Middle East Intelligence Bulletin

A monthly publication of the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon

  Vol. 1   No. 7

July 1999 

Lebanon Report
Lebanese MP Accuses Security Services of Complicity in Sidon Massacre
Judicial Council Sentences Geagea to Life in Prison . . . Again
Controversy Reignites over Captured IAF Pilot
Who Speaks for Hezbollah?
13 Lebanese Citizens Remain Illegally Imprisoned in Iraq
Israeli, SLA Officials Hold Secret Talks to Dismantle SLA

Middle East Report
The Greek-Iranian Defense Pact: Implications for Regional Security
Assad in Moscow: The Syrian Quest for Arms
Abortive Uprising in Iran
Bin Laden Prepares to Strike Again
The Long Arm of Saddam Hussein
Iraqi Opposition Groups Proliferate

Intelligence Briefs

Middle East MEIB Main Page

Executive Director
Ziad K. Abdelnour

Gary C. Gambill

Advisory Board
Rachel Ehrenfeld
Gil Feiler
Murray Kahl
Daniel Nassif
Daniel Pipes
Gary P. Ratner
David P. Steinman

Lebanon Report

Lebanese MP Accuses Security Services of Complicity in Sidon Massacre

Crime Scene
Investigators at the crime scene shortly after the killings
Conspiracy theories are a national pastime in Lebanon, so it is no surprise that the execution-style murder of three judges and a prosecutor in Sidon on June 8 has engendered a broad spectrum of potential culprits in the Lebanese imagination. That the various security agencies of the Lebanese government have still been unable to identify the two gunmen responsible for the killings has left the field of candidates wide open--in Lebanon, when there is no evidence, everyone is a suspect.

At first, the inability of internal security officials to find those responsible for a murder that occurred in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses was taken in stride by most Lebanese, who have grown quite accustomed to ineptitude at all levels of government. Some, however, are beginning to suspect that the total absence of hard evidence is itself the smoking gun.

Earlier this month, Lebanese MP Mustafa Saad held a news conference at his home in Sidon and accused "very senior security services" of masterminding the murders. According to Saad, Hassan Othman, the presiding judge of Sidon's Criminal Court who was killed in the massacre, was in charge of the investigation into a 1985 car bomb attack which severely injured Saad (who lost his eyesight) and killed his young daughter Natasha and several of his bodyguards. Saad said that a few days before his death, Othman told him he was about to formally charge "a number of Lebanese military personnel and civilians" for their alleged involvement in the failed assassination attempt. Saad said that he had evidence showing that army intelligence was responsible for the murders, though he declined to identify the individuals involved. He pointed out that street vendors who commonly park their vans outside the courtroom in Sidon were asked by security officials to remove them shortly before the murders. "Was it to facilitate the task of these services and kill the judges?" he asked.

Saad mocked reports that the two gunmen fled to the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. "Each time they are unable to identify [murderers], they say the perpetrators fled to the camp," he said. The government should not be allowed to shirk its responsibilities that easily. "In countries that respect themselves, such a crime would lead to the resignation of the government, and perhaps to more than that," said Saad.

"I wonder what the security agencies, numerous as they are, are doing, having failed to protect Sidon's supreme court," he asked rhetorically. According to Saad, Lebanon is becoming a "militaristic" society where the numerous security forces focus primarily on monitoring the activities of ordinary citizens rather than protecting the public. "Are they there only to flex their muscle or to eavesdrop on men and their wives?" he asked. Their job, he said is "not to interfere in matters that have nothing to do with security." 1

Shortly after the press conference, Interior Minister Michel Murr accused Saad of making "unfounded accusations against security agencies." Coincidentally (or perhaps not), on July 6 Lebanon's Central Security Council ordered the creation of a new command center in Sidon to coordinate the work of the four security services--the army, Internal Security Forces, the Surete Generale and State Security--in the investigation.2 Whether this new command center was created to find new evidence or to conceal it remains to be seen . . .

  1 Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 5 July 1999.
  2 The Daily Star, 7 July 1999.

Back to Top

Judicial Council Sentences Geagea to Life in Prison . . . Again

Samir Geagea in court
Geagea in court
Former Lebanese Forces (LF) militia commander Samir Geagea was sentenced to life in prison with hard labor on June 25 after being found guilty by Lebanon's five-man Judicial Council of "instigating and indirectly participating in" the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karami in 1987. A second defendant, Army Brigadier Khalil Matar, was given 10 years in prison with hard labor for accompanying the LF agents who detonated the remote-controlled bomb that blew up the helicopter carrying Karami. Nine other former LF members were convicted in absentia: Ghassan Touma, Ghassan Menassa and Afif Khouri were sentenced to death; Antoine Elias Elias (alias Tony Obeid), Asaad and Elias Kassab, Gaby Touma, Mikhail Saneh and Georges Zoghbi were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.

Geagea is already serving three life sentences for the assassination of National Liberal Party leader Dany Chamoun in 1990, the assassination of former LF official Elias Zayek in 1989, and the attempted assassination of former Defense Minister Michel Murr in 1991, as well as a 10-year sentence for attempting to rearm the LF in 1994. He has been incarcerated in an underground cell at the Ministry of Defense since February 1994

Judicial Council
Judge Mounir Honein (third from left), announcing the verdicts
The Judicial Council is a special court for national security and political cases designated by the Lebanese cabinet. It consists of five judges (Mounir Honein, Ralph Riashi, Issam Abou-Alwan, Ahmad Mouallem and Hussein Zein) carefully chosen for their loyalty to the government. Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized the Judicial Council because its decisions are not subject to appeal.

During his testimony at the end of the trial, Geagea denounced the proceedings as "selective justice," pointing out that the Lebanese government has refused to bring to trial those responsible for the assassinations of former President Rene Mouawad, Sheik Hassan Khaled and Druze Chieftain Kamal Jumblatt "even though the security services have very precise information about these cases." He added that Habib Chartouni, the murderer of former president-elect Bashir Gemayel, was freed from prison in 1990 after the capture of East Beirut by the Syrians.

