Iranian Chess Games of Terror and War
Iranian Chess Games of Terror and War
The 11th century Persian poet Ferdowsi describes a visiting Raja who delivered a gift to the Persian king: an unknown game with pieces carved out of ebony and ivory: “Oh great king,” he announced “fetch your wise men and let them solve the mysteries of this game. If they succeed, my master the king of Hind will pay tribute as to an overlord. But if they fail it will be proof that the Persians are of lower intellect, and we shall demand tribute from Iran.” The courtiers were shown the board, and after a day and a night in deep thought one of them, Bozogmehr, solved the mystery and was richly rewarded by his delighted sovereign. From that day, 1500 years ago, Iran has been playing chess with much wisdom from that day, and always with new and surprising moves.
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By Nir Boms and Shayan Arya
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A series of mysterious “accidents” have shaken Iran in the past months. In December, eight people, including foreign nationals (possibly North Korean nuclear arms experts), were killed in Yadzd in a steel plant explosion. The Ghadir steelworks factory was opened by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad some six months ago. According to reports in recent months, however, the Iranians are struggling to produce steel of the grade required for the construction of centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium.
This last explosion follows two blasts that occurred in Iran recently at sites linked to Tehran’s nuclear programme. Two weeks earlier an explosion hit in the northeast of Isfahan near where nuclear facilities are located. At the end of November, another explosion hit an Iranian missile-testing site near Tehran killing, among others, General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, who was said to have been working on Iran’s missile programme. These recent “accidents” may mark another tactical move in the “game” aimed at stopping the Iranian nuclear programme.
But Iran has some moves of its own. The Iranian Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee announced a military plan to close the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most strategically important shipping lanes, which carries about 30% of the world’s seaborne oil shipments. And while the world continues to follow these mega-moves, other strategies are being mobilised elsewhere.
When word of the Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir hit the news, many reacted with scepticism. For some western observers, the idea that an Islamic regime cooperated with Mexican drug traffickers, and the seemingly clumsy nature of the whole operation, cast doubt on the validity of the Obama administration’s claims. Amid the intense debate on Iranian intent and given past US intelligence failures and Iranian denials, this conclusion may appear unassailable. But is it?
Iran is located on one of the most important opium transit corridors, between producers in Afghanistan and consumers in Europe and beyond. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that nearly 60% of Afghanistan’s opium is trafficked across Iran’s border, and a large portion is seized by the Iranian government.
Before the Islamic revolution, Iran’s intelligence agency SAVAK kept a close eye on the drug trafficking and had extensive knowledge of its networks and operations. SAVAK was afraid that the money from drug trafficking would find its way to anti-Shah terrorist groups and thereby facilitate terrorist activities against the late Shah’s regime. After the fall of the Shah, SAVAK’s files and knowledge fell into the hands of Islamic radicals with a different objective in mind: financing a worldwide Islamic revolution.
Soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with the Ayatollah Khomeini’s blessing, the “Office of Freedom Movements” was created. Under the direction of Ayatollah Montazeri’s son Muhammad and Montazeri’s son in-law’s brother Mehdi Hashemi, the office’s primary objective was to strengthen allied groups abroad.
From the beginning, this office – whose members worked closely with Iran’s Intelligence Ministry – became involved in illegal smuggling in order to finance their operations. In a famous episode in 1980, Muhammad Montazeri was detained in Teheran’s Airport and his chartered plane was seized by the then-moderate government of Mehdi Bazargan. The authorities never revealed the plane’s contents, other than to state that it was full of smuggled goods which were headed for Libya.
Opposition to the operation came from both inside and outside Iran. Muhammad ended life in a MKO bombing operation, planned in the headquarters of the Islamic Republic Party. Mehdi Hashemi was later executed by the Islamic regime, presumably for the murder of Ayatollah Seyyed Abolhassan Shamsabadi, a pro-Shah and anti-Khomeini ayatollah in the City of Isfahan. It is a well-known fact that although he was guilty of the murder of Ayatollah Shamsabadi (a murder that was committed with an indirect fatwa from Khomeini), the charge was just a pretext for the real reason for his execution: blowing the whistle on National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane’s trip to Iran, which led to the exposure of Iran-Contra debacle.
However, other members of The Office of Freedom Movements survived and moved to the Intelligence Ministry, playing a key role in developing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign operations units. These gradually metamorphosed into the Al Quds unit. Al-Quds’ main mission was to facilitate Islamic movements abroad, particularly the Palestinian and Shiite groups in Lebanon.
Smuggling and drug trafficking remained the preferred means of financing operations for the Al Quds unit, and for good reasons: it ensured a constant flow of money from a seemingly endless supply of drugs from Afghanistan. It provided a measure of independence from the Iranian government and its inevitable bureaucracy. And most importantly, it provided a convenient means of deniability for the regime, which could always point an accusing finger at rogue elements or drug traffickers.
Al-Quds’ close involvement with drug trafficking was rumoured from the beginning, but the first Iranian journalist who talked about it publicly was Ahmad Zeidabadi, a journalist for Ettela’at. Zeibadi wrote an article implicating the deputy director of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, Saeed Imami, in the use of money from drug trafficking to finance operations abroad. Imami was later arrested and supposedly committed suicide while in custody.
