It now appears that Feith’s Office of Policy, which was creating dubious intelligence rationales for the Iraq war, was also establishing a covert national security strategy for regime change in Iran—most likely through a combination of preemptive military strikes (either by the United States or Israel) and support for a coalition of Iranian dissidents.
This covert operation is now the subject of an FBI espionage investigation and inquiries by the House Judiciary Committee and Select Senate Intelligence Committee—inquiries that have been postponed until after the election.
Without notifying the State Department or the CIA, Feith’s office has been involved in back channel operations that have included a series of secret meetings in Washington, Rome and Paris over the last three years. These meetings have brought together Office of Policy officials and consultants (Franklin, Harold Rhode and Michael Ledeen), an expatriate Iranian arms dealer (Manichur Ghorbanifar), AIPAC lobbyists, Ahmed Chalabi, and Italian and Israeli intelligence officers, among others.
Franklin, an Iran expert who was pulled into Feith’s policy shop from the Defense Intelligence Agency, met repeatedly with Naor Gilon, the head of the political department at the Israeli embassy in Washington. According to U.S. intelligence officials, during one of those meetings, Franklin offered to hand over the National Security Presidential Directive on Iran. For more than two years, an FBI counterintelligence operation has been monitoring Washington meetings between AIPAC, Franklin and Israeli officials. Investigators suspect that the draft security document was passed to Israel through an intermediary, likely AIPAC.
Franklin, who is known to be close to militant Iranian and Iranian-American dissidents, is the common link to another series of meetings in Rome and Paris involving Ledeen (an American Enterprise Institute scholar who was a special consultant to Feith), Harold Rhode (a cohort of Ledeen’s from the Iran-Contra days, who is currently employed by Feith to prepare regime-change strategy plans for Middle Eastern countries on the neoconservatives’ hit list), and Ghorbanifar (an arms dealer who claims to speak for the Iranian opposition). These meetings addressed, among other things, strategies for organizing Iranians who would be willing to cooperate with a U.S.-spearheaded regime change agenda for Iran.
Echoes of Iran-Contra
This cast of characters indicates that U.S. Middle East policy involves covert and illegal operations that resemble the Iran-Contra operations in the ’80s. Not only are the neoconservatives once again the leading actors, these new covert operations involve at least two Iran-Contra conspirators: Ledeen, who has repeatedly complained that the Bush administration has let its regime-change plans for Iran and Syria “gather mold in the bowels of the bureaucracy”; and Ghorbanifar, who the CIA considers a “serial fabricator” with whom the agency prohibits its agents from having any association
During the Iran-Contra operation, Israel served as a conduit for U.S. arms sales to Iran. The proceeds went largely to fund the Nicaraguan Contras despite a congressional ban on military support to the counterrevolutionaries. This time around, however, the apparent aim of these back channel dealings is to move U.S.-Iran relations beyond the reach of State Department diplomats and into the domain of the Pentagon ideologues. Ledeen, the neoconservative point man in the Iran regime-change campaign, wrote in the National Review Online that too many U.S. government officials “prefer to schmooze with the mullahs” rather than promote “democratic revolution in Iran.”
In early 2002, Leeden, along with Morris Amitay, a former AIPAC executive director as well as a CSP adviser, founded the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI) to build congressional and administration support for Iran regime change. AIPAC and CDI helped ensure passage of recent House and Senate resolutions that condemn Iran, call for tighter sanctions and express support for Iranian dissidents.
The CDI includes members of key neoconservative policy institutes and think tanks, including Raymond Tanter of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs (WINEA)—an off-shoot of AIPAC—and Frank Gaffney, president of CSP. In the ’90s, Feith served as the board chairman of CSP, whose slogan is “peace through strength,” and where Woolsey currently serves as co-chairman of the advisory committee. Other neoconservative organizations represented in the coalition by more than one member include AEI and Freedom House.
Rob Sobhani, an Iranian-American, who like Ledeen and other neoconservatives is a friend of the Shah’s son Reza Pahlavi, is also a CDI member. CDI expresses the common neoconservative position that constructive engagement with the Iranian government—even with the democratic reformists—is merely appeasement. Instead, the United States should proceed immediately to a regime change strategy working closely with the “Iranian people.” Representatives of the Iranian people that could be the front men for a regime change strategy, according to the neoconservatives, include, the Shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi (who has also cultivated close ties with the Likud Party in Israel), the Iraq-based guerrilla group Mujahadin-E Khalq (MEK), and expatriate arms dealer Ghorbanifar.
The CDI’s Ledeen, Amitay and Sobhani were featured speakers at a May 2003 forum on “the future of Iran,” sponsored by AEI, the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The forum, chaired by the Hudson Institute’s Meyrav Wurmser, the Israeli-born wife of David Wurmser (he serves as Cheney’s leading expert on Iran and Syria), included a presentation by URI Lubrani of Israel’s Ministry of Defense. Summarizing the sentiment of neoconservative ideologues and strategists, Meyrav Wurmser said: “Our fight against Iraq was only a battle in a long war. It would be ill-conceived to think we can deal with Iraq alone. We must move on, and faster.”