For four decades, Iran’s mullahs have successfully practiced their “do-and-deny” tactic thanks to the indulgence, not to say cowardice, of Western leaders and the pathetic anti-Americanism of some Western pseudo-intellectuals. Pictured: Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left) and President Hassan Rouhani. (Image source: khamenei.ir)
How to take credit for a mischief you have committed but do not wish to own up to?
This is the dilemma Tehran apologists face when discussing the latest shenanigans in the region, including missile and drone attacks on Saudi oil installations.
On the one hand they want to take credit for the attacks and cast the Khomeinist regime as a mighty power capable of giving as good as it takes in a duel against the American “Great Satan.” They try to cast Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as the little Tom Thumb taking on Donald Trump as the giant of the folk tale.
On the other hand, they try to cast Iran as an innocent victim, highlight the sufferings of babies supposedly left without powdered milk and old women running out of medication.
Wrapping up that theme is the claim that the Islamic Republic has done absolutely nothing that merits sanctions, and that the latest attacks were the work of Yemeni Houthis, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraq’s PMF or even the army of djinns commanded by Zaafar al-Jinni from the 1001 Nights.
This double narrative is not limited to Tehran’s propagandists; it is also adopted by some Western commentators who, for reasons of their own, think that in any conflict between the United State and an adversary, the United States should automatically get the blame.
In the past couple of weeks, Iran’s state-controlled media have made ample use of op-eds and TV shows in which the “Blame America First” crowd celebrate the recent attacks on tankers and oil installations as Tehran’s legitimate response to American “pressures.”
The daily Kayhan, expressing the views of “Supreme Guide” Khamenei, devotes front page space to comments by Fareed Zakaria, a “Muslim American” TV anchor who claims that the Islamic Republic by “disrupting navigation, downing an American drone, the activation of surrogate forces and recent attacks on Saudi oil installations” has rendered Trump’s policy ineffective.
Kayhan also reports comments by Richard Haas, a former U.S. State Department official, who insists that Trump’s policy has failed and that Iran has shown its capacity to hit back where it hurts.
Raja News, run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), runs an interview with Reuel Marc Gerecht from Foreign Policy magazine, in which Gerecht calls Khamenei “the most successful Middle Eastern leader since World War II.”
Gerecht claims that with recent attacks on tankers and oil installations, Tehran “raises the middle finger at the United States. And two, it hits the Saudis, whom they [Iranians] loathe.”
Another IRGC site, Fars News, runs a similar analysis, this time from the Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research outfit funded by the American financier George Soros.
The official agency IRNA cites a CNN interview with Mohammad Javad Zarif, in which the Iranian Foreign Minister says “the olive branch” is on the table but warns that more tension is possible, implying that the latest attacks were at least inspired by Tehran.
Tehran’s Iranian-born apologists in the West also play the “we-did-it-but-we-didn’t-do-it” game. Persian-language radio and TV programs run by US, British and French governments host real or imagined experts who claim that while the attacks came in retaliation to Trump’s “maximum pressure,” the Islamic Republic knew nothing of them.
A former Khomeinist minister, based in London, attacks those who had depicted the structural weaknesses of Iran’s defenses by boasting about “the exactitude and effectiveness of the recent attacks on Saudi oil installations.”
A BBC Persian TV commentator says that in a recent airport encounter with Iranian travelers returning home, he joined them in cheering the recent attacks but then told them with a wink that “we shouldn’t let the world know that we did it!”
The history of taking credit for terrorist operations while denying involvement in them is as old as the Iranian Revolution itself.
In 1978, Khomeinist operators set an Abadan Cinema on fire and caused the death of over 400 people. The Supreme Leader, then in France, instantly blamed the Shah’s secret service SAVAK. It was not until 2003 that the Islamic Republic admitted that the fire had been the work of Khomeinist revolutionaries who had not realized that the emergency exits were all blocked.
In November 1979, when “students” raided the US Embassy in Tehran and seized its diplomats as hostages, Khomeini claimed that he knew nothing of it, but sent a special emissary supposedly to run the show.
Once he had realized that the Americans would do nothing, he claimed the embassy raid as “Manifest Victory” (“Fatah al-Mobin” in Arabic) and a sign that his brand of religion was to conquer the world.
That was the start of hostage-taking as a feature of Khomeinist diplomacy. For two decades, Tehran organized the capture of over 100 hostages from 22 countries, mostly Western. All the time, however, Tehran denied any involvement in hostage-taking operations but negotiated the release of the captives in exchange for money and arms.
More than two dozen attacks on foreign embassies in Tehran and the brief capture and beating up of numerous foreign diplomats in the past four decades have been blamed on “rogue elements” who were later honored and promoted within the regime. Of the 60 “students” who initiated the first hostage-taking operation, 40 rose to high positions including Vice President, cabinet minister, governor, IRGC general and ambassador.
Iranian agents killed 117 dissidents in 13 European countries, plus Turkey and Dubai, always taking credit and denying involvement.
For four decades, the mullahs have successfully practiced their “do-and-deny” tactic thanks to the indulgence, not to say cowardice, of Western leaders and the pathetic anti-Americanism of some Western pseudo-intellectuals.
Those Western leaders fell victim to the illusion expressed by President George H. W. Bush in his ridiculous phrase “goodwill begets goodwill”!
Western anti-American intellectuals who become apologists for the mullahs are victims of their inability to conceive of a situation in which, while America may be bad, its adversary may be worse.
Stalin signed his pact with Hitler because the Soviet Communist Party regarded “Imperialist” America as “arch enemy.” Some Western intellectuals hailed the pact for the same reason.
Then we had America versus the Third Reich. Later, America vs. the Soviet Empire, vs. the Vietcong and Khmer Rouge, vs. the Afghan Taliban, vs. Saddam Hussein. In every case, even if America was not the shining city on the hill, its adversary at the time was much worse.
Apologists for the Islamic Republic do not do it a service. By endorsing its illusions and shielding it against deserved criticism, they encourage its worst tendencies — tendencies that could cost Iran and the region more than they imagine.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.