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The Shah Builds an Army
Before his demise, the Shah had embarked upon upon the largestmilitary build-up by a Third World nation in modern history. Hebought tanks, missiles, aircraft, ships - everything and anything,provided it contained the latest in state-of-the-art technology. Hadhe remained in power but two years longer, his Air Force would havebecome the third most powerful in the world. Already, by 1979, Iranhad more modern combat aircraft than most European powers.
As the Iranian revolution gathered speed in the final months of1978, the possibility of all those weapons falling into unfriendlyhands became a terrifying reality. The American intelligencecommunity was seized with panic, for the fatal flaw of the NixonDoctrine - the "special relationship" that had existed betweenWashington and Tehran - had finally surfaced, dashing a throne and amajor alliance as inexorably as the furies of Greek tragedy.
In the dark hours that preceded the Shah's flight from Iran, theCIA station chief in Tehran hastily dismantled US listening postsstretched along Iran's 1200 mile-long border with the Soviet Union.Sensitive equipment was destroyed or shipped out. Grumman techniciansleft the country carrying top secret repair manuals for the F-14fighter. Others pocketed computer chips powering the "brains" of thePhoenix missiles that armed them (1).
Still, the damage was far-reaching. The avionics suite on the USNavy F-14 and its Phoenix missile weapons system had to beredesigned, and despite the fact that the listening bases werequietly relocated to mainland China a year later, US arms negotiatorswere forced to admit they no longer had the same capability tomonitor telemetry on Soviet missile tests - and thus, Sovietcompliance with the SALT II accords.
But the United States had not always appeased the Shah'sextravagant appetites, nor indulged his reveries as the defensor ofthe West. On numerous occasions, from the CIA-backed "restoration" of1953 until the Johnson Presidency, American officials attempted totone down the Shah's military requests and direct him instead towardmending the imbalances in Iran's social structure (2).
It was important, they argued, to preserve Iran's strategicposition along NATO's right flank and to prevent Soviet expansion tothe South. However, military aid should be kept within reason, sinceit served primarily "to cement Army loyalty to the Shah, and thusconsolidate the present regime." In the event of a major Soviet moveinto Iran, the Shah would need immediate support from US forcesanyway. An Iranian arms race with the Soviets was unwinnable andwould ruin the Iranian economy, with the result of provokingwidespread unrest that could jeopardize the regime from within(3).
As of 1965, however, the mood in Washington changed. WithPresident Johnson obsessed by Vietnam, the Shah and his influentialally, Northrup President Tom Jones, were able to push through thefirst major arms sale to Iran, for the Northrup F-5. It was arguedIran needed the planes to counter recent Soviet deliveries of MiG 21fighters to neighboring Syria and Iraq. Besides, if the Shah didn'tget them, he was threatening to turn to Moscow instead (4).
The lobbying campaign was so successful not only did the Shah getall 106 of the Northrup planes: the sale was no longer linked todemands for reform inside Iran, the main condition set by allprevious American administrations.
Still, the Shah's arms purchases in the late 60's were modestcompared to what was to come (5). At least limited attention was paidto the ability of the Iranian Armed Forces to absorb the newequipment, which remained several years behind what was available toUS forces.
All that was to change with the arrival of another of the Shah'sinfluential friends to the inner circles of power in Washington.
As President Nixon's advisor on National Security, Henry Kissingerwas instrumental in formulating what became known as the "NixonDoctrine." This was a new strategy whereby US troops could be keptout of foreign wars, all the while US geopolitical interests would beprotected in volatile regions around the globe. Announced in Guam in1969, and initially intended for America's allies in Asia, it becamethe ideological justification for the increasingly extravagant armsrelationship with the Shah. In this idyll of superpower domination,countries such as South Korea, Israel, Iran and South Africa wouldperform the tasks of wartime allies, paying cash for the weapons theywere to use to carry out American designs.
The Guam speech followed on the heels of the announcement by PrimeMinister Harold Wilson that Great Britain intended to evacuate allpoints "East of Suez" by 1971. The possibility of a power vacuum inhis own backyard excited the latent megalomania of the Shah, whowasted little time in posing his candidature with the White House assole defensor of Western interests in the Gulf. His first act was toseize three channel islands controlling the Straights of Hormuz (BigTumb, Little Tumb, and Abu Moussa), where more than 60% of the freeworld's oil supplies transited every day.
The Nixon Doctrine ushered in what the Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee termed "a bonanza for US weapons manufacturers, theprocurement branches of the three US services, and the DefenseSecurity Assistance Agency" (6). The spending spree would reachphenomenal proportions, and would far outstrip the personnel andmanagement capabilities of the Iranian military, since the Shah nowhad the green light to purchase the latest brainchildren of theAmerican defence industry, including weapons not yet adopted by thePentagon.
Iran soon became the largest foreign customer of US weaponry. Itcontributed funds to research & development programs, andreceived some items, such as the F-14, simultaneously as they weredelivered to the US armed forces. From $524 million in FY 1972, armssales to Iran leaped seven-fold by 1974, and totaled $10.4 billionfor the 1972-1976 period. The Shah's total arms build-up from themid-sixties up until the end of his reign can be estimated at $20billion. In the last full year of his reign, military expenditurestotalling $12 billion accounted for 35.5% of the national budget(7).
Besides helping to recirculate enormous amounts of petrodollars(8), the "special relationship" linking Washington and Tehran hadother benefits. The US was allowed to build and maintain listeningbases, and could call on Tehran to supply oil to allies such asIsrael, South Africa, and white-ruled Rhodesia at a time when thesecountries risked oil embargos from Arab OPEC members.
