Hard-line Ruler Decides to Indulge in His Very Own Executive Jet

Unlike the abstemious father of the Iran’s Islamic revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, decided recently that he deserved a perk his fellow Muslim leaders have long enjoyed – a private executive jet.

Acquiring one turned out to be a tall order. A Western embargo prevents the sale to Iran of any aircraft that can be used for military purposes or reconnaissance.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources soon discovered the ruler’s agents shopping around in high Muslim society for a spare aircraft on sale. Negotiations with the Sultan of Brunei, whose personal jet, an Airbus A-310-300, is one of the most sumptuous in the world, broke down because the parsimonious Iranian made too low an offer – $80 million.

They turned next to the Beirut-based Syrian businessman, Faud a-Zayat, and asked him to front the purchase of a small jet. He was told to keep the transaction under his hat for fear of impairing the Iranian spiritual ruler’s pur et dur image.

The Iranians knew a-Zayat from a recent successful multi-million dollar deal; he was middleman in the sale of large quantities of Iranian drinking water to Kuwait. They also believed they could trust him to keep his mouth shut about the end-recipient of an executive jet he claimed he could get hold of for a cool $100.

Unfortunately for the Islamic Republic and the usually savvy business sense of its officials, Zayat took wing in early May and disappeared with the money.

A furious Khamenei thereupon assigned an elite Iranian security unit to find the absconder and bring him to Tehran. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, they found Zayat in the first week of June hiding in a prepared bolt hole in northern Lebanon. The Iranian special operatives burst into the house, hustled him aboard a plane waiting for them on a landing strip used by Lebanese drug smugglers near the northern city of Tripoli and flew him to Cyprus. On the Mediterranean island, the Syrian entrepreneur – disguised as a patient – was put on a flight to Tehran.

Zayat’s interrogators didn’t lay a glove on him. Their message was as simple as it was menacing: If you want to see your family again, show us the money – all $100 million of it – or else spend the rest of your life at one of our hard-labor prison camps in one of our mines.

Early this week, Zayat finally parted with the information. When the money reached Tehran, the Syrian was put on a plane to Damascus and told never to set foot in Iran again.

Needless to say, Zayat also found he wouldn’t see a penny of the commission he earned from the Iran-Kuwait water deal. Khamenei may have got his money back, but is as far as ever from the shiny executive jet he craves.

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