Geagea criticized the fact that the Judicial Council has repeatedly put him on trial for crimes allegedly committed during the civil war in spite of a 1991 Amnesty law. Investigators "will go to the end of the earth to prove that a crime is not covered by the amnesty law, and turn a blind eye to other crimes where certain government figures or people close to them are implicated." He also pointed out that many former LF members who signed confessions implicating him were tortured "nearly to death" and that that these confessions were later retracted in court.

Most legal experts in Lebanon believe that all five of Geagea's convictions will be reviewed and overturned once Syria withdraws from Lebanon.

Back to Top

Controversy Reignites over Captured IAF Pilot

Controversy in Israeli over the fate of Israeli pilot Ron Arad, captured by Lebanese militants in 1986, reignited earlier this month when former Israeli Air Force Commander Avihu Bin-Nun said publicly that he was probably dead.

Ron Arad
A photo of Ron Arad taken about a year after his capture
"The fact that there is no accurate information about his whereabouts points to the fact, I think, that he's no longer alive," said Bin-Nun in an interview with the Israeli weekly Arim. "It could be that even his body will never be returned because he was apparently tortured," he added. "There is a possibility that the Iranians are involved up to their necks and don't want to return the body to Israel lest they be accused of allowing the torture."1

Bin-Nun's comments brought a sharp rebuke from an IDF spokesman, who said Bin-Nun's statement "has no basis in intelligence information or any other information. Israel regards Iran as directly responsible for the fate of Ron Arad and expects Iran to allow his healthy return to Israel."

Arad was captured by the Shi'ite Lebanese Amal militia after ejecting from his plane over Lebanon on October 16, 1986. He was then known to be in the custody of former Amal security chief Mustafa Dirani. During the year after his abduction, his captors released a photo of Arad and a letter from him to his family. Dirani subsequently defected from Amal, however, and it is not entirely clear what happened to Arad after that.2

Most available evidence indicates that Dirani delivered Arad, alive and in good health, to members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon and that he was transferred to Iran sometime after that. In February 1995, a former Iranian intelligence officer, Manasher Mutamer, said in an interview on Israeli television that he saw Ron Arad at a prison in the Iranian city of Esfahan in 1994. "Regretfully his physical condition was very poor . . . his mental condition was very poor. They move him every few months. They are trying to break him emotionally and in spirit," said Mutamer.3

There have been other reports, however, indicating that Arad is being held in Syria. Israeli professor Michael Wolfson, author of Eternal Guilt? 40 Years of German-Jewish Relations, said in 1994 that he found KGB documents in the archives of the East German Stasi intelligence service indicating that Arad was transferred to Syria shortly after his capture by Amal. Wolfson said that negotiations between Syria and Israel over Arad's release took place from November 1987 and September 1989 through East German intermediaries, but were discontinued after the fall of the communist regime in East Germany.4 Prior to this, a leading intelligence official of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, Col. Nazar Amar, told Israeli officials in November 1993 that Arad was alive and being held in Syria.5

  1 Arim, 2 July 1999.
  2 IDF commandos kidnapped Mustafa Dirani from his home in the Bekaa Valley on May 21, 1994 in order to extract more information about Arad's whereabouts.
  3 Israeli Channel Two Television, 25 February 1995.
  4 The Jerusalem Post, 28 June 1994.
  5 The Jerusalem Post, 4 November 1993.

Back to Top

Who Speaks for Hezbollah?

On July 19, Reuters quoted an unidentified member of a militant Palestinian group in Jerusalem as saying that Syria recently told Hezbollah and various Palestinian guerrilla groups based in Damascus that they must halt armed attacks against Israel. According to the source, Syrian Vice-President Abdel-Halim Khaddam "told them armed struggle from Syria and Lebanon is over, and they had to get used to confining their role to a political one."

U.S. and Israeli officials responded warmly to the report. "It would be welcome to have those types of organizations that have been the enemies of peace become supporters of peace," said State Department spokesman James Rubin said. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said "if there was such a meeting and the Syrians really asked the terror organizations to reduce their level of activity-- if that is true, it is of course good news for all of us.''

Mohammad Raad
Mohammad Raad
However, high-ranking Hezbollah officials angrily denied the report and pledged to continue armed attacks against Israeli and South Lebanese Army (SLA) forces. On July 20, Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah's politburo, said that "Iran and Syria have no say in decisions over our operations." In a joint statement issued on the same day, Hezbollah and the Shi'ite Lebanese Amal militia vowed to "constantly activate resistance operations against the enemy to prevent its soldiers from catching their breath or from leaving the circle of frustration and humiliating failure in which they live."

Earlier this month, Hezbollah's deputy leader, Naeem Qassem, said that the Shi'ite guerrilla organization will make its own decision on whether to continue the war once Israel withdraws from its security zone in south Lebanon. "Frankly speaking, we will not recognize [Israel] even if it signs peace agreements with all or some Arab states," said Qassem in a July 15 interview broadcast on Britain's Sky News television. "How do we deal with this state that has been recognized by many? Do we confront it politically or militarily? This is the question we will answer after Israel fully withdraws from southern Lebanon." We are "not obliged now to reveal our strategy."

According to sources in Washington DC, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton worked out a proposal last week to jumpstart the Syrian-Israeli peace process during their talks at Camp David earlier this month. According to the proposal, which US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will deliver to Damascus next month, Israel will "draw back" its troops from a portion of the Golan Heights and in return Syria will halt attacks on Israeli troops by Hezbollah. The two states will then open talks to negotiate a permanent settlement.

