanistan by February 2009 or else," it warns.
Thousands of miles to the east, Turkish police round up 38 would-be terrorists said to be planning operations for al Qaeda with the knowledge of "a neighboring country."
Further east, police discover car bombs designed to explode during ceremonies marking Bahrain's national day. "Had we not found these in time, there would have been mass carnage," a police spokesman warns. A group calling itself the "Bahrain Liberation Front" claims credit.
Those incidents follow Kuwaiti authorities' arrests last month of "potential terrorist operators" trying to infiltrate the emirate to plan "murderous attacks."
In every case, the finger of blame points at Tehran - where the radical revolutionary faction in power appears to be hardening its positions on most issues.
To be sure, there is no hard evidence that Tehran was involved in any of the incidents. The groups that have claimed credit or been blamed are unknown to terrorism experts and could be covers for others interested in causing mayhem in Europe and the Middle East.
Still, circumstantial evidence suggests Tehran is returning to its traditional use of terrorism as a tool of "international communication."
The bomb scare in France came just days after Sarkozy launched his harshest verbal attack against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Sarkozy said he would never shake hands with "that man" because of Ahmadinejad's pledge to "wipe Israel off the map."
That France intends to press confrontation over Iran's nuclear ambitions was further emphasized with the publication of a parliamentary report claiming that Iran will have the bomb by 2010. The report will make it hard for the Obama administration to embark on a policy of endless "direct dialogue" with Tehran.
Tehran reacted by canceling the official visit of Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki to Paris. Ahmadinejad called Sarkozy "that ridiculous little man" and said no one in Iran wished to shake hands with the French leader.
Was the Paris bomb scare, coming just before Christmas holidays, another part of Iran's response?
Tehran also has had reason to be angry at Ankara. Despite strong pressure from Iran over the years, Turkey has refused to downgrade its relations with Israel while hunting radical Islamists linked with Iran. More recently, Turkey angered Iran by allowing a number of Iranian military and security officials to slip across the frontier to seek asylum in the West.
So, were the terror plots in Turkey a message from Tehran to Ankara?
Tehran's anger at Bahrain was triggered earlier this month when the Bahrainis allegedly tried to trap an Iranian parliamentary delegation into "accidental" meetings with senior Israeli officials and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a regional strategic conference organized by the Bahraini government in Manama.
Bahrain's Foreign Minister, Sheik Khalid al-Khalifah announced his government's intention to create a broad forum in which all Middle East countries would work together for peace. That meant sitting the Islamic Republic next to its arch-foe, Israel.
Not surprisingly, Tehran canceled the visit of its parliamentary delegation, denouncing the Bahraini "treachery." Is it fanciful to imagine that the allegedly planned car-bombings were meant to be uncovered as a warning from Tehran to Manama?
Kuwait, meanwhile, annoyed the Iranian regime in October by signing a security agreement with Iraq and last month by initialing another accord regulating navigation at the head of the Persian Gulf, where the territorial waters of the two overlap with those of Iran. Tehran may view those Iraqi-Kuwait agreements as a sign that the two Arab countries intend to work together against Iranian hegemony.
Plus, the Kuwaitis over the last two years have emerged as the most vociferous Arab critics of Iran's nuclear ambitions. And they have imposed new restrictions on the activities of Iranian agents and Khomeinist preachers in Kuwait - recently even expelling a senior Khomeinist official.
Communicating displeasure through terror attacks (or the threat of them) was a routine tool of Khomeinist diplomacy until 1993 - when then-President Hashemi Rafsanjani tried to reorganize Iranian foreign policy on more traditional lines. That meant an end to the seizure of hostages, assassination of exiled opponents in foreign countries and terror operations aimed at Arab and European nations that earned Tehran's displeasure.
Since then, Tehran's support of terror has been reserved for groups using violence either against Israel and America or (as in Pakistan and Afghanistan) against sectarian rivals of Shiism.
The recent incidents may indicate a return to terrorism as a core tool of Khomeinist diplomacy - which would be bad news for all concerned.