But the Nixon Doctrine, in its effort to shift the defense burdenonto America's allies, created a disturbing symbiosis between the USand Iranian military establishments - precisely the "kind of policythat will make countries... so dependent on us that we are draggedinto conflicts such as the one that we have in Vietnam." (9).According to the Senate Committee Report,
"it is unlikely that Iran could go to war in the next five to tenyears with its current and prospective inventory... without USsupport on a day-to-day basis... We are told that because of thepriority given to "prestige" systems such as the F-14, alreadytrained personnel assigned to other systems that are more relevant tonear-term threats (F-5E and F-4), have been transferred to the newsystems with a resultant unmeasurable degradation in overall forceeffectiveness."
Not only were the arms sales fueling the fires of future chaosthrough the economic imbalance they engendered, but the plethora ofnewer and more complex weaponry was not necessarily improving Iran'sdefence capabilities.
"It is not clear who really has influence over whom," theCommittee Report warned. Once again, as the Soviets would find inIraq, the arms relationship cut both ways. There are limits even tosuperpower influence once the stakes get so high.
When Jimmy Carter, along with Leslie Gelb (then the Director ofthe State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and todaya _N_e_w___Y_o_r_k___T_i_m_e_s correspondent), decided to "moralize"US arms sales abroad, he was thinking specifically of Iran. Armstransfers were henceforth to "be treated as an exceptional instrumentof foreign policy," while the US pledged "not to be the firstsupplier to introduce into a region newly developed advanced weaponsystems which could create a new or significantly higher combatcapability (10)."
Nevertheless, Carter sent Gelb before Congress, to argue for thesale of seven E-3A AWACS aircraft to Iran on the grounds that theywould cost less than installing a ground-based radar network andwould implicate fewer American personnel. Like his predecessors,Carter would make the same fatal miscalcation in believing that theUnited States could secure sufficient political leverage through armssales to change the domestic behavior of the recipient regime. Andlike his predecessors, he would repeat the mistake again andagain.
Though finally approved, the AWACS were never delivered. Two othersales that would have drastically escalated American intelligencelosses at the Revolution were flatly refused: the F-18L, a groundattack version of the Navy's newest fighter, and the Air Force "WildWeasel," an upgraded F-4 jam-packed with the newest and mostsophisticated electronic countermeasures the US defence industry hadever produced, an earlier version of which had been used successfullyby the Israelis during the 1973 War (11).
The arms relationship with the Shah had clearly gotten out ofhand, even in the eyes of such conservatives as Fred Ikle, who warnedthat the sale of still more advanced fighters to Iran would be"destabilizing." (12) Before the Shah fled the country on January 16,1979 he had placed orders with US contractors for an additional $12.2billion of military hardware, with deliveries to be spread over thefollowing three years.
One of the last acts of the Provisional Government of ShahpourBakhtiar was to cancel $9 billion worth of the impending orders. Thefollowing is only a partial list of the items now considered tooexpensive or superfluous to Iran's real defense needs, but it gives aglimpse of the enormity of the Shah's pretensions, and of thestaggering amounts of equipment he _d_i_d purchase over the precedingten years.
- 160 F-16s plus training and support at a total cost of $3.6billion
- Seven E-3A AWACS, $1.2 billion
- Two of four Litton Industries DD-993 "Spruance class" guidedmissile destroyers, at an estimated $600 million
- 400 Phoenix missiles, estimated at $250-$300 million.
- 16 McDonnell Douglas RF-4E reconnaissance aircraft, $219million
- 200 McDonnell Douglas Harpoon anti-ship missiles, $130 mill
- 500 Gould Mk.46 torpedoes, $79 million
- 1000 Raytheon Improved Hawk air defense missiles, $60million
- 400 Gould Mk 46 torpedoes, $47 million
- Various armored personnel carriers and other vehicles.
As the Shah discovered when his soldiers discarded their magazinesand began placing roses at the end of their gun barrels, the ImperialMilitary had been "organized for the wrong war (13)." Too small andill-trained to forestall a Soviet invasion, too large andtechnology-oriented to crush a local rebellion, the Army wouldfinally collapse into itself, like a dying star.
As late as December 12, 1978, during a White House pressconference, President Carter still reaffirmed his belief in the Shah."I fully expect the Shah to maintain power in Iran and for thepresent problems in Iran to be resolved. The predictions of doom anddisaster that came from some sources have certainly not been realizedat all (14)."
At the same time, the United States was timidly trying to lay thebasis for future cooperation under an Islamic regime. Its primaryhope lay in maintaining open lines of communication with the IranianArmy, since some 12,000 Iranian officers had been trained in the USsince 1947. Most spoke fluent English, and many had children or otherrelatives studying in the United States. "The maintenance of anintact military as an institution could confer considerablebargaining advantages in managing both the post-revolutionarypolitics of Iran and the transition," argued Iranian scholar ShahramChubin. Organizing their allegiance under Iran's new leaders was oneof the primary reasons behind the ill-fated mission of General Huyserin December 1978 (15).
With the fall of the provisional government in February, anattempt was made by Khomeini to stabilize the army. A limited purgewas ordered under the direction of Rear Admiral Ahmad Madani andGeneral Taqi Riyahi, to skim the "corrupt" head off the Army andbegin its reorganization along Islamic lines. 85 officers, including26 Generals, were executed (out of an announced total of 404executions during this period), all of whom had committed specific"counterrevolutionary" acts under the Shah. This was a far cry fromthe disaster many had feared. In fact, some of the "victims" wouldhave been sacrificed anyway had Bakhtiar remained in power.
