Nuclear talks, attacks on U.S. marines, and hostage taking

On November 4, 1979, terrorists, mislabeled “students” but under the control of Tehran, seized 52 Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held them hostage for 444 days. The regime used the hostage crisis against challenges by former allies like the Mojahedin who were more responsible than Islamists in bringing down the Shah and were also in favor of democracy over theocracy.

Hostage taking by Iran’s proxies implicates Hassan Rouhani. Recall seizure of Americans in Lebanon during the 1980s. Rouhani was one of the officials from the Iran–contra Affair who duped Washington. Jerusalem and Washington sold arms to Tehran, initially for release of American hostages in Lebanon and later for funds for contras in Nicaragua. Audiotape demonstrates Rouhani colluding with Manucher Ghorbanifar and an Israeli posing as an American, to exchange more and more U.S. weapons for fewer and fewer hostages released.

Islamic Jihad, headed by Imad Mughniyeh, acting under direction of Tehran and Hezbollah, launched terrorist attacks in 1983 on the Beirut-based multinational force. Mughniyeh sent bombers under orders from the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon, then under command of Hossein Dehghan, whom Rouhani appointed as defense minister.

On October 25, 1983, a suicide bomber detonated a water tanker at the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines. The National Security Agency intercepted Tehran’s strike order on September 26, 1983. It is unimaginable a high-level directive to the Guards could be sent without knowledge of their commander, Hossein Dehghan.

When Lebanese Shiites hijacked TWA Flight 847 on June 14, 1985, they demanded Israel free 766 prisoners for the American hostages. A slippery slope started with the exchange of American hostages for Israeli-held prisoners at a ratio of nearly one to 20. The “deal” slipped into American hostages for Israeli-owned, Washington-replenished arms [over $50 million], and then a direct exchange of American hostages for U.S. government-owned weapons to Iran.

If Washington acts so powerlessly in face of terrorism by Tehran, consider the fate of Iranian Mojahedin who helped Americans in Iraq; we promised to protect them if they disarmed; and then we left them to broken promises by Baghdad to protect them as we withdrew at the end of 2011. Now these members of the National Council for Resistance of Iran are victims of state-sponsored terrorism by Baghdad prompted by Tehran. But because states use proxies to hide hostage taking, analysts overlook them for nonstate actors like al Qaeda. IntelCenter published a map of 50 hostages held as of September 2013, but excluded seven held by Iraq, perhaps because states do not generally engage in such deeds. State sponsors take hostages, and Iraq belongs with Iran on that list.

Iran’s parliament confirmed Mostafa Pour Mohammadi as Minister of Justice in Rouhani’s cabinet. Memoirs of the late Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, former designated successor of Ayatollah Khomeini, then the Supreme Leader, state that Pour-Mohammadi represented the Ministry of Information on the “death committee” at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Montazeri identified Pour-Mohammadi as representative of the Ministry of Information in charge of questioning prisoners and saw him as a central figure in mass executions of prisoners, most of whom were members of the Iranian Mojahedin. Such an infamous human rights violator in the cabinet reinforces the need to place human rights on the table of bilateral Tehran-Washington talks likely to follow soon.

American weakness manifest from the Iran-contra Reagan era continues in a bipartisan manner with feckless response of the Obama administration to Baghdad’s murder of 52 Iranian Mojahedin who provided intelligence that saved American lives in Iraq, kidnapping of seven survivors, and threats against over 3,000 remaining Iranians under siege in a prison-like facility ironically called Camp Liberty. During my 2008 visit to Camp Ashraf Iraq, I saw intelligence for U.S. forces and letters from commanders attesting how Iranian Mojahedin saved American lives.

In the rush for a breakthrough in nuclear talks, forget not Tehran’s potential of talks to cover rise of a nuclear arms capability and breakout before it is too late to be discovered. Recall U.S. citizens who have suffered as a result of Tehran’s terrorist attacks and Iranian Mojahedin who are friends of America who are being tortured and readied for extradition and hanging in Iran, all as a result of the collusion of two rogue states—Baghdad and Tehran.

Tanter served on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. His latest book is "Arab Rebels and Iranian Dissidents."