Politics & Policy

Terrorists Going Nuclear

Tehran's recent efforts add to their history as terror masters.

On February 1, an emergency session of the International Atomic Energy Agency is being convened to discuss potential solutions for how the world should deal with Iran’s nuclear mischief. Referring Iran to the United Nations for possible economic and other sanctions now appears certain to be the punitive measure of choice.

But neither an IAEA referral, nor U.N. economic, military, or political sanctions, nor Russia’s joint uranium-enrichment offer, nor threats of Israeli air raids against Iran’s nuclear installations will change the mindset and determination of a regime intent on holding the world hostage to its nuclear blackmail through delay, obfuscation and lies that buy its scientists the time they need to perfect nuclear fuel cycles and to duplicate key elements of bomb designs.

The time for talk and negotiations is over.

Regime change is the only solution that will insure the world’s safety against clerics who believe their right to have nuclear weapons is an apocalyptic defense for a final confrontation with the West that would guarantee their survival. Until then, and until they have a critical mass of nuclear weapons to carry forth their maniacal plans, they will bide time with a menacingly effective outsourcing strategy to hold their enemies in check–fingerprint-less state-sponsored terror.

The necessity of thwarting the use of untraceable terrorism as an offensive strategy for redressing policy imbalances, not the necessity of repealing Iran’s right to civilian nuclear power, is why the world can never allow Tehran to have access to materials that could one day be converted into radiological “dirty” bombs, or shaped into nuclear warheads atop ballistic missiles that could launch electromagnetic pulse attacks.

Data presented to member states of the IAEA’s governing board this week will offer sufficient reason for reconsidering any misguided notions about what Tehran intends to do with its enrichment program. The data will include evidence that much-higher-efficiency centrifuges than are needed for civilian energy purposes are at the heart of Iran’s uranium-enrichment efforts.

Questions will be raised about what Tehran did with blueprints, which it obtained from the A. Q. Khan nuclear black-market ring, for shaping uranium metal in ways suited only for weapons use. Nuclear warhead designs for Tehran’s ballistic missiles found on Iranian computers by U.S. intelligence will also be evidenced–collectively enough data to justify every effort to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions and to defang its policy of invisibly sponsoring terror.

Untraceable Terror Masters

Fingerprint-less terrorism as a state policy tool will not be easy to uncover or to combat. Imagine for a moment that a state seeking to redress strategic imbalances in the quantifiable military threats it faces from larger powers decides to train a new battery of terror masters. They move as businessmen and women, as mothers with families, as low-level functionaries in embassies–in short, as people not worthy of intelligence monitoring by the West’s traditional antiterror infrastructure.

Imagine further that having successfully moved from the state’s nerve center to the localized target country, these infecting agents quietly observe and learn the personality traits, habits, weaknesses, and strengths of a community of naturalized or born citizens who periodically gather in mosques, local eateries, or other communal meeting places. Once-willing local proxies are identified, they are indoctrinated with a viral code of highly specific intelligence data about potential targets, methods of attack, how to assemble and deploy weapons locally, and a philosophically sustaining message from messianic figures who inspire them from afar.

The foreign agent then disappears. The newly formed terrorist cell structure to which the agent gave rise then proceeds to execute its mandate as a super cell, or it gives rise to sub-cells with specific but insulated instructions that enable long-term multiple-attack scenarios to materialize. Each super cell breaks the link to the sub-cell it gives rise to–no forensic evidence to tie one cell to another, no traceable links, no fingerprints.

The sponsoring state achieves its critical objective, redressing the strategic imbalance through destabilizing acts of terror or civil unrest, while remaining untraceable in the crimes it conceives and supports. Now imagine such fingerprint-less jihadist missions being carried out with a radiological “dirty” bomb or an electron bomb in the hands of terrorists willing to martyr themselves, while the impulse giving rise to their crime disappears with their murderous acts.