Khomeini and his allies had good reason for maintaining theofficer corps intact throughout the early stages of the revolution.They needed the army to reinforce their standing against rivalgroups, such as the Tudeh Party, the Fedayeen-e Khalq and theMujahidin. "The army, police and gendarmerie are now in the serviceof Islam and the nation," Khomeini declared. "The nation shouldsupport them, and do nothing that might discourage them or hurt theirfeelings (16)." Indeed, by this time the desertion rate had reached60%.
Continued unrest and local uprisings also militated in favor ofmaintaining a national military apparatus, in the hands ofwell-trained professional officers. As early as April 1, 1979 troopswere sent to the northern province of Mazandaran to put down arevolt. In July, the army was used to quell riots in Kurdistan, andagain in September in Khuzestan. In all three military interventions,however, there was a new element: regular army units now operatedunder the watchful eyes of the Revolutionary Guards, to ensure theirloyalty to the regime.
Carter's last attempt to woo
Carter's principal advisors on Iran - Henry Precht at State,American MAAG chief General Philip Gast, and the new charge d'affairsin Tehran, L. Bruce Laingen - closely monitored these events, andargued over the summer that relations with the revolutionarygovernment were improving. They believed a significant opportunityfor renewing US influence in Iran was at hand, via the "objectivedependency" of the Islamic regime on American military training andsupport. Accordingly, the Pentagon was ordered to get the spare partspipeline flowing again, starting with a $300 million back order forhelicopter and F-14 spares. In August a few modest new contracts weresigned (17).
Negociations on improving relations between the two countriescontinued to within days of the storming of the US embassy onNovember 4, 1979. Despite Iranian suspicion, and mounting warningsignals that the Bazargan government was losing control, top USofficials believed "common interests could provide a basis for futurecooperation - not on the scale of before but sufficient todemonstrate that Iran has not been 'lost' to us and to the West."(18) It was felt that Khomeini's desire to smash the Kurds wouldforce him to come to terms with the US.
In hindsight, the monumental misjudgment of the Pentagon and the] State Department seems little more than ill-timed wishfulthinking, based on the type of biased reporting that had failed topredict the revolution but ten months earlier. But one current withinthe American Administration - spearheaded by Ambassador WilliamSullivan (19) - truly believed Khomeini could provide an effectivebulwark against a Soviet or communist inspired take-over in Iran, andthat the arms relationship would create obligations stronger than therevolutionary rhetoric of the radical mullahs. What they failed tounderstand was that Khomeini was primarily concerned withconsolidating his regime through revolutionary purity, convinced thata desire for martyrdom could vanquish the most powerful conventionalarms. This same inability to understand the ideological underpinningsof the Islamic regime would lead to the ill-fated Irangate initiativeof 1985-86.
In the early days of the hostage crisis President Carter"punished" the Iranians by cutting the arms relationship off cold. OnNovember 9, he embargoed the $300 million parts shipment; on the23rd, he terminated flight training for the 273 Iranian militarypersonnel still in the United States. Khomeini responded by attackingthe Iranian Army, now accused of secretly collaborating with the "BigSatan." This charge became more vociferous after the failed rescueattempt in April, which had required the complicity of certain seniorofficers. One of the heads to fall was General Bahman Bagheri, theAir Force Chief of Staff.
The regime's change of attitude toward the military had been inthe works since September 1979, when Mostafa Chamran was appointedthe first civilian Minister of Defence. A Khomeini insider and formerdeputy prime minister for revolutionary affairs, Chamran unleashed ageneral purge that would affect the military establishment to itsvery roots. Coupled to the creation of the "Army of Twenty Million"announced by Khomeini, the idea was to forge a new popular forcepurged of all ties to the Shah, that would build and then sustainrevolutionary fervor, based on the trumped-up threat of an Americaninvasion. "We believe that the entire Iranian nation should becomethe soldiers of the revolution... (whereas) the Army should be turnedinto a specialized and modern technical cadre," Chamran said(20).
Accordingly, the ranks of the professional armed forces weredimished by half. The purge wiped out the entire command structure ofthe Army, which alone accounted for 10,000 of the total 12,000military personnel eliminated by the time of the Iraqi invasion.According to Brookings analyst William F. Hickman, "suspicion wasaroused by previous association with Americans, training in theUnited States, relationships with those already purged, or other suchfactors." The purge would have "a devastating effect on the army'sability to conduct combat operations."
American officials became increasingly worried that the SovietUnion would take advantage of the chaos inside of Iran, especiallyafter Afghanistan, and tried to convince newly-elected PresidentAbolhassan Bani Sadr and other officials of the advantages ofmaintaining diplomatic relations with the U.S. Even after the failedmission at Tabas, which brought US humiliation to its peak, DefenseSecretary Harold Brown reiterated the Administration's desire "to befriends with the revolutionary government... A strong, stable Iran,neutral and Islamic, would be good for the area and for the UnitedStates. Moreover, it would help to block Soviet expansionism."(21).
Again and again, Carter and Brown would offer to normalizerelations and resume arms deliveries in exchange for release of thehostages. But their entreaties fell on impotent ears. Bani Sadr hadbeen outmanoeuvred by the radical mullahs, whose primary goalthroughout the crisis was to block any rapprochement betweenWashington and Tehran. Buoyed up by the "victory" at Tabas, theybecame increasingly intransigent.