Syria may have already taken some steps to rein in Hezbollah. There has been a distinct lull in hostilities since late last month, when outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a series of air strikes against the Lebanese infrastructure in retaliation for Hezbollah rocket attacks into northern Israel. UN sources say that the last few weeks have been the longest period of relative calm in several years.

Back to Top

13 Lebanese Citizens Remain Illegally Imprisoned in Iraq

Families of Lebanese citizens illegally imprisoned in Iraq met with President Emile Lahoud last month and pleaded with him to work for their release. The families delivered a letter containing the following names of 13 prisoners, none of which have received a trial or been charged with any crime (the date of imprisonment is in parenthesis):

Sheik Ali Hussein Ja'fer (1990)
Sheik Ibrahim Ali Ja'fer (1990)
Sheik Talib Al-Khalil (1990)
Sheik Muhammad Mehdi Mufeed Al-Faqeeh (1990)
Sheik Muhammad Sadiq Riza Al-Faqeeh (1990)
Sheik Muhammad Hadi Al-Faqeeh (1990)
Muhammad Ahmed Al-Khalili (seized in Kuwait, 1990)
Subhi Khalil Haider (seized in Kuwait,1990)
Hussein Abdul Haleem Shua'ib (1980)
Ahmed Harb (seized in Kuwait,1991)
Naseef Ibrahim Diheany (1980)
Jalal Muhammad Al-Hadi (1986)
Iqbal Khaleel Jallul (1986)

Iraq and Lebanon have had strained relations since 1994, when Iraqi agents assassinated Sheikh Taleb Souheil Tamimi, an exiled opposition leader, in Beirut. Lebanon severed ties with Iraq after arresting the four agents.

Back to Top

Israeli, SLA Officials Hold Secret Talks to Dismantle SLA

Antoine Lahad
The future of Lahad and senior SLA officials remains uncertain
MEIB has learned that representatives of Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak secretly met with South Lebanon Army (SLA) commander Gen. Antoine Lahad at his headquarters in the border town of Marjayun last month to discuss plans for dissolving the militia in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from the security zone in south Lebanon.

The June 10 meeting was attended by Yossi Beilin, a principal architect of the Oslo accords, Uri Lubrani, the Israeli coordinator of operations in Lebanon, Eli Amitai, the commander of Israeli forces in south Lebanon, and several senior intelligence officials.

Measures to guarantee the safety of the 1,720 SLA soldiers were extensively discussed during the seven-hour talks. Beilin is said to have reiterated that Israel will insist that former SLA personnel be given the same immunity from prosecution as members of other militias received under Lebanon's 1991 Amnesty law. In addition, the Israelis promised that high-ranking SLA officials and intelligence operatives would be granted Israeli citizenship and allowed to reside in Israel after the withdrawal. Barak's envoys even offered to build a settlement in northern Israel near Metula specifically for this purpose. As for those who fear the long arm of Syria and wish to leave the region entirely, Israel will ask the U.S., Canada and European countries to offer them asylum. Canada is said to have already sent emigration forms for this purpose to the Canadian consulate in Tel Aviv. As for Lahad, he is planning to join his family, which has lived in France since the 1980's.

Back to Top

Middle East Report

The Greek-Iranian Defense Pact: Implications for Regional Security

Greece and Iran are reportedly planning to sign a trilateral military cooperation agreement, along with Armenia, that threatens to seriously jeopardize NATO unity and exacerbate tensions between Greece and Turkey.

Tsohatzopoulos and Khatami
Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos (left) greeting Iranian President Mohammed Khatami in Teheran on June 29.
The stunning announcement came during a three-day visit to Iran by Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos and a 14-member delegation in late June (the first to Iran by either an EU or NATO defense minister since 1979). "We hope that our bilateral cooperation, notably in defense matters, will contribute to regional and global security," said Tsohatzopoulos.1 The Greek defense minister held several rounds of talks with Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani and met with President Mohammed Khatami during his visit.

After touring an Iranian aircraft manufacturing facility in Shahinshahr on June 30, Tsohatzopoulos proposed cooperation between the two countries in aircraft building projects during a meeting with the director of Iranian Aviation Industries (IAI). Greece's sudden interest in IAI is no coincidence--IAI recently began production of Iran's first indigenously-built fighter aircraft, called the Azarakhsh (Lightning), which Janes Defense Weekly called "a highly capable aircraft." The Azarakhsh resembles the American-built F-5 fighter (which the U.S. supplied to Iran prior to the 1979 revolution) and has a payload of 4,000 kg. The avionics and radar are Iranian-designed, according to Janes, but "certain critical components" are of Russian origin.

The military cooperation agreement is the culmination of steps taken by Greece to cultivate warmer relations with both Iran and Armenia over the last few years. In August 1995, Greece, Armenia, and Iran established a committee on trilateral cooperation in economic affairs. In December 1996, deputy foreign ministers from the three countries signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in economic, industrial, scientific, and technical fields. The three countries held numerous committee and ministerial level meetings throughout 1997-1998 which established joint commissions on transport, postal service, telecommunications, tourism, industry, technology, economics, and energy.

Although Tsohatzopoulos insisted that the expansion of trilateral cooperation between Greece, Iran and Armenia from strictly economic matters to defense cooperation is based on a shared interest in regional peace and "not aimed against any country," the accord is clearly the product of a deterioration in the three allies' relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. The new military alignment is, in many ways, a classic outcome of realpolitik-- each of the three partners has relatively clear security incentives for joining:

While Greece has provided military assistance to Armenia since the early 1990's2, the announcement of military cooperation between Greece and Iran is an unprecedented development that would have been unimaginable until recent months. Greece's decision to move ahead with the pact stemmed, in part, from the perception that NATO ignored its security concerns during the Kosovo crisis earlier this year. Many in Athens see the departure of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo as bolstering the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)'s drive to establish a Greater Albania that would incorporate part of Greek territory. To make matters worse (from Greece's perspective), Turkey recently stepped up its military assistance to Albania. Ankara is currently assisting Albania in rebuilding its naval base at Pashaliman and just began training Albania's Republican Guard. During meetings with senior Albanian officials in June, the Turkish Army's Director General for Logistics, Maj. Gen. Dursun Bak, reiterated Turkey's commitment to assisting the Albanian military.

