The Meaning of Iranian Inspections

Now that Iran says it will allow outside experts to inspect its nuclear sites, it might behoove other governments to listen to the words of an expert inside Iran. In a public session of the Iranian Parliament on Nov. 24, Ahmad Shirzad, a deputy from the city of Isfahan, attacked the regime's nuclear policies, provoking a controversy that has not yet died down.

Mr. Shirzad is no novice in these matters. The son of President Ali Khatami remarked once that "If there are three persons in Iran able to address atomic questions from a specialist point of view, Mr. Shirzad is undoubtedly one of them."

In the course of his lengthy speech, Mr. Shirzad revealed that the regime had constructed a vast underground laboratory in Isfahan, 50 meters below the ground. He specifically referred to centrifuges and suggested that the underground facility covered more than 20,000 square meters, an enormous area. This is consistent with other information about covert Iranian weapons projects; there is another large underground facility near the city of Parchin, where the Shah started an industrial research and development operation.

Mr. Shirzad went on to spell out the effect of the covert nuclear program, and Iran's unceasing support for the terror network that is killing Westerners all over the world. Iran, he said, had been made into a pariah country, its image changed from "a popular, peace-seeking, egalitarian society based on justice, into a hub for totalitarianism, disdain for human rights, violence, support for international terrorism in search of weapons of mass destruction and alienated from its own people." Not a bad summary of the mullahtocracy.

Mr. Shirzad was instantly silenced, and is now awaiting the inevitable charges from the regime's Islamic tribunals. Until the Western world--above all the United States--decides to support democratic revolution in Iran, the mullahs will continue to oppress their own people and plot the death of outsiders. Mr. Shirzad is destined to join the ranks of thousands of brave critics of the regime who have one glorious moment of protest and are then consigned to the regime's torture chambers.

Alas, there is no sign that the West is willing to accept the truth about Iran, and therefore the imperative for action. Instead, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell pronounced himself "very happy" with a feeble U.N. criticism of Iran's nuclear program that bemoans Iran's longstanding violation of its international agreements but does not shut down the program. At the moment the world is trusting that the Iranian rulers have been true to their word, and suspended their uranium enrichment, despite testimony to the contrary from Mr. Shirzad and many others (I am told that they have actually speeded up the enrichment program), and despite the explicit statement by Iranian National Security Council head Hassan Rohani during a news conference on Saturday, "Our uranium enrichment program has been suspended voluntarily, temporarily, to build trust," he said, adding that "the issue of ending uranium enrichment is not in question and never has been nor will be."

As for the inspections promised yesterday, we are all diligently repeating the same mistake we made with Saddam Hussein, and the Iranian rulers are copying his methods. They have already moved much material from underground locations in and around Tehran (including special branches of the subway system) to mountain tunnels of the sort used by al Qaeda in Afghanistan, which is why the inspections may matter less than people realize.

Just as we gave the terror masters nearly a year and a half to scatter and hide the Iraqi weapons, and organize their Iraq strategy, so we are giving the Iranians precious time to pursue their weapons program and solidify internal terror.

This delay has also eased the pressure on the mullahs' nuclear team to organize an early test. Throughout the late summer and early autumn, the regime's leaders were demanding that their scientists (mainly from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, North Korea and China) go all out for a demonstrative nuclear test as quickly as possible. Now the pressure is off, and they can proceed at a more leisurely pace.

Meanwhile, Iran's clawprints are all over recent terrorist depredations. The Saudi press reported last month that the orders for the Nov. 8 bombings in Riyadh were given by al Qaeda's security chieftain Saif al-Adel by satellite phone from Iran. The Turkish press reported that the suicide terrorists who killed Turkish Muslims and Jews, and British diplomats, in Istanbul in the two attacks on Nov. 15 and the 21 were trained in Iran and in Iranian-controlled areas of Afghanistan; and on Dec. 2 the newspaper Hurriyet wrote that Turkish authorities had concluded that Aywan al Zarahiri, Osama's right-hand man, had given the orders. The Turks have announced they had captured the leader of the operation, just as he was trying to slip across the border into Iran. The Italian press has also reported the arrests of five persons in Italy and Germany, of whom the key figure, Sheikh Abderrazak, is an Algerian with proven connections to al Qaeda kingpin Abu Mussab al Zarkawi. Zarkawi is a Jordanian who, according to both Italian and German court documents, has long operated from Iran.

American officials at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad have recently been informed that Iranian intelligence operatives have taken over full control of the Badr Brigades, Iraqi-born Shiite fighters who spent the past 20 years in Iran around their religious leader, the Ayatollah Hakim (himself killed in a suicide attack as he came out of the main mosque in Baghdad, almost certainly because he ignored orders from Tehran).

If that is not sufficient to galvanize Western action, how about the discovery of Iranian diplomats in London taking late night pictures of a synagogue, and in New York at 1 a.m. snapping photos of the subway system? Do U.S. leaders think there is a new phototourism fad among the Iranian diplomatic corps?

Iran has long been the keystone of international terrorism--even the State Department admits that in its annual report--and it is on the verge of producing nuclear weapons. It is also uniquely vulnerable to President George W. Bush's announced strategy in the Middle East. The Iranian people are enthusiastically pro-American, hate their oppressive regime, and are fully ready for democracy. Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. does not have to invade Iran in order to liberate it. It needs only support the people, as it did the Serbs against Slobodan Milosovic, the Filipinos against the Marcoses, the Poles against Soviet Communism.

Iran is the ultimate litmus test of the seriousness of the Bush Administration, and in all likelihood its ability to conduct an effective campaign against the mullahs in Tehran will determine the outcome of the war against the terror masters. Time is decidedly not in U.S. favor.

Michael A. Ledeen holds the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

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