Although there is no evidence to date of direct Soviet involvementin the storming of the US Embassy, the USSR clearly benefitted fromthe attack on US prestige, and maintained open lines of communicationwith the radical "students" throughout the crisis. Their spokesman,44-year old Sayed Mohammad Mohsen Mossavi Khoiniha, served as abridge between the Soviet Embassy, the students, and AyatollahKhomeini. The privileged relationship between Soviet AmbassadorVladimir Vinogradov and Khoiniha was discovered by visiting Egyptianjournalist, Mohammad Heikal, who had known Vinogradov in the early1970's when he was Soviet Ambassador to Egypt. Heikal used hisfriendship with Vinogradov to arrange a hasty meeting with the"students" - which to Heikal's surprise, took place in the SovietAmbassador's official residence. (Vinogradov had a reputation formingling in the internal affairs of the countries to which he wasassigned) (22). Khoiniha was fired from his position as director ofIranian radio-television by incoming President Bani Sadr in January1980. Later he was given control of Iran's secret police, SAVAMA,which he reorganized with Soviet help.
Although the Soviet Union had been unwilling to risk offending theShah by premature support for the religious opposition (after all,the Shah _h_a_d survived crises before), it launched a serious effortto penetrate the Islamic movement early in 1978, training "false"mullahs in East Germany, Cuba, Syria and Lebanon, and putting theresources of the Soviet-funded Popular Front for the Liberation ofPalestine at Khomeini's disposal. For the USSR, the hostage crisismarked a switch from its relatively passive role as interestedobserver, to an active effort to eliminate US influence in IslamicIran. This would culminate in a mutual defense pact, militarydeliveries, extensive economic cooperation, and the participation ofits surrogate, the Tudeh Party, in successive revolutionarygovernments.
Suppose they gave a war...
When the Gulf war broke out the Iranian regime was on theideological offensive, but its military machine was in a shambles.The deep purges had decimated the officer corps, while the US embargoon spare parts resulted in grounding the Iranian Air Force andhelicopter fleet - at least, by all appearances. Indeed, it was theperception by Iraq's ruling Baath Party of a window of opportunitythat tipped the scales in favor of what they felt was a preemptiveattack. Saddam Hussein thought he could bring down the fundamentalistregime in a matter of days, becoming the first Arab leader to equalIsraeli military exploits.
For the radicals in Iran, the war came as a relief. It offered amore effective means of consolidating the revolution than the hostagecrisis, which had aroused the opposition of the moderates and thehostility of the bazariis, hard-hit by American sanctions. Still, inthe eyes of Prime Minister Ali Radjai, US prestige and influence hadfallen so low he felt he could refuse the final US offer of militarysupplies, which included parts for F-4s, F-5s, C-130s, ammunition forIran's 155mm howitzers, and Dragon anti-tank and improved Hawk airdefence missiles. The whole lot was ready for shipment, and hadalready been paid for by the Iranians, according to Administrationleaks to the press just days before the US elections (23).
By January 1981 it became evident that Iran owned $1 billion ofAmerican weapons and related equipment in Pentagon stores, but thesewere never included in the final hostage agreement and may never havebeen discussed. "A decision to seek to reactivate the military supplyrelationship with the US would be an admission of defeat on severallevels," Chubin notes (24). Instead, the Iranians purchased vitalspares on the international arms market, working through brokers inEurope, Israel, Taiwan and... the United States.
The Soviet Union made two _o_b_e_c_t_i_v_e gains through thehostage crisis: it firmly installed anti-American hard-liners inpower, and moved Iran irrevocably onto the path of conflict withIraq. As US Middle East experts, such as William Quandt and JosephSisco would note in the early days of the war, the Soviet Union hadeverything to gain from the conflict (25). Iranian dependence on USspare parts would undoubtedly arouse suspicion among the mullahs thatthe war was an American plot, whereas Moscow could point to its"neutral" - even friendly - posture, once arms supplies to Iraq werecut off. At the same time the Soviets were given a prime occasion toteach the Baathists a lesson. Here, however, the Sovietsmiscalculated. Instead of reinforcing their influence through thearms relationship, they contributed in driving Iraq to the West.
Bani Sadr reorganizes the Air Force
When Bani Sadr was named Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces,following his election as President on January 25, 1980, he was facedwith the total disorganization of the military. Almost immediately,he set up a government commission to reevaluate the purges, whichreported the extent of the disaster: the combat effectiveness of theAir Force was estimated at 20%, that of the Navy 10%, whereas that ofthe Army was believed to be virtually nil. Bani Sadr's account of howhe attempted to remedy this situation, culled from a series ofinterviews over a three year period, adds a wealth of historicaldetails previously unavailable in the West and sheds new light on whyIran simply didn't collapse when Iraq invaded in September 1980.
"Under the Shah, all decisions were made by one man. If he gave noorders, as happened the last year, the Army simply collapsed. Infact, the Shah was more afraid of the Army than he was of therevolution...
My effort was to democratize the Army, open the door to personalinitiative which did not exist before. I tried to form an army ofmerit, based on competence. I wanted to turn the Army into a school.When you entered, you knew you could become an officer - even FieldMarshall - depending on the level of your competence" (26).
But Bani Sadr admitted he never could have reorganized the Army ifthere hadn't been the increasing tensions of early 1980, and finallythe war.
The sabre-rattling of early 1980 afforded the new President anexcuse to rehabilitate many professional army officers, languishingin Khomeini's jails. It also gave him a chance to tour militaryinstallations around the country to show officers that the Revolutionwas not solely dedicated to their demise. While he was boostingmorale, he said, he took the occasion to check on spare parts andlogistics. And here, the situation he discovered was desperate, andheartening all at once.