Iran's relations with Turkey have also soured in recent months, primarily because of Ankara's military cooperation with Israel. Other points of contention between the two countries include Iran's alleged support for Turkish Islamists and assistance to Kurdish separatists. Iran is also presumably attracted by the prestige of military cooperation with a member of NATO and the embarrassment that this undoubtedly has caused for the United States.

The defense pact also reflects a deterioration in Iran's relations with Azerbaijan, which is stepping up its military and economic cooperation with the West. Relations between the two neighbors recently took a nose dive amid accusations that Teheran is actively attempting to destabilize the government of President Heydar Aliyev. A statement release by Azerbaijan's national security ministry earlier this month said that "[former Parliament Speaker] Rasul Guliyev has been in secret contact with certain circles in the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to receive political support and to come to power." Azerbaijan has a Shi'ite Muslim majority that is potentially susceptible to subversion by Iran's hardline clerics.

For Armenia, aligning with Iran and Greece is apparently designed to help focus international attention on its conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

  1 Tehran Times, 30 June 1999.
  2 Athens began providing assistance to the Armenian military in 1992 and signed a defense cooperation agreement with Armenia in June 1996.

Back to Top

Assad in Moscow: The Syrian Quest for Arms

Assad and Yeltsin
A hearty welcome from Boris Yeltsin
In an effort to revive political and military ties with his former Cold War patron, Hafez Assad visited Moscow on July 6--his first since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Greeted by Russian President Boris Yeltsin as an "old friend of Russia," the Syrian dictator was given the kind of lavish reception usually reserved for leaders of World powers.

Adding to the spectacle was a decision by the Russian government not to offend Assad by raising the issue of Syria's $12 billion debt for weapons supplied by the former Soviet Union. "The [Russian] army does not want to make troubles with Syria on debt, an old issue that will lead nowhere if discussed," a Western diplomat in Damascus told Reuters. "It is trying to win influence in the region, plus cash from striking new arms deals."

Moscow, it seems, is bending over backwards to reestablish a close strategic relationship with the crown jewel of former Soviet client states in the Middle East. Knowing this, Assad has brought his hosts a wish list of armaments, including upgraded fighter jets, advanced tanks, as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

Moscow has backed out of such deals under pressure from the U.S. on previous occasions, so Assad presumably intended to extract an ironclad promise from the Russians that delivery of the weapons systems that Syria direly needs to confront Israel will not be impeded by American pressure this time around. Did he get it? Assad was all smiles when he left Moscow, but reading anything from the Syrian dictator's face is about as accurate as reading tea leaves.

The State Department apparently sought to preempt such a deal by announcing that the U.S. "would be very concerned about any new Russian arms sales to Syria or to any other designated state sponsor of terrorism" shortly after Assad's arrival in Moscow.1 U.S. officials also hinted that $50 million in aid to Russia might be jeopardized if it concludes a deal with Syria.

Although the U.S. slapped sanctions on three Russian arms manufacturers in April for providing anti-tank weapons to Syria, the threat to cutoff aid is not considered credible by most analysts. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged that the Russian government was involved in the anti-tank weapons transfer, but waived economic sanctions against Russia that would have cut off $90 million in U.S. aid.

Not surprisingly, Russia appears poised to move ahead with major arms shipments to Syria. Russian diplomats in Beirut recently acknowledged that Moscow has already approved a $2 billion deal to supply Syria with the MiG-29 SMT, an upgraded version of its MiG-29 fighter aircraft, which has been in production since December 1998. Russian Foreign Ministry official Vladimir Rakhmanin said that Syria would be provided only with weapons "of a defensive nature," a rather loose characterization that could apply to virtually every weapons system in existence. Even if the U.S. remains unconvinced by this justification and pushes ahead with sanctions, simple economic arithmetic weighs heavily in favor of Russia making the deal--concluding a multi-billion dollar arms deal is worth forgoing $50 million in aid.

Back to Top

Abortive Uprising in Iran

Student Protest
Students protesting at Teheran University
Violent clashes this month between Iranian security forces and students protesting new restrictions on freedom of the press have escalated into the largest domestic political crisis in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. What initially promised to be a victory for Iranian moderates, however, suddenly transformed into a propaganda coup for Iran's hardline clerical establishment.

The unrest began on Thursday, July 9, when students at the Amirabad campus of Teheran University began protesting the closure of the pro-Khatami newspaper Salam and sweeping new legislation curbing press freedoms. After being repeatedly attacked by Islamic fundamentalist vigilantes carrying iron bars and throwing rocks, the students barricaded themselves inside their dormitories. Anti-riot police stormed the residences, killing at least one student, injuring dozens, and arresting hundreds more. Several buildings were set ablaze and numerous cars and motorcycles in the immediate vicinity of the raid were reportedly destroyed.

An estimated 15,000 demonstrators poured onto the streets of Teheran over the next few days to demand the release of the detained students, chanting slogans such as "death to dictatorship" and "either Islam and the law, or another revolution." By Monday, the protests had spread nationwide, with demonstrations erupting in central Iranian city of Yazd, Khorramabad and Hamadan in western Iran, and Shahrud in the north. The demands of the protesters were broadened to include the resignation of Iran's hardline police chief, General Hedeyat Lotfian, and the transfer of control over law-enforcement agencies from the hardline Islamic judiciary headed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to President Mohammed Khatami.

The unprecedented number of protesters and uninhibited scope of the demands struck at the heart of Iran's political system. Under Iran's constitution, most power rests with Ayatollah Khamenei and the Islamic clerical establishment, who control the army, the police, the judiciary, and the Revolutionary Guard. President Khatami's power is much more limited, emanating primarily from his stature as Iran's first democratically-elected head of state.

