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General News    H3'ed 6/25/09

Iran Divided & the 'October Surprise'

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consortiumnews.com (A Special Report)
June 24, 2009

Iran's current political divisions can be traced back to a controversy nearly three decades ago when Iran faced war with Iraq and became entwined with U.S. and Israeli political maneuvers that set all three countries on a dangerous course that continues to this day.

In the election dispute now gripping the streets of Tehran, Iran is experiencing a revival of the internal rivalries born in the judgments made in 1980 and later that decade about how and whether to deal with the Little Satan (Israel) and the Great Satan (the United States).

Former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims he is the rightful winner of the June 12 presidential election, was part of the group (along with his current allies former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former House Speaker Mehdi Karoubi) that favored secret contacts with the United States and Israel to get the military supplies needed to fight the war with Iraq.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's current spiritual leader and the key supporter of reelected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was more the ideological purist in the early 1980s, apparently opposing the unorthodox strategy that involved going behind President Carter's back to gain promises of weapons from Israel and the future Reagan administration.

Khamenei appears to have favored a more straightforward arrangement with the Carter administration for settling the dispute over 52 American hostages seized by Iranian radicals in 1979.

In 1980, the internal Iranian divisions played out against a dramatic backdrop. Iranian radicals still held the 52 hostages seized at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran; President Jimmy Carter had imposed an arms embargo while seeking the hostages' release--and he was struggling to fend off a strong campaign challenge from Republican Ronald Reagan.

Meanwhile, Israel's Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin was furious at Carter for pushing him into the Camp David peace deal with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that required Israel returning the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for normalized relations.

Begin also was upset at Carter's perceived failure to protect the Shah of Iran, who had been an Israeli strategic ally. Begin was worried, too, about the growing influence of Saddam Hussein's Iraq as it massed troops along the Iranian border.

Upsetting Carter

Determined to help Iran counter Iraq--and hopeful about rebuilding at least covert ties to Tehran--Begin's government cleared the first small shipments of U.S. military supplies to Iran in spring 1980, including 300 tires for Iran's U.S.-manufactured jet fighters. Soon, Carter learned about the covert shipments and lodged an angry complaint.

"There had been a rather tense discussion between President Carter and Prime Minister Begin in the spring of 1980 in which the President made clear that the Israelis had to stop that, and that we knew that they were doing it, and that we would not allow it to continue, at least not allow it to continue privately and without the knowledge of the American people,"- Carter's press secretary Jody Powell told me in an interview.

"And it stopped," Powell said -- at least, it stopped temporarily.

Questioned by congressional investigators a dozen years later, Carter said he felt that by April 1980, "Israel cast their lot with Reagan,"  according to notes I found among the unpublished documents in the files of a congressional investigation conducted in 1992.

Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his possible reelection in 1980 to a "lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs."

Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski also recognized the Israeli hostility. Brzezinski said the Carter White House was well aware that the Begin government had "an obvious preference for a Reagan victory."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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