Evidence Points to a New Class of Global Warfare

A closer look at the calendar of events immediately preceding terrorist acts and Muslim unrest in Western countries over the past seven months offers provocative clues about Iran’s cunning in defining this new class of warfare on a global scale. The London transport bombings, the New Delhi terrorist attacks, and Muslim civil unrest that brought France to a halt for 20 nights were all executed at a time soon after each country had exerted significant pressure on Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Consider the following calendar data:

London Bombings, July 7, 2005

May 16, 2005: British Prime Minister Tony Blair argues that Iran should be hauled before the United Nations and sanctioned for its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

June 17 & 24, 2005: Dark-horse Iranian presidential candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, becomes the sixth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

June 23, 2005: British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, chairing the Foreign Minister’s meeting of G-8 nations two weeks before the full G-8 summit in London, dramatically ratchets up the pressure on Iran, chiding its quest for nuclear weapons and urging Tehran not to restart uranium enrichment at its Natanz and Isfahan facilities.

June 26, 2005: Ahmadinejad threatens openly to restart uranium enrichment, and soon thereafter threatens to “wipe Israel from the map,” among other declarations of hostile Iranian intent.

July 7, 2005: Multiple bombs are set off on London’s subways and buses at morning rush hour, killing 52 and injuring over 700. The perpetrators appear to be British Muslim citizens, organized in local cells loyal to al Qaeda. MI5 and MI6 intelligence analysis suggests there may have been foreign support for the terrorist attacks.

July 21, 2005: A repeat performance of the bombings takes place, this time with dud bombs that gave the impression of copycat crimes. A month after the first London transport bombings, Iran restarts its nuclear-enrichment facilities at Isfahan on 8 and 10 August 2005.

Coincidence? Or purposeful warning shots? Perhaps there was no correlation between Britain’s harsh reaction to Iran’s nuclear intent in the months leading up to and just after Ahmadinejad’s election, and perhaps the British Muslims charged with killing their fellow citizens three weeks after Ahmadinejad was elected had no foreign influences over their actions. But in a country known for its extreme tolerance of the wildest hate-spewing Islamist personalities, the timing of the July 7 attacks, predicted and rationalized for years because of Britain’s unwavering support for U.S. policies in Afghanistan and then Iraq, doesn’t seem like a coincidence.

The pattern of a foreign power either pressuring Tehran, or even reversing a previously friendly stance to pressure the mullahcracy on its nuclear plans, repeated itself again when, just months after taking a hard line against the Iranian nuclear program, France and India also suffered Muslim violence and terrorist attacks.

Indian Terrorist Attacks, October 29, 2005

July 18, 2005: Washington and New Delhi sign a Global Partnership pact allowing India access to U.S. nuclear technology that had previously been banned because New Delhi had refused to sign onto conditions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The move, which requires U.S. congressional approval, is widely seen as an effort to show how the U.S. can help to responsibly develop a civilian nuclear program in a developing country, a message squarely aimed at Tehran’s mullahs.

August 8 & 10, 2005: Iran resumes uranium enrichment at its Isfahan nuclear plant, in direct contravention of its international commitments under the NPT.

September 15, 2005: Ahmadinejad, speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, makes Iran’s nuclear intent clear–the Islamic republic has a right to develop its civilian nuclear capabilities and will not answer to those who confront him with evidence of an intent to weaponize highly enriched uranium and plutonium stocks.

September 24, 2005: Framing its resolution as a matter of international peace and security, the IAEA’s board of governors votes by 22 to 1 with 12 abstentions to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for failing to comply with NPT terms. The significance of the resolution’s passage is that for the first time, two previously staunch defenders of Iran’s right to develop its civilian nuclear facilities, France and India, side with the United States to vote against Iran, and two client-states, Russia and China, abstain from the vote, having vetoed any efforts to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council a year earlier.