Warehouse after warehouse was crammed to the ceiling with cratesof American spare parts, for the F-4s, the F-5s, the F-14s. The onlyitem glaringly absent were the gyroscopes used in the inertialnav/attack system on the Grumman F-14 - without which, thesesophisticated aircraft would fly blind.
The problem was that no one knew where any _s_p_e_c_i_f_i_c partwas located. The US company which had been contracted to computerizethe logistics network had pulled out with the Shah, leaving behind astaff officer's nightmare on a national level, and $250 million inbills.
"We used three different Iranian teams to scour the country. Ittook them six months to complete a new spare parts listing, which wethen fed into a central computer. When Saddam attacked, he thoughtour Air Force was grounded. Instead, it was 90% operational, and thiswas his biggest mistake. For it was the resistance of the Air Force,the constant waves of its attacks against Iraqi tanks, troops, andartillery for nearly one month, that gave us the time we needed totransfer ground forces from the north of the country and bring themdown to the front. Without the Air Force, we were lost, because wehad absolutely nothing on the ground."
After the month-long air war, the former President said, theIranian Army was able to disengage enough troops from Kurdistan toset up a defensive line in the southern province of Khuzistan, wherethe Iraqi attack was the most fierce. When the line held, Bani Sadrordered the Air Force home. The planes (already threatened by a lackof spare parts) were too precious to waste on ground supportoperations. Only attacks against strategic installations - such asthe Air bases inside Iraq - were still allowed. "I was thinking ofafter the war," Bani Sadr said. "For once we had shown Saddam thatIran would not collapse, I believed the war would end. I neverimagined it could go on this long."
Another key factor that increased Iranian preparedness for Iraq'sinvasion was the unmasking of a vast 5th column organization in July1980. Sometimes called the "Noget Coup," the plotters belonged togroups still faithful to Shahpour Bakhtiar and the former head of theShah's Army, General Gholam Ali Oveissi, who organized the coupattempt from their exile in Iraq. Six hundred pro-Bakhtiar officerswere arrested at a meeting at the Noget Air base, outside the city ofHamadan, including 270 officers from the only regular Army divisionthen stationed in Khuzistan. Twenty-five pilots were also involved inthe conspiracy. Khomeini decreed they all be executed for theiropposition to the Islamic regime, but Bani Sadr opposed his decision.Using procedural ruses in the Courts, he managed to delay theexecutions until the war broke out, at which point he freed most ofthe officers on condition they returned to active duty (27).
"Before the war broke out, we had unveiled eight major cells, alllinked through a central organization. The largest was in the AirForce, but others were active at Army bases in Tehran itself, as wellas in Kermanshah, Khuzistan, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan - all along theIraqi border. Their mission was to paralyze the Army and the AirForce once Iraq launched its attack. It was not a coup d'etat, but anorganized Iraqi attack."
The former President claims that the first clue to the conspiracywas discovered by the alert Captain of the Presidential Guard, whoreceived a manuscript letter threatening the regime. Comparing thehandwriting to Army files, he traced the letter to a non-commissionedofficer named Heydari of the Airmobile helicopter commandos, andgradually unearthed Heydari's co-conspirators.
"The problem was that we didn't know when they intended to act.But we did know that their plan was to give the appearance of a coupd'etat to restore the Shah, while the real aim was to provide apretext to cover the Iraqi invasion. According to the information wereceived, the conspirators had set up a military camp in Sulimaniehand planned to ignite a Kurdish revolt and organize demonstrationsthroughout Iran. Their strategy was simple: internal disorders wouldfirst disperse Iranian military forces, so that on the very first dayof the Iraqi attack Saddam could occupy the whole Western part of thecountry."
As Bani Sadr launched his discreet investigation, the detailsbegan to check out. A rebel training camp was soon identified nearthe Iraqi city of Sulimanieh (and destroyed by the Iranian Air Forceon the first day of the war), while the Kurdish revolt that was tospearhead the campaign of nationwide unrest erupted in July. As forthe Iranian Army division in Khuzistan - the first province theIraqis attacked - Bani Sadr discovered to his dismay that only 28tanks (out of a total of 159) were in working order. Only 7 fieldguns remained. All the rest had been sabotaged.
"Once we had verified our information we took measures to keep theIraqi plan from coming off. We hit the Kurds hard in July and inSeptember and arrested the plotters. We reorganized the Air Force. Bythe time of the invasion, all but our ground forces were ready.Still, if Saddam had concentrated his forces in Khuzistan, where wewere weakest, there is nothing we could have done to stop him. Hisbig mistake was opening hostilities along the entire border"(28).
But the handwritten letter that eventually led the way to theconspirators was not all. Bani Sadr says he received detailedinformation on the Iraqi invasion plans from his Foreign Minister,Sadegh Ghotsadegh, who in turn said he had bought the information for$200,000 from someone in Latin America.
"Latin America? It simply didn't make sense. Shortly afterreceiving this information from Ghotsadegh, our Ambassador to Moscow,Dr Mokri, returned to Tehran to give me the same information. I askedhim the source. He said it came from friends in the CNRS in France (aState-sponsored social sciences think tank). I said that wasridiculous. Then a few weeks later, the Soviet Ambassador,Vinogradov, came to see me and I asked him if he wasn't the onebehind the whole story. He gave a little laugh, but wouldn't say."Well instead of making us pay $200,000," I said, "you could havesimply given us this information for free."
Bani Sadr's account confirms the Iraqis' worst suspicions: notonly did the USSR betray Iraq by not living up to existing weaponscontracts, it made active contributions to Iranian militaryintelligence.
