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IRAN'S 'UNKNOWNS': FACE THE FACTS
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
March 15, 2006

March 15, 2006 -- REMEMBER the "unknown unknowns"? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used the phrase in 2003 in the context of the controversy over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Years later, the Bush administration is still paying a political price for basing its case for liberation on those "unknown unknowns."

It was always clear that the only way to find out whether Saddam had WMDs was to topple him and seize control of his secrets; there was always the possibility that no WMDs would be found.

Yet the case for getting rid of Saddam had little need of those "unknown unknowns." That Saddam might have had WMDs in March 2003 was neither here nor there. It was an established fact that he had used WMDs against Iran and his people on many occasions. It was also clear that a regime like his could at any time revive a WMD program.

At the time, there were enough "known knowns" that had nothing to do with WMDs to justify toppling Saddam a hundred times over. To reduce the issue to WMDs was a mistake.

The Bush administration may now be moving toward a similar mistake in the case of Iran. The "unknown unknowns" here concern Iran's alleged project to develop nuclear warheads.

More than three years of Gaston-Alphonse diplomacy between Tehran and the European Union trio of Britain, Germany and France has shown that this "unknown" won't become known through routine negotiations. Tehran insists it isn't developing nuclear weapons; the EU wants it to provide evidence that it isn't, or to confess that it has been lying.

Imagine that Tehran did admit to lying, and even produced evidence that it had stopped the program it had always said it didn't have. Would anyone trust a regime that admits it had been lying for two decades? What believable guarantee could the Islamic Republic make that it wouldn't continue a clandestine program?

In fact, there are only two ways to settle the matter for sure. One is for Iran to do what others (including South Africa and Ukraine) did: invite the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to help wind down and dismantle its nuclear program. But anyone with knowledge of Iranian politics would know that the regime is unlikely to take to this.

Which leaves us with option No. 2: regime change. A new Iranian regime could either show that there was no weapons program or, if one was found, do as South Africa and Ukraine did.

Three questions then arise.

First, are there enough "known knowns" to justify regime change in the eyes of the Iranian people?

Yes. The Islamic Republic remains one of the worst violators of human rights in the world. Proportional to its population, it holds more prisoners of conscience than any other nation. It leads the world in number of people executed for political reasons on false charges of moral and other "deviations."

The Islamic Republic denies the Iranian people the right to form trade unions and political parties and to field candidates of their choice in elections. It limits the nation's political life to a few hundred individuals, all from the same ideological stable. It bans much of Iran's literary and cultural heritage.

The international community may dismiss all that as "no business of ours." Fair enough; this brings us to the second question: What "known knowns" could justify regime change in the eyes of the international community?

Well, there is Tehran's desire to wipe Israel off the map "like a stain of shame on Islam's purity," to quote President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Next week Tehran will host a vast gathering of "rejectionists," including leaders of Hamas, the winner of the recent Palestinian elections. On the agenda is "an Islamic strategy to destroy the Jewish state and recover Palestine." The terror jamboree includes a seminar with more than 100 "scholars" from 40 countries to prove that "the Holocaust is a Jewish fabrication to generate sympathy for Israel," to quote Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the regime's rising ideological star.

The "international community" may dismiss all that as also "no business of ours," since the only target appears to be Israel. But then what about what the Islamic Republic is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, to mention just two examples of Tehran's attempt at exporting its Khomeinist ideology?

Tehran has also revived contacts with dissident Shiite exiles from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. And last December Tehran prompted radical Shiites in Kuwait to form a party to oppose "American-inspired democratization."

Last August, Ahmadinejad presented Iran's parliament (the Majlis) with his government's action plan - preparing for a clash of civilizations between Iran-led Islam and the United States-led West. He has dismissed the Arab states of the Gulf as "petrol stations, not real countries," and called for an "Islamic revolution" in Egypt and North Africa.

Tehran is also using its control of Hezbollah to frustrate Lebanon's hopes of democratization. Last month, Ahmadinejad committed Tehran to supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's beleaguered regime against its "internal and external enemies." The immediate effect was a hardening of Syria's resistance to the U.N. investigation of the murder of former Lebanese Premier Rafiq Hariri.

One thing is certain: The Khomeinist regime is determined to reshape the region and, if possible, the world after its own fashion - and will use whatever it takes, including a nuclear arsenal, to pursue its design. For those who dislike that design, the only option is regime change in Tehran.

Which brings us to the third question: Does anyone have the stomach for such an enterprise?

Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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