Hardliners Protest
A counter-demonstration on July 14 in support of Iran's hardline clerics
The first several days of the unrest witnessed clearly divergent reactions from Khamenei and Khatami. "The enemy . . . wants to do mischief by infiltrating the ranks of students," said Khamenei in typical fashion. "Where is the money allocated by the U.S. Congress to campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran, spent? No doubt that the budget and a sum several times this budget are spent on such schemes against Iran."1 Khatami, on the other hand, seemed to give his unqualified support to the demonstrators. "The more lively, energetic and active our university students and instructors, the more vibrant and more active our society will become," he said on July 12. "Those who would not like our society to be vibrant and alive, do not want our university to be vibrant and alive."2

On Wednesday, July 14, Khamenei and his conservative allies decided to fight fire with fire by calling a massive official rally attended by hundreds of thousands of supporters chanting "death to counter-revolutionaries" and "death to America." Meanwhile, Khamenei stepped up police repression of the demonstrators and cut off the country's cellphone links with the outside world (apparently to limit foreign coverage of the riots). At this critical juncture, Khatami fell into line with the clerical establishment, describing the student protest as a "deviation which will be repressed with force and determination."

It appears that, after some initial hesitation, Khatami concluded that embracing this wave of dissent would not sufficiently empower him to take on the hardliners entrenched at the top of Iran's political system. An overview of this political structure illustrates the immense difficulties such a power play would have encountered.

Anatomy of Iran's Clerical Establishment

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Khamenei is the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, elected by the Assembly of Experts (see below) and constitutionally the highest authority in the country. It is illegal to criticize his actions3--the anti-Khamenei slogans shouted by student demonstrators were virtually unprecedented.

Khamenei has control over the military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the police, and intelligence agencies. The military generally stays out of internal political disputes, but it is conceivable that domestic upheaval could drive Khamenei into military adventurism abroad. The IRGC, on the other hand, clearly has a political and ideological agenda and is the hardliner's trump card in the event that internal dissent spirals out of control. Its commander, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, was appointed by Khamenei and remains very close to the clerical right. Safavi has regularly inveighed against the "propaganda siege" against the country's Islamic system by Iranian moderates. The IRGC also has a 5 million-strong volunteer reserve force, the Basij, whose leader, Ali Reza Afshar, has vowed to "fight against any plots against the supreme leadership."

Although nominal control over the police was transferred to President Khatami's interior ministry last year, the recent crisis demonstrated that Khamenei is still calling the shots--Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said that the police went into action against student demonstrators without his authorization. The police regularly look the other way when Ansar-e Hizballah and other Islamic fundamentalist vigilante groups attack and harass liberal dissidents.

Khamenei's intelligence chief, Gholamreza Naqdi, has been linked with illegal activities against dissident groups, and possibly the assassinations of several opposition leaders. Earlier this year it was revealed that 10 "rogue" intelligence agents were responsible for the November 1998 assassination of prominent dissident Dariush Foruhar and his wife. One of them, a deputy minister in the intelligence agency, mysteriously "committed suicide" after his arrest.

The Council of Guardians (Shora-ye Negahban-e Qanun-e Assassi)

The Guardian Council is, in effect, an upper house of parliament with the power to veto laws passed by the Majlis that do not conform to Islamic law. The council has 12 members that serve six year terms. According to the constitution, six of the council members are chosen by the Leadership Council and the other six are selected by the Supreme Judicial Council of the Majlis. The Council is headed by Ayatollah Ahmad Janati. Janati, a Khamenei ally, has been at the forefront of the government's measures to curb freedom of the press.

Since the Council of Guardians also has the authority to approve or disqualify candidates for national elections, it is considered to be the lynch pin of the hardliners' political dominance. In 1997, the Council vetoed all but four of 238 candidates for Iran's presidential elections. In the 1998 elections for the Assembly of Experts, 130 of the 161 candidates allowed to run came from the conservative camp. Candidates for the 1998 Majlis elections were also carefully screened.

Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri
Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri
Parliament (Majlis)

The Iranian parliament is dominated by conservatives, largely because the Council of Guardians disqualified moderate candidates in the last round of elections. The speaker of the Parliament, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, is a close ally of Khamenei.

Assembly of Experts (Majlis-e Khobregan)

An 86-member assembly of clerics with responsibility for choosing the supreme leader. Dominated by the right-wing Association of Militant Clergy, which has 42 seats.

The Judiciary

Headed by Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a hardline ally of Khamenei. Yazdi has used the judiciary to intimidate and destroy reformist politicians, such as Teheran's moderate mayor, Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi, who was arrested and imprisoned last year on charges of embezzlement. Karbaschi, who played a pivotal role in Khatami's election in 1997, was targeted by conservatives after he formed a political group to challenge them in legislative elections.

The conservative-dominated judiciary has also shut down moderate newspapers and other media deemed "contrary to public moral order." The closure of Salam, which instigated the recent student uprising, was preceded by the closure of seven other moderate publications in the last few years.

  1 Tehran Times, 12 July 1999
  2 Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), 12 July 1999
  3 Ayatollah Montazeri, a leading dissident and a former heir apparent to Ayatollah Khomenei, has been under house arrest since November 1997, when he made a speech questioning the supreme authority of Khamenei.

Back to Top

Bin Laden Prepares to Strike Again

Osama Bin Laden
Osama Bin Laden
In a recent interview on Qatar's al-Jazeera satellite television, exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden promised that more attacks against the United States are yet to come. There have been numerous indications in recent weeks that he is planning to do just that.