The result was that at the beginning of the war, the Iranian Airforce flew a sortie rate that astonished most observers, andcertainly took the Iraqis by surprise. In a series of lighting airattacks which Iraqi planning had simply failed to predict, Irantotally destroyed Iraq's oil terminals at Khor al-Amaya and Minaal-Bakr, dealing a blow to Iraq's oil export capacity that would takeyears to repair. Meanwhile, major naval battles during the first tendays of the war sank a large number of Iraqi vessels and blockedIraq's access to the Gulf. The Iraqi intelligence failure wasdevastating. Iran had crushed the Noget coup in July, and yet Saddamdecided to pursue his invasion plan all the same (29).
One of the most haunting ironies of the Noget coup would onlybecome apparent many years later. Shahpour Bakhtiar's liason agentwith the conspirators in Iran, a private businessman who had thrownhis fortune and organization talents into the fray, would enter theinternational spotlight under different circumstances in November1986. His name was Manucher Ghorbanifar.
When Bani Sadr left Tehran for the front at the beginning of thewar, the commander of the Ahwaz air base told him they wereevacuating Khuzistan, so the Iranian President called in the pilotsand gave them an impromptu speech. "I told them if we lost Khuzistan,all Iran was lost and they would be forced to flee their homeland,just the like the Palestinians." For an entire week, the Iranianflyers pounded the invading armies without let up, eventuallychecking the Iraqi advance.
"We had 800 helicopters, and they were working perfectly, contraryto what Saddam believed. But the Air Force hesitated to use them inKhouzistan because the terrain is totally flat, making them easytargets to ground fire. So I found our best helicopter pilot, SarangIran-Doust, and freed him from prison. I asked him to devise newattack tactics. On his first combat mission he destroyed one hundredIraqi vehicles using the TOW missile.
"Not long afterwards, I followed behind him on a combat mission ina second Cobra to see how he did it. By now, it has become a standardprocedure taught in war colleges around the war. But then,Iran-Doust's tactic was new. He approached from high up, spotting histarget, then swooped down like a Kingfisher to make the kill. Withthese tactics, one of our Cobras was worth thirty enemy tanks. It wasa victory of men, not weapons."
The Air Force, the unsuspected surge of Iranian nationalism andIslamic fervor, combined to check the Iraqi invasion. After sevenweeks of fierce fighting, Iraq went on the defensive. The Iraqiposture would have been even more uncomfortable had Iran not been inhe throes of an all-out power struggle, pitting the radical mullahsagainst Bani Sadr in Tehran. At the front, this translated into atotal lack of coordination between the Revolutionary Guards and theprofessional Army, the military wings of the rival factions.
Iran's second major weakness as the war wound on was the lack ofspare parts. Despite the mountains of equipment discovered before thewar began, certain items were consumed more quickly than others incombat. This was especially true of tires for Iran's F-4 and F-5fighters. It became urgent to find a source of resupply.
On July 18, 1981, a Canadair CL-44 cargo plane belonging to anArgentine company crashed in Soviet Armenia, not far from the Iranianborder. It had just completed the third of twelve scheduled flightsfrom Tel Aviv to Tehran via Larnaca, Cyprus, carrying the aircrafttires and other spares bought from Israeli arms dealers.
The crash was reported widely in the international press (30). OnJuly 26 the _S_u_n_d_a_y___T_i_m_e_s published an interview withAndreas Gini, the Swiss partner of the dead pilot, who said the planewas shot down after "the Soviets were tipped off by someone at thePalestine Liberation Organization bureau in Larnaca." With the crashof the Argentine plane, the lid was off. The Iraqis seized theoccasion to leak additional details to the press on Israeli armssales to Iran gathered by their intelligence network, and submitted adocumented report on the subject to the 36th Session of the UNGeneral Assembly on September 18, 1981.
In Iran, the race was on to see who would take the blame. The mostavailable scapegoat was Bani Sadr, who was deposed as President byKhomeini and the radical mullahs in June. On August 19, the IranianCharge d'affairs in Beirut, Mohsen Al-Moussaoui, admitted that Iranwas purchasing arms on the international market, and that they werebeing "transported by the Argentine plane before it was shot down. OnAugust 23, Iran's Foreign Minister, Hussein Moussavi, said thatIsraeli-Iran arms deals "had to have been negotiated on Bani Sadr'sorders, because as President at the time he was alsoCommander-in-Chief of Iran's Armed Forces." From his newly-foundexile in Paris, Bani Sadr denied the charge: "If we have to buy armsfrom Israel to continue the war against Saddam," he told the ABC_N_i_g_h_t_l_i_n_e_, "we would do better to make peace" (31).
Whether or not the USSR intended it, the shooting down of theArgentine plane added to Bani Sadr's growing discredit inside Iran,while it reinforced the position of his radical enemies. According tothe New York Times , it also temporarily blocked attempts by theUnited States and Israel to pursue secret contacts with Iranianmoderates, who were willing to renew diplomatic relations with theU.S. in exchange for U.S. arms (32). ====================NOTES=====================
1. Aviation Week & Space Technology, October 20, 1980.
2. For an account of the Mossadegh period, and the CIA-backedcoup, see "Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience andIran," by Barry Rubin, Penguin, 1980, pp 54-90. Kermit Roosevelt, whoengineered the coup for the CIA, offers his own version in"Countercoup: the struggle for control of Iran," McGraw, 1977.
3. United States Policy toward Iran: A Report to the NationalSecurity Council by the NSC Planning Board," December 21, 1955, asquoted in "The United States and Iran, a Documentary History," YonahAlexander and Allan Nanes, editors, Aletheia Books, 1980, p 268.