Al-Quds forces were also active in the creation of the Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’a militia who had recently gained more political power in Lebanon. Last October, German police arrested two Lebanese citizens living in Germany after they transferred large sums of money to a family in Lebanon with connections to Hezbollah’s leadership, including the Shiite group’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah.
This episode began in May 2008, when police found 8.7 million euros in the bags of four Lebanese men who were about to depart from Frankfurt airport. A police search in the men’s apartment in Speyer, Germany, yielded an additional half a million euros. Hezbollah has been running a very sophisticated drug operation in South America, particularly in the tri-border region.
According to the US government, Hezbollah operates a drug trading route which stretches into South America and Western Africa, where a significant percentage of the population have Lebanese roots. These operations are headquartered in places like Brazil, where there are over 6 million people with Lebanese roots, and the Ivory Coast, where there are 80,000. The RAND Corporation estimates that Hezbollah gets $20 million of its funding a year from the Tri-Border Area or about one fifth of the estimated annual amount that Iran gives Hezbollah. The argument that contacts with drug traffickers are totally out of character with the Islamic regime simply doesn’t hold water.
The other argument – that this operation appears to be too clumsy and uncharacteristic of the Islamic regime’s operations – also fails under further scrutiny. Although it is true that the Islamic regime in Iran has successfully carried out over a hundred targeted assassinations of its opponents abroad, the operational track record of its operatives is far from efficient.
From the Khobar Towers Bombing in Saudi Arabia and AMIA bombing in Argentina, to the assassinations of dissidents such as Dr. Shahpour Bakhtiar, the late Shah’s last prime minister, and 1992 killing of Iranian Kurdish leaders in the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin, ample evidence was left behind, pointing directly to Iran.
According to the former FBI director, Louis Freeh, the evidence against Iran was so incontrovertible that the Islamic regime’s President Hashemi Rafsanjani admitted to King Abdullah, then the Saudi Crown Prince, that the Khobar attacks had been planned and carried out with the knowledge of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing of a community centre in Argentina led directly to Imad Fayez Mughniyah, the high-ranking member of Lebanese Hezbollah, and five high-ranking officials of the Islamic regime, one of whom was Ahmad Vahidi, the current Defence Minister who at the time of the bombing headed the Al-Quds unit.
In another case, German investigations following the September 17, 1992 assassination of three Iranian Kurdish leaders of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) in the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin, implicated Iran’s highest officials and members of the Iranian intelligence ministry in the massacre.
In the trial that followed the Mykonos Restaurant massacre, it was revealed that the supreme leader of the Islamic regime, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Former Minister of intelligence Ali Fallahian and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati had approved the massacre.
Ali Fallahian had put a high ranking member of the Islamic regime’s intelligence ministry, Abdol-Rahman Banihashemi, in charge of the operation. Banihashemi with the help of Kazem Darabi – a Berlin-based IRI Ministry of Intelligence undercover agent who was working as a grocer – recruited four Lebanese nationals, Youssef Mohamad El-Sayed Amin, Abbas Hossein Rhayel, Mohammad Atris and Ataollah Ayad for the killing. All four were members of Hezbollah.
The actual killing, according to the German court documents, was done by Abdol- Rahman Banihashemi and Abbas Hossein Rhayel. German authorities were even able to link the pistol and silencers used in the massacre to the Islamic regime in Iran.
Similarly, in the famous assassination of Dr. Shahpour Bakhtiar, the last Prime Minister of the late Shah of Iran, on 7 August 1991 in Paris, French authorities were able to prove that Iranian officials and intelligence ministry were directly involved with the Assassination of Dr. Bakhtiar and his assistant, Soroush Katibeh. One of the three assassins, Ali Vakili Rad, who was apprehended in Switzerland and extradited to France was sentenced to life in prison in December 1994. Ali Vakili Rad was released on May 19, 2010 and was given a hero’s welcome in Tehran Airport, after serving 18 years in jail.
In all these cases and more, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s terror operators left ample evidence to implicate their masters in their crimes. Evidence left behind in the Saudi ambassador assassination plot should not surprise anyone.
Iran’s reach and calamitous influence is far broader than the relatively narrow prism of the IAEA’s recent report on Iran’s race for the bomb. Since actions speak louder than words, even a cursory review of events can serve as a reminder of why the world needs to do more to limit the current Iranian regime’s capabilities. The alliance of Iran, affiliated terrorist groups, drug traffickers and religious fanatics is already established and operational, even without nuclear capabilities.
Chess masters love to demonstrate their skills in games where they play against multiple players simultaneously. In these games, they move from one game to the next, making their moves and defeating their opponents one after another. From Lebanon and Syria, to Iraq and Afghanistan, with its nuclear programme and terror tools, the Islamic regime in Iran seems to be engaging in the same multiplayer chess games against regional and global opponents such as U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as the international community.
But, unlike the multiplayer chess games of the old masters, where those who were playing against them could win or lose individually, those who are playing against the radical Islamic regime in Iran will either win or lose together. The Islamic regime seems to be fully aware of this and is using every tool at their disposal. It remains to be seen if the Islamic regime’s opponents will get their acts together or continue their individual games.[/three_fourth]