On June 25, the United States temporarily closed six of its embassies in Africa after obtaining "concrete information" that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network is in the "advanced stages" of planning another attack. The embassies in Namibia, Senegal, Madagascar, Liberia, Togo and Gambia were closed after US intelligence intercepted phone conversations in which bin Laden's operatives discussed the transferal of explosives and personnel, and several embassies had reported being under surveillance by suspicious individuals. "We have seen a pattern of activity indicating continued planning for terrorist attacks by members of Osama bin Laden's network," said State Department spokesman James Rubin, "and we take reporting of such threats seriously."

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen both canceled planned visits to Albania this month after receiving what a U.S. official called "very current intelligence" indicating that bin Laden's operatives were in Albania with orders to strike a high profile American target. "We consider Osama bin Laden a worldwide threat, and we are taking, and have been taking, the necessary measures to deal with it," said Albright.

There is also evidence that a group in Pakistan closely associated with bin Laden is planning attacks against the U.S. The militant Harakat al-Mujahideen organization (whose training camps in Afghanistan were hit in the U.S. cruise missile last year against bin Laden's network of bases) recently issued a ban on "the travel of all American citizens, including diplomats" to Kashmir. According to a July 15 travel warning issued by the State Department, "the U.S. government has received a growing body of information that suggests strongly that extremists based in Afghanistan are preparing to attack U.S. interests in Pakistan in the near future."

American officials have also discovered evidence that bin Laden is planning a major attack to mark the first anniversary of last year's embassy bombings. Information has been intercepted "that suggested that preparations had been completed," said an intelligence source in Washington earlier this month.

Many in the intelligence community are astonished that bin Laden has been this active despite encountering several setbacks in recent months. The Taliban militia in Afghanistan is reportedly considering turning Bin Laden over to a neutral country for trial on charges of masterminding last year's embassy bombings. He has been forced to move his headquarters in Afghanistan to the village of Farmihadda in hills south of Jalalabad (near the border with Pakistan). In addition, several active members of his Al Qaeda terror network have been arrested around the world. Moreover, there are reports that bin Laden has narrowly survived three assassination attempts in recent months and suffers from an unspecified illness.

Despite all of this, bin Laden's network of terrorists keeps managing to regenerate itself. The key to this resurgence is his continual supply of money from wealthy Islamic followers. The CIA recently discovered that money has been channeled to bin Laden from his family and other supporters through the Dubai Islamic Bank in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Senior U.S. Treasury Department and the National Security Council officials were sent to the UAE earlier this month to stem the flow. State Department spokesman James Foley said on July 8 that the the UAE government has "taken steps to clean up the bank and to restore its reputation."

Meanwhile, Saudi investigators uncovered a second channel of funding, leading from Riyadh to London. According to U.S. sources, the money was transferred from bank accounts in Saudi Arabia to a Saudi-owned financial institution in London which is now being investigated by British authorities. "The Saudis were really taken aback when they found out the net worth and status of some of the people sending money to Osama. Together they owned about $20 billion in assets. These were pillars of the establishment," said a U.S. intelligence analyst with close ties to the Saudi government. He added that one of the suspected donors was a Saudi prince. More than $50 million had been transferred through this channel to bin Laden's before the flow was cut off.1

According to Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service, bin Laden now has the resources to strike U.S. targets anywhere in the world. With up to $300 million in independent sources of financing and operatives of many different nationalities, "he's really come into a position where he threatens a broad range of U.S. policy interests," Katzman told CNN last month. "He could try to strike in Latin America. He could strike in Mexico, the Far East -- even in Washington, D.C."

Unfortunately, conspicuous efforts to avert these attacks, such as closing embassies and canceling visits abroad by high-ranking U.S. officials, allows bin Laden to portray himself as the heroic Islamic fighter who makes the world's only superpower tremble before him. "When you close six embassies in a region in the world, you send a message to the world that . . . the terrorists made us blink," said Harvey Kushner, chairman of the Criminal Justice Department at Long Island University.

  1 "US fears Bin Laden plans new attacks," The Observer, 11 June 1999.

Back to Top

The Long Arm of Saddam Hussein

FBI officials now believe that the brutal murder of an Iraqi-American family in late May was likely perpetrated by the Iraqi secret police. This would be the first successful assassination attempt carried out by Baghdad inside the United States.

Khazal Taima, his wife Dorothy and teenage son Leith were shot to death at their home in the Washington DC suburb of McLean during Memorial Day weekend. The crime scene, however, was almost totally bereft of physical evidence-- investigators found no sign of forced entry and no murder weapon--leading investigators to discount the possibility that the deaths resulted from a domestic dispute, robbery attempt, or suicide. The three victims were clearly murdered by someone they knew or had allowed into the house.

But who?

Taima, 63, was a well-known consultant and financier who had a long history of business dealings with the Iraqi government. In the mid-1980s, one of his consulting firms landed a $10 million contract selling American-made oil and gas machinery to the Iraqi government. "He went to Baghdad a lot," remembers a U.S. Commerce Department official who asked not to be named. "He was aggressive, a real dynamo."1 Taima even had a photograph of himself and Saddam Hussein prominently displayed in his home.

After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Taima's financial assets in Iraq were frozen by U.S. trade sanctions. During the buildup to war that fall, Taima founded the American Iraqi Foundation, aimed at " improving relations" between the U.S. and Iraq, and reportedly met with President George Bush at the White House to push for a negotiated settlement. After the war, Taima appeared frequently on national television to criticize the sanctions against Iraq.

Taima's financial situation deteriorated greatly during the 1990's due to the continuing economic sanctions against Iraq. However, he began making frequent business trips to Baghdad over the last couple years. Around this time, Taima began to fear for his life, often telling acquaintances that he had received death threats. "He was afraid someone might kill him," said a neighbor, Betsy Crawford. He told friends and family members that his car had been firebombed, though police say they have no record of this.

Shortly before his murder, Taima returned from a visit to Baghdad and told family members that his financial troubles were over. His father-in-law recalled Taima talking about a "good contract" just a couple days before his death.