Despite the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the United States andIran, which included a mutual defence clause and the militaryassistance program (MAP), State and Defence Department officialsremained leery of all-out support of the Shah. Pressure on the Shahto reform intensified during the Kennedy Administration, as documentsin the same collection clearly reveal. The last "voice of reason"before the build-up of the late 60s and 70s was Robert McNamara's:"Although the Iranian military forces, with our aid, have improvedsignificantly during the last decade, they are still not and nevercan be a match for even those Soviet forces presently deployed alongthe Iranian borders, even though the terrain favors the defense... InIran, as elsewhere in the world, the best defense against the spreadof communism is a steady improvement in economic and socialconditions." (Testimony of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamarabefore a Defense Department Subcommittee of the US SenateAppropriations Committee, February 3, 1964, ibid, p 348.
The Shah first requested substantial amounts of US military aidin the wake of the Soviet occupation of Azerbaijan in 1946. Trumanrepeatedly turned him down. His Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, wasnot impressed by the Shah's sense of reality nor his leadershipcapabilities. Coming out from a 1949 meeting with the Shah, Acheson(as quoted by Rubin, p 42, ibid) warned that increased militaryexpenditures could in fact have the opposite effect of bringing downthe government by internal discontent. "The best way to prevent war,which was after all our real objective, was not by militarypreparations but by so developing our free economic and socialstructures that the Russians would be deterred from attacking,"Acheson argued. For the next twenty years, American policy-makerswould continue in their belief that the real purpose of the Iranianarmed forces was to meet an internal, not external, threat. The shiftin this belief during the Nixon-Kissinger era led to thedestabilization of the Iranian economy, and a top-heavy militarymachine incapable of meeting the real threat it would eventuallyface.
4. For a colorful account of Northrup's marketing efforts seeAnthony Sampson, "The Arms Bazaar," pp 234-252, especially p240-1.
A flamboyant character, Jones first invited the Shah to visit himin California in 1962, where he offered him a subscription to_A_v_i_a_t_i_o_n___W_e_e_k_. To ensure the F-5 "Tiger" would get thevery best hearing in Tehran and beat out its prime competitor, theLockheed F-104 Starfighter, he appointed Kermit Roosevelt asNorthrup's "Ambassador to Iran." Roosevelt - who had engineered the1953 CIA coup to overthrow Prime Minister Mossadegh - was instructedby Jones to gear discussions with the Shah "on the basis offundamental national objectives, rather than allow it to take theappearance of a sales plan."
5. When the US AID mission to Tehran was closed in 1967, it hadchanelled a total of $1 billion in US military _a_n_d economic aid toIran since its creation in 1954. The last military sales to Iranfunded by Pentagon grants or MAP funds were delivered in 1969.
6. Staff Report to the Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance of theCommittee on Foreign Relations, US Senate: United States MilitarySales to Iran. July 1976, as quoted in Alexander and Nanes, opcit p408. On the Iranian-US arms relationship see also, "Debacle: TheAmerican Failure in Iran," by Michael Ledeen & William Lewis,"Vintage, 1982, pp 39-43 and 51-62. The head of th DSAA Air Forcebranch in Tehran in 1976 was a certain General Richard V. Secord.
7. Ibid. The DMS 1984 Market Overview suggests the figure of $17billion for the 1970-79 period. See the United States Arms Controland Disarmament Agency publication, "World Military Expenditures andArms Transfers, 1985" for defense budgetary figures.
8. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger was blunt about the cost ofUS arms to Iran. "We're going to make them pay through the nose, justas they are making us pay through the nose for oil." Cf The New YorkTimes, February 4, 1976.
9. On Nixon's Guam speech, cf "The Price of Power: Kissinger inthe Nixon White House," by Seymour M. Hirsch, Summit Books, 1983, p121.
10. "The President's Arms Transfer Policy," July 29, 1977, inAlexander and Nanes, p447.
11. Rubin, p 175, suggests that Northrup President Tom Jones mayhave personally persuaded the Shah and Defense Minister Toufanian toorder 250 F-18Ls plus equipment and services for $2.5 billion, as ameans of pressuring the Navy into buying the plane. However, "theDefense Department," Rubin writes, "was not going to finance itsdevelopment merely because Iran wanted it."
12. Ibid, p 176
13. William F. Hickman
, "Ravaged and Reborn: The Iranian Army, 1982," from The BrookingsInstitution, Washington, DC, 1982, p 9.
14. Alexander and Nanes, p 464. One could argue, of course, thatCarter's renewed support of the Shah was intended for publicconsumption - and in particular, to convince the revolutionaries theUS did not intend to throw in the towel without a fight. More reveal,in a sense, is Carter's reply to a journalist's question overbreakfast the week before as to whether he thought the Shah couldsurvive. "I don't know. I hope so," he said bluntly. "This issomething that is in the hands of the people of Iran."
15. "Security in the Persian Gulf: The role of the outsidepowers," by Shahram Chubin, IISS, London, 1982, p 16.
On the mission to Iran of Air Force General Robert Huyser, Deputyto the Commander of US Forces, Europe), see Ledeen & Lewis,pp174-87, inter alia: "Expected at once to organize and prevent acoup d'etat, encourage and restrain the Iranian generals, supportBakhtiar and a military organization that had pledged its loyalty tothe shah, and the master the subtleties of the Iranian whirlwind,Huyser was out of his element." (p 180).
Years later, in an interview with the author, Bakhtiar wouldstill accuse Huyser of trying to undermine his rule.
