The US embassy is long gone from Tehran.
Washington is unlikely to forget Nov. 4, 1979, the day a horde of fanatical Shiite revolutionary students stormed the US embassy led by Red Ayatollah Khoeini
For 444 earthshaking days 27 years ago, the incoming revolutionary ruler of Iran Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini held 52 Americans hostage against the extradition of the Shah he had toppled.
Outrage against the turbaned fundamentalist dominated America’s 1979 presidential election. The incident was brought to an end by a political understanding reached secretly between the new Iranian ruler and the US Republican presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, shortly before his election.
The hostages were released Jan. 20, 1981, when Reagan took office as US president.
Today, the Red Ayatollah, then a rampageous student, is an outspoken opponent of the Islamic regime. There are no American diplomats to target in the Iranian capital.
So, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Tehran reveal, three Iranian branches of government held separate conferences on the pros and cons of staging a repeat performance of the 1979 hostage-taking spectacle against the Germany embassy in Tehran.
The discussions took place in the offices of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad (before he left for Indonesia), the Revolutionary Guards commander Rahim Safavi and the Majlis Research Center, whose experts were asked to report on how this stunt would reflect on Iran’s foreign relations and internal political dynamics.
An intelligence briefing delivered to all three meetings claimed that electronic surveillance and a close watch on embassy staff had uncovered an American spy center nesting in the Germany embassy. Some of the “diplomats” were described as agents of Ernst Ehrlau‘s German spy agency, the BND. It was further “disclosed” that before their posting in Tehran, these agents had been given expert instruction in the gathering of intelligence on Iranian nuclear programs and its military preparations against an American or Israeli attack.
A hostage-taking crisis for counter-pressure on the US
Embassy reports were sent directly to Berlin and relayed to Washington.
The Iranian briefing papers pointed out that the German embassy in Tehran was not the first to serve US intelligence: Germany’s Baghdad mission had filled the same role in the run-up to the 2003 US-led invasion. Berlin’s agents had not only updated the Americans, but marked targets for the American bombing and missile blitz of Baghdad, including the residences of Saddam Hussein and his sons.
According to our sources the discussions in all three offices tilted clearly in favor of a hostage-taking attack on the German embassy out of three considerations:
1. German chancellor Angela Merkel is a key go-between in the exchanges between Washington, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran on the Iranian nuclear dossier. Capture of the German embassy in Tehran by Revolutionary Guardsmen posing as “fanatical students” would force the chancellor to give greater consideration to the Iranian side of the argument and possibly tip the scales of the international debate in Iran’s favor.
2. Just as the 1979 embassy takeover broke through the diplomatic impasse and led to a secret direct US-Iranian dialogue (led for Washington by the CIA chief William Casey) so too might the assault on the German embassy yield the same sort of direct secret diplomacy between the Islamic Republic and the Bush administration. Washington would be under heavy pressure to free the German agents in the employ of US intelligence.
3. International media coverage would refocus from the nuclear issue to the German embassy hostage affair. From Tehran’s standpoint, this switch would take media control out of American and Israeli hands and give Iran a platform for plugging its messages.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Tehran sources report that if the final decision were left to president Ahmadinejad, the German embassy would have been seized this week or next, at the latest. However, after he left for Jakarta, the final word was left with the supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose interests and inclinations are often at variance with those of the president.
Aping the great ayatollahs
In recent weeks, Ahmadinijad has been working hard on a religious dimension to lift his image by aping the most revered Shiite clerics and their exploits. The letters he sent to President George W. Bush this week were meant to be a repeat of Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1987 Note to the last Soviet ruler Mikhail Gorbachev (See HOT POINTS below)
He has been threading religious themes through his speeches, as he did in the Bush letter, letting drop dramatic predictions of the imminent coming of the Mahdi (the Shiite messiah) and harping on Islamic moral principles.
Khamenei, however, decided it was time to take the belligerent president down a peg or two. Monday, May 8, he publicly countermanded an Ahmadinejad directive permitting women to be seated in a soccer stadium to watch a game. It was his way of currying favor with the public at large. But he made the mistake of not consulting reputable clerics first. So Khamenei moved in to cut down the tyro president, drawing praise from conservative clerical voices.
Ahmadinejad tried to brush off the outcry by saying his directive had not been intended for immediate implementation but only when conditions were ripe.
It was not the first time the fiery president had put his foot in his mouth since he took office six months ago. The Tehran stock exchange has still not pulled out of the dive precipitated by his post-election criticism. Last month, he promised a second lot of “good news” (after the uranium enrichment announcement), but failed to deliver. When he then stood up and prophesied the imminent coming of the Mahdi, people in the street only laughed.
The letters he wrote preaching to the US president on morality, policy and religion, were publicly snubbed by the White House. Some circles at home have begun to regard him as nothing but a reckless loudmouth.