Sending a Strong Message to Iran
"Iran … said today it has arrested several suspected members
of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network," reads a recent wire service
article. Unfortunately for the regime in Tehran, this may be a
classic case of Too Little, Too Late.
If any nation is a poster child for the Axis of Evil, it's Iran.
Its government combines repressive Islamic fundamentalism with
chemical and biological weapons and robust support for some of the
world's worst terrorist groups, including senior al Qaeda
operatives responsible for the Saudi Arabia bombings.
It's no wonder the White House recently broke off
political-military talks with Tehran and has been debating how best
to handle this nefarious regime.
This re-evaluation of U.S. policy makes sense. We're dealing, after
all, with a country officially labeled by the State Department as
"the most active state sponsor of terrorism" in the world. Worse,
the CIA says Iran is the country most actively pursuing weapons of
mass destruction today. According to the Bush administration,
Tehran could become a nuclear power within five years.
Nearly 25 years after Iranians seized the American embassy and
started exporting fundamentalist Islam, it's time we persuaded Iran
to change course.
Many U.S. officials consider Iran's religious leaders the founding
fathers of modern Islamic terrorism. According to the State
Department, they've been arming Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestine
Islamic Jihad for years, as well as training them and giving them
sanctuary. Continued support for these groups is sure to undermine
hopes for the just initiated Middle East "road map."
Though these groups focus much of their evil energy on Israel,
they've also attacked American interests repeatedly. The bombings
of the marine barracks in Lebanon, the American embassy in Beirut
and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia -- all killed
Today, U.S. officials say, Iran harbors members of al Qaeda,
including Osama bin Laden's son, Saad, and the masterminds of the
bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Iran also may have trained al Qaeda operatives now active in
Yes, Iran has signed the Biological Weapons Convention, the
Chemical Weapons Convention and the Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty. But that hasn't stopped it from pursuing the very weapons
these agreements ban. One CIA report says Iran "has stockpiled
blister, blood and choking agents." And, U.S. officials report, it
has begun accelerating its nuclear weapons program at its
clandestine uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. The CIA says its
ballistic missile arsenal is among the largest in the Middle East,
and missiles with intercontinental range are on the drawing
In short, the linkage between terrorism and weapons of mass
destruction (and the means to deliver them) is irrefutable in
There is a glimmer of hope. Almost two-thirds of Iran's 65 million
people are under 30. With unemployment reaching 25 percent and
inflation at 20 percent, many of these young people want reform and
already have held protests demanding it. They want real democracy
and ties with the United States. Iran's president and parliament
are "democratically elected" but with one tiny proviso: The mullahs
have the final say in all matters of governance -- meaning reform
is tossed aside as a threat to the religious leaders' rule.
True, there are fissures in the regime's fundamentalist facade. But
can we afford to wait idly, merely hoping the regime will reform
itself, cast off terror and disarm? Probably not.
We should pressure the regime, just like we're doing with North
Korea and Syria. The U.N. Security Council should rule that Iran is
violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and consider
sanctions. Washington should urge nations that work with Iran
(especially those in Europe) to insist that Iran halt its support
for terror and destroy banned weapons. We also should support a
Radio Free Iran and Iranian opposition and democratic dissident
groups who can serve as agents of change from inside and outside
Iran may be the most vexing and dangerous challenge in the Axis of
Evil. It borders Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Central Asia and the
Caucasus -- all areas prone to instability. It's increasingly
capable of causing a lot of trouble in its region and beyond. We
should waste no time in sending a strong message to Iran to reform
its government, renounce its support for terror and destroy its
weapons of mass destruction.
Brookes, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense,
is a senior fellow for national security affairs at The Heritage
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire, Ran in the 5/14 New York Post