As this book goes to press, Huyser is expected to publish his ownaccount of this crucial period.
16. Hickman, opcit, p 9, quoting Khomeini's speech of February 28,1978.
17. Ledeen & Lewis, p 225. Some sources claim the spare partscontracts under discussion following the State Department's August 23announcement of resumed deliveries reached $4-$5 billion. Cf "Iran:Anatomie d'une Revolution," Houchang Nahavandi, Numero Special de larevue universelle, Paris, 1983, p 146.
18. Ibid, p 227, quoting comments attributed to AssistantSecretary of State David Newsome after an October 6 meeting withIranian Foreign Affairs Minister Ibrahim Yazdi. "Just as Carter andhis advisors had deceived themselves in January, when they maintainedthat Bakhtiar had an excellent chance to survive, so they deceivedthemselves again the summer and fall, when they believed that thingswere going well with the government of Iran," Ledeen & Lewisconcluded.
19. William H. Sullivan, "My Mission to Iran," , 1981.
20. Hickman, p 13, quoting a radio broadcast of October 9, 1979.The Army's ongoing relationship with the US became obvious during theaborted hostage rescue mission in April 1980, when the Air Forcedestroyed the physical evidence of the raid. The regime took itsrevenge following a garison mutiny in Azerbaijan in June 1980, andthe discovery of an extensive plot among senior officers in July.Hickman estimates the purge elimated one-half of the 14,000 fieldgrade officers (ie, majors and colonels) and another 2000 lower gradeofficers and NCOs.
21.International Herald Tribune, April 28, 1980.
22. On this incident, cf Mohammed Heikal, "Khomeini and Hisrevolution," p 18; also "Le Grand Mensonge: Dossier Noir del'Integrisme Islamique," Houchang Nahavandi, Editions Debresse,Paris, 1985, p 88-102. Heikal comments on Vinogradov's activities inEgypt, and in particular his support of certain enemies of PresidentSadat, in "Sphinx and Commisar," op cit.
For the Palestinian involvement see Ledeen & Lewis, op cit, p110-111, which also describes Khomeini's personal debt to Syrianpresident, Hafez al-Assad, and p 117; Rubin, op cit p 281. Othersources include: Rene Cagnat, "L'URSS en Iran: vers la percee,"Defense Nationale, November 1982, pp 69-83; P. Naghibi, "La longuemarche du KGB en Iran," Le Monde, 11-12 mars 1984.
23. See International Herald Tribune, October 31, 1980. However,then Presidnt Bani Sadr, in a 5-hour conversation with the author onDecember 14, 1985, offers a different version. He claims Khomeinicontacted US officials in April to discuss the Carter-Brown offer viahis close advisor and in-law, Sadegh Tabatabai, and later, throughAyatollah Behesti. He also claims Carter pledged to deliver theaircraft spares and missiles as an unwritten part of the hostage"package" - unwritten so as to limit US embarrassment in the Arabworld - and that this was why Ali Radjai had agreed to the US textswhich made no explicit references to a renewal of arms deliveries.Carter went back on his promise, Bani Sadr contends; whereas AliRadjai "betrayed" the true cause of the revolution.
The head of the European and North America section of Iran'sForeign Ministry, Ali Ahani, told journalists in Paris in January1987 that some of this equipment - "already paid for by Iran" - hadbeen delivered in 1986 from warehouses in New Jersey and elsewhere aspart of the Irangate affair. The New Jersey warehouse is said to havecontained 80,000 lbs of Cobra helicopter spare parts.
24. Op cit, p 24.
25. See "Washington pris à contre-pied," NouvelObservateur, 29 septembre 1980.
26. Based on extensive interviews with Bani Sadr on December 11and 13, 1984, and December 14, 1985, and throughout 1986 and early1987.
27. The coup plot is mentioned by Hickman (p15, p 18), quoting aninterview with Bani Sadr by Eric Rouleau which appeared in Le Mondeon January 6, 1981. In that account, Bani Sadr emphasizes the powerstruggle in Tehran, in particular the intense rivalry pitting himagainst his Prime Minister, Ali Radjai, that inhibited seriousmilitary planning for the war. The following account offerssignificant new details of the plot itself, and the secret measurestaken by Bani Sadr to prevent an Iraqi victory.
Former Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar, in an interview with theauthor on January 7, 1985, alleged that 300 pilots had been arrestedor executed by the time the war began, but did not comment on theNoget coup or his crucial role in convincing Saddam Hussein to invadeIran.
28. Hickman comments, p 19: "Despite Bani-Sadr's foreknowledge ofthe Iraqi attack, at the outbreak of the war the army was notpositioned in strength along the Iraqi border: at the direction of(Defence Minister Mustafa) Chamran, most of it was engaged inoperations against Kurdish dissidents and deployed along the northernborder... For the most part, the initial defense (of Khuzistan) wasto be the responsibility of the Revolutionary Guards and the localmilitias."
29. Ibid, p 20. For additional details on the role of the IranianAir Force in the revolution and the early days of the war, cf JosephVernoux, "L'Iran des Mollah," Paris, Editions Anthropos, 1981, pp159-162. A French businessman working in Iran at the time, Vernouxprovides a wealth of economic data and perspicuous observation in afirst-hand account.
30. Some examples of Western press accounts: Sunday Times, July26, 1981; Le Figaro, July 27,1981; ABC News, July 15, and August20-21-22, 1981; La Tribune de Lausanne, July 29, 1981, etc.
31. "Arms Collaboration between Israel and the Iranian Regime," UNdocument A/36/518 of September 18, 1981.
32.The New York Times, June 23, 1981.