"The pattern and the circumstances point to a connection between Mr. Taima's business interests and the long arm of Saddam Hussein"

FBI spokesman

"The pattern and the circumstances point to a connection between Mr. Taima's business interests and the long arm of Saddam Hussein," said an FBI spokesman. Investigators believe that Taima's recent business dealings in Iraq somehow interfered with the Iraqi regime's lucrative monopolies in oil, food and technology and that this is why he was killed. A similar incident took place last year in Jordan, where a prominent Iraqi businessman and eight others were killed in an attack said to be ordered by Saddam's son, Uday, to protect his father's illicit sanctions-busting ring. In both attacks, the suspected killer was welcomed into the residence as a dinner guest before murdering his victims.

On the evening of the murders, Dorothy Taima called Leith and asked him to come home because she felt uncomfortable being alone after an unexpected visit that evening by a "friend" of her husband. A friend of Leith's who was at the house that evening told investigators that he recognized the visitor, but had not seen him for quite awhile.

  1 "Profile of a Puzzling Life; Slain Mclean Man a Mystery to Many," The Washington Post, 10 June 1999.

Back to Top

Iraqi Opposition Groups Proliferate

In nature, it is said that predators have an instinctual ability to sense when an animal much larger and more powerful than themselves is incapacitated and unable to successfully defend itself. A similar phenomenon seems to be taking place in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein's aura of invincibility appears to have been resoundingly shattered. The critical turning point appears to have been the regime's assassination of Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sader in February--an act so abhorrent to Iraqi Shi'ites that many perceived it as an act of desperation. After all, stable authoritarian regimes to not need to murder well-known public figures. Sensing this vulnerability, a number of hitherto unknown opposition groups have risen to challenge the Ba'athist regime in recent months.

In April, two groups emerged, calling themselves the "Iraqi Democratic Action Movement" and "National Options."

In May, a group calling itself the "Iraqi Army Officers' Organization - General Command" claimed credit for a number of assassinations and attacks on Ba'ath Party buildings.

In June, a previously unknown Iraqi group calling itself the "Iraqi Vanguards for National Salvation" claimed responsibility for a June 14 car bomb attack in downtown Baghdad. The car, a white Datsun containing Katyusha-105 bombs, detonated in the eastern Karradah district, a residential area where members of the Special Security service live. The group said it carried out the operation "to avenge the innocent blood of the martyrs of Islam, foremost among them martyred Shi'ite leader Muhammad Al-Sadr."1

At the beginning of July, a group calling itself the "Command of Free Fighters" announced that it had seized a secret arms depot in Diyala and captured a biochemical weapon that "the regime's forces used in artillery shells and missiles." The group described itself as consisting of "Iraqi Army officers, some officials, and [elements] from the tribes."2

There has also been a dramatic rise in opposition organized around tribal affiliations. Earlier this month, at least 40 Iraqi soldiers and Ba'ath party officials were killed in two pitched battles with members of the Albu Hassan clan near the town of Rumaitha in southern Iraq. In retaliation for the execution of three members of the clan on alleged charges of drug trafficking, Albu Hassan tribesmen attacked the Ba'ath Party's offices in the town of Rumaitha on July 3, killing Iraq's chief of the southern military intelligence, Lt. Gen. Nadhem al-Jubouri, the chief of Rumaitha's security, Lt. Colonel Mohsen al-Kutawi, as well as 17 Ba'ath Party members. The next day, an assault by Iraqi army units against the clan's residential area was repulsed by tribesman armed with mortars, rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank weapons. At least 20 Iraqi soldiers were killed.

"This is the most significant unrest since the uprisings following the 1991 war," said Judith Yaphe, an Iraq specialist at National Defense University in Washington. "The problems that started this spring in the south have continued to elude Saddam's ability to resolve them." Steadily worsening economic conditions have also fueled domestic unrest--Iraq's currency plummeted to a new low over the last two months (1,200 dinars to the U.S. dollar).

  1 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, 30 June 1999.
  2 Al-Hayat, 2 July 1999.

Back to Top

Intelligence Briefs

Iraq, North Korea and Russia May Have Stocks of Smallpox Virus (13 June)
Assad Vows Continued Support for PFLP (13 June)
Khamenei Calls for Muslims to Resist "Western Cultural Onslaught" (16 June)
Barak Aide: Israel Won't Withdraw from All of the Golan Heights (26 June)
Syria Bans Distribution of Arabic Newspaper (29 June)
Israel: Strikes against Syrian Targets in Lebanon "Not out of the Question" (30 June)
Jordan Boycotts Joint Israeli-Turkish Naval Exercises (6 July)
Libya to Receive MIG-31 Fighters from Russia (6 July)
IDF Unprepared for Coordinated Terrorist Attack (7 July)
UN: Lebanon is Major Drug Trafficking Center (8 July)
U.S. Issues Warning against Travel to Sidon (9 July)
Iranian Ambassador to Syria: "We Want the Retrieval of All of Palestine" (9 July)
Iran Developing Missile Capable of Hitting U.S. (14 July)
Exiled Syrian Dissident Calls on Assad to Free Political Prisoners (20 July)

Iraq, North Korea and Russia May Have Stocks of Smallpox Virus
13 June 1999

The New York Times reported today that a U.S. intelligence report completed earlier this year concluded that Iraq, North Korea and Russia are probably maintaining supplies of the smallpox virus for military use. U.S. officials said that the report's findings were based on disclosures by a Soviet defector, blood samples taken from North Korean soldiers indicating recent smallpox vaccinations and evidence that Iraq has manufactured vaccine for smallpox in significant quantities. The report prompted President Bill Clinton to reverse an earlier decision to destroy US stocks of the virus.