October 29, 2005: With eerily similar timing to the London bombings–nearly a month after intense pressure is applied to Tehran to comply–three bombs go off in residential districts of New Delhi that kill 61 and injure 188 as the Hindu Diwali festival is about to begin. The meticulously planned and executed attacks are blamed on Kashmiri separatists from Lashkar-e-Taiba (whose links to al Qaeda are well known). With senior al Qaeda leaders residing comfortably in the confines of the Pasdaran’s safe houses, very little imagination is required to connect dots that Tehran would rather not see connected about its potential complicity in such acts of fingerprint-less terror.

The reasoning behind such an attack, however, was crystal clear. New Delhi’s decision to vote against Iran at the IAEA meeting politically shocked Iran. It was perceived as the ultimate betrayal: Tehran had offered a $5 billion Iran-India pipeline deal and $22 billion natural gas deal that would bring long-term stability to India’s energy needs. India, instead, chose to side with the Great Satan in the loftily named “U.S.-India Global Partnership” that would send U.S. nuclear technology to India to help it develop its civilian nuclear reactors.

Muslim youth riots throughout France, October 27, 2005, to November 17, 2005

October 27, 2005: Two days before New Delhi is attacked, a seemingly innocuous incident in a Parisian suburb involving north African Muslim youth and French police turns into Jacques Chirac’s worst nightmare when riots erupt and spread like wildfire throughout 274 different municipalities in France over the next 20 nights. One hundred and twenty-six police officers are injured, over 8,900 vehicles are torched, and nearly 2,900 arrests are made during a three week period that essentially brings the French nation to a grinding halt politically, economically, and socially–perhaps not terrorism in the defined sense, but the effect on France’s national government and political identity is devastating.

France, too, sided with the U.S. in the September IAEA vote. The riots that besieged it for 20 days and nights were by all accounts meticulously planned, coordinated, and provisioned logistically through a countryside warehouse supplying gasoline and kerosene pipe bombs as if it were churning out Peugeot automobiles. The work of a ragtag group of youthful Muslim zealots acting on their own? Or a state that had outsourcing infrastructure at the ready to take advantage of an incident rooted in the culture clash brewing in France’s Arab and Muslim communities for decades?

Judging by Jacques Chirac’s comments last week, it would seem he doesn’t consider what happened to his country was not a coincidence. He warned Tehran that France would not hesitate to use its own nuclear arsenal against any nation that sought to destabilize it, whether with nuclear weapons or by any other means.

If the pattern that emerges from the calendar analysis above is accurate, an attack against Germany, the only member of the EU-3 negotiating with Iran for an amicable settlement that has not suffered Islamist violence, cannot be far off. On January 13, 2006, newly elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited President George W. Bush at the White House and emerged with a unanimous declaration condemning Tehran for its nuclear ambitions. Germany, under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, had previously been opposed to Washington’s heavy hand in dealings with Iran.

On Saturday, Germany’s interior minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, validated the concern expressed herein about the nexus between state sponsors of terror and their execution squads when he said, “The question is probably no longer whether there’ll be an attack with a dirty [radiological] bomb; the question is when and where it’s going to happen.” He went on to cite the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections with support from Iran’s nuclear-toting clerics as the type of nexus the West would have to deal with in the future to insure its security.

Failure of Imagination

America’s greatest failure in the years leading up to the September 11 attacks was a failure fully acknowledge that our enemies might be creative–that jets could be turned into flying missiles with suicide squads in the cockpits, or that box cutters could become lethal weapons.

No nation can afford to make that mistake again.

Dealing with untraceable state-sponsored terrorism will not be easy. Evidence of complicity or guilt will not present itself in legally rigorous or transparent terms. Neither should we so willingly sit by as the seeds of our destruction are sewn by regimes and their agents whose deeply held historical animosities prepare them to stop at nothing to redress real or perceived strategic imbalances.

In Iran’s case, the international community has not yet mustered the resolve to do what needs to be done–to devise a cogent strategy aimed at removing the mullahs from power. The world community, which has tried every diplomatic option since Iran’s clandestine program became apparent in 2002, has suffered the ignominy of not knowing which of the two governments in Tehran, the mullahcracy led by Ayatollah Khamenei or the democracy it coerces, contains and controls, it should deal with. Now that Iran is led by the firebrand Ahmadinejad, democracy has no voice and there is no ambiguity about where the mullahcracy stands–Tehran should be dealt with decisively.

Washington, which never believed in any of the diplomatic options tried by Germany, France, and later Britain, has military options available that will incinerate Iran’s nuclear facilities without much collateral damage. But in the process, such a unilateral military step will destroy what is left of America’s goodwill and credibility in the world.

What to do?

Sanctions will be tried, but they won’t work unless they are global and aimed at what undergirds Tehran’s clerics–the currency of oil. To go nuclear, Iran needs a lot of money. With the world’s second largest oil reserves and a need to modernize and expand its oil pumping and distribution infrastructure, it also needs a lot of equipment and expertise it does not have at home.

Its contracts with Russia (from whom it buys weapons), India (which sells it refined crude products), and China and Japan (both of whom Iran sells large volumes of oil and gas) all provide strong bilateral incentives to maintain the status quo. For sanctions to work, Moscow, Beijing, and New Delhi will have to make some painful choices. At this writing, India is going to abstain, and Moscow and Beijing will vote to refer Iran to the UN Security Council in deference to the US. Pending presentation of evidence against Tehran, either Moscow or Beijing will likely veto any later effort to sanction Tehran.

The military options are not attractive either, unless Washington and its allies conclude the Iranian state is really about to launch an offensive strike against, say, Israel. Demolishing Iran’s nuclear facilities through a preemptive Israeli air strike would do little to stop the program, since Tehran learned from the 1981 air raid which flattened Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor that dispersing key elements of the program, hiding most of them deeply below ground, was one way to make air attacks more difficult. Assassinating Iranian scientists or making attempts to hack into their nuclear computer software infrastructure are not considered debilitating moves that could stop the program’s development.

A massive air campaign, which only the U.S. could launch, could require attacking as many as 100 sites, destroying a good part of Iran’s air force before attacking its facilities, and causing a lot of collateral damage. Iran’s retaliation could be to close the Straits of Hormuz and force a showdown with America’s naval forces. Iran would probably manage to get a handful of ballistic missiles in the air. No Gulf country wants a nuclear Iran, but neither do they need another Gulf war.

All of which leaves Washington policymakers to consider a hybrid solution: encouraging an internal uprising against the Iranian theocracy buttressed by the threat of unprecedented use of force with a new class of U.S. weapons that would selectively but completely destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Tehran has masterfully conducted a destabilizing guerilla war against U.S. interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is time for Washington and its allies to return the favor by enabling an equally capable insurgency force to rise up inside Iran–students, average workers on the street, even sympathetic police forces and army officers–to coalesce into a truly revolutionary force aimed at overthrowing the clerics.

The insurgency force could target Iran’s vital infrastructure systems. Shutting down parts of Tehran’s electricity grid, or having truckers stall their vehicles en masse on Tehran’s streets, or flooding Iran’s airwaves with radio messages, or taking over rail lines moving critical supplies to Iran’s military and nuclear installations could all play a role in unnerving the clerics while creating the conditions that would bring hundreds of thousands of demonstrators out into the streets of Iran’s biggest cities. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of November 2004, or Georgia’s Rose Revolution of November 2003, would pale in comparison to what is bubbling up under Iran’s theocratic veil.

The ensuing bloodless revolution would give Iran back to its people, free the world of its maddened rulers’ nuclear threats, and enable the West to help build Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in a verifiable and accountable way, much in the same way that the U.S. has agreed to assist India. Iran would also then be free to pursue what is innately ingrained in the minds of its people–democracy, freedom, and liberty for all.

Mansoor Ijaz is chairman of Crescent Investment Management

Mansoor IjazMansoor Ijaz is an American hedge-fund manager and venture capitalist. He is founder and chairman of Crescent Investment Management Ltd, a New York investment firm that operates a proprietary trading ...


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