Assad Vows Continued Support for PFLP
13 June 1999

Syrian President Hafez Assad told Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leader FLP George Habash today that Damascus will continue to support his terrorist organization, according to PFLP spokesman Maher al-Taher. Al-Taher said that Habash is deeply mistrustful of Israeli Prime Minister-Elect Ehud Barak, whom he described as "basically not different from Netanyahu," pointing to his opposition to the Palestinian right of return, his unwillingness to return to the June 4, 1967 borders and his refusal to remove all Israeli settlements from the occupied territories.

Khamenei Calls for Muslims to Resist "Western Cultural Onslaught"
16 June 1999

Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke before the first meeting of the Organization of Islamic Parliaments in Teheran today and called for Islamic nations to resist the "Western cultural onslaught" that is corrupting Muslim youth. "Audio and visual waves, which are worse than warships and airplanes, are being used to disseminate a rogue culture aimed at reasserting the domination of the enemies of Islam," he said.

Barak Aide: Israel Won't Withdraw from All of the Golan Heights
26 June 1999

A close advisor to Prime Minister Ehud Barak said today that Israel has no intention of withdrawing completely from the Golan Heights. "The parts of the Golan that are necessary for the security of the state of Israel, including early warning stations, will remain under our control," Eitan Haber told an Israeli radio station. Haber said that, contrary to popular belief, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin never promised Syria a total withdrawal. Former US secretary of state Warren Christopher gave such assurances to Syria without Israel's consent, he said. "Christopher passed to Syria theoretical questions that Rabin put forward when he was devising a model for peace. It was clear to us all along that this would never pass as an Israeli proposal."

Syria Bans Distribution of Arabic Newspaper
29 June 1999

Syria banned the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi today after the paper criticized the country's response to recent Israeli air strikes in Lebanon. In a letter to the paper's editor-in-chief, Abdel Bari Atwan, the Syrian information ministry said that the paper would no longer be distributed in Syria. Officials at Al-Quds Al-Arabi said the decision was probably in response to a recent editorial which called Syria 's reaction to the Israeli attack on Lebanon "surprising, confused and disappointing."

Israel: Strikes against Syrian Targets in Lebanon "Not out of the Question"
30 June 1999

The commander of Israel's northern region, Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, warned today that Israeli air strikes against Syrian military targets in Lebanon are "not out of the question" in the event of future escalations by Hezbollah guerrillas in south Lebanon. Speaking during a tour of the Israeli-occupied security zone, Ashkenazi added "we do not have the intention to fight against the Lebanese government or the Lebanese army as long as this army is not fighting us or the South Lebanon Army (SLA)."

Jordan Boycotts Joint Israeli-Turkish Naval Exercises
6 July 1999

According to Janes Defense Weekly, Jordan has refused an invitation to send an observer to joint naval maneuvers by Israel and Turkey planned for late July. The Jordanian government, which had sent a representative to such exercises prior to the death of King Hussein, did not even reply to the request. This policy shift is a reflection of Jordan's new alignment with Syria, which has staunchly criticized Turkish-Israeli defense cooperation.

Libya to Receive MIG-31 Fighters from Russia
7 July 1999

The Associated Press reported today that a Russian aircraft manufacturer is planning to sell Libya several advanced MIG-31 fighter-bombers now that UN sanctions against the country have been lifted. Russia is also likely to overhaul around 90 of Libya's MIG-25 planes.

Uzi Landau
Uzi Landau
IDF Unprepared for Coordinated Terrorist Attack
7 July 1999

In an interview with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, former Knesset Foreign and Security Affairs Committee chairman, Uzi Landau stated: "Over a year ago a scenario of a massive coordinated terror attack from the PA territories against tens of sensitive points in Israel was presented to me. To this day the security apparatus has not presented to us any response to this scenario that was developed by a groups of professors, strategic analysts and senior army officers from the entire political spectrum."1

UN: Lebanon is Major Drug Trafficking Center
8 July 1999

According to a UN report released today, Lebanon has turned into a major trafficking center for cocaine and heroin. The report noted that local authorities wiped out the bulk of drug cultivation in the Bekaa Valley during the early 1990's, but now is a transit country for cocaine shipments from Colombia and heroin, mostly from Turkey via neighboring Syria.

U.S. Issues Warning against Travel to Sidon
9 July 1999

The U.S. issued a travel warning today urging Americans to avoid traveling to the Lebanese city of Sidon and adjacent Palestinian refugees camps because of unspecified anti-American threats and instability. The travel warning came one month after the assassination of three judges and a prosecutor in Sidon by unidentified gunmen.

Iranian Ambassador to Syria: "We Want the Retrieval of All of Palestine"
9 July 1999

In an interview with Al-Hayat today, Iran's ambassador to Syria predicted that "Israel would cease to exist within fifty years." Hussein Sheik Al-Islam said that Iran supports Syria's diplomatic efforts to retrieve the Golan Heights, but added: "We and the Syrians want more than that; we want the retrieval of all of Palestine and Jerusalem."

Iran Developing Missile Capable of Hitting U.S.
14 July 1999

In testimony before the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science Committee, Kenneth R. Timmerman, the Director of the Middle East Data Project, said that Iran is developing a multi-stage, nuclear-capable missile that "will give it the capability of reaching the continental United States." The Kosar missile, he said, "is being designed with direct assistance from Russia aerospace entities."

Exiled Syrian Dissident Calls on Assad to Free Political Prisoners
20 July 1999

In a press release issued today, an exiled Syrian Islamic leader urged President Hafez Assad to free all of the country's political prisoners. Mohammad Farouk Taifour, a high-ranking official of the Sunni fundamentalist MuslimBrotherhood, said that the hundreds of prsioners recently released by Damascus "is not at all proportional with the number of political prisoners in Syria.'' Freeing all political prisoners, he said, would bring about "a true political detente which would rebuild the national unity of the Syrian people.''

  1 Translation from original Hebrew by IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis).

Back to Top

1999 United States Committee For A Free Lebanon. All rights reserved.

MEIB Main Page