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Springer Journal: Iran ... Then and Now

Posted September 20, 2006

— This month, we had some very special opportunities to reflect on the unexpected and horrific attack on America. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, occupied much of the media attention leading up to, and on, the fifth anniversary of what many Americans perceive as the starting point of America's long war on terror.

But was 9/11, as it has become better known, really the "starting point" of our war on terror? Was this the first time that Islamic extremists showed their hand in their plan to destroy infidels around the globe, and very specifically, in America. While hijacking airliners filled with innocent people and crashing of them into national icons was the most devastating of the terrorists' attacks to date, it was not their first effort.

I reflect back to November 1979. I believe that the Iranian students charging the U.S. embassy in Teheran and taking more than 50 Americans hostage should have been a wake-up call for freedom-loving folks everywhere. These hostages were held for 444 days and finally released on our presidential Inaugural Day 1981.

As I wrote in another column years ago, I was responsible for directing the airlift of these hostages to freedom on that cold January day. As a senior Air Force officer in Europe at the time, I was involved throughout their more than 13-month ordeal, and so my perspective on this hostage taking may influence my sense that this was where and when we should have realized that uncontrolled radicals need to be confronted wherever and whenever they attack our national interests.

Interestingly, today it is Iran that has, as a national government and not as a bunch of students, become a very serious concern on the international scene. Their alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty -- they are a signer of the treaty -- is a very grave concern. For example, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, has called for the destruction of Israel. Imagine a leader of that persuasion having nuclear weapons! Imagine a leader of that persuasion cavorting with other terrorists and sharing nuclear technology and weaponry! That should keep you up at night!

Now let's look back at November 1979 and Teheran once again. There are some experts, and some of the American hostages held by the Iranian students in that era, that have proclaimed publicly that President Ahmadinejad was one of those students who raided our embassy and took hostage all of those working there that day. If the photos and the recollections of his participation in the embassy siege are accurate, it may further define his long-standing hatred of America and what it stands for. It may also show just how patient some of these fanatics are. It should be a very grave concern for America and freedom-loving people around the globe.

I have no special intelligence as to whether or not the Iranian government has nuclear weapons, or even if they are close to obtaining them. Unfortunately, I am not certain anyone outside of a small number in the Iranian government knows either. We hear all kinds of estimates as to when nuclear weapons could be developed if their pursuit of enriching uranium is left unchecked. It could be months, years, or a decade or more depending on who is estimating. I do know that I would not want to see the current regime in Iran have even a token nuclear capability. Their threats to international peace and the greater concern of actual nuclear weapon use are sufficient reason to ensure they do not produce a nuclear weapon.

Several years ago, WRAL's David Crabtree asked me what I saw as the greatest threat on the horizon. I immediately voiced my concern about the possibility of North Korea obtaining nuclear weapons. While that is still a very grave concern, I now see Iran as the greater threat. Both nations have a propensity to share ideology, technology and weapons with unaffiliated terrorists around the world. We cannot permit them to have nukes to share also.

I see Iran as the greater threat today because of the instability in the region. It is the regional home to many Islamic jihadists willing to sacrifice their lives for what they perceive as a religious calling. I do not see an adequate concern or public response from Iran's neighboring nations or the moderate Muslims in the region condemning the Iranian government's pursuit of nuclear weapons. We desperately need a regional or religious counterbalance to halt the Iranian pursuit of weapons-grade nuclear technology.

Although there are indications that North Korea may already have the nuclear bomb and is about to carry out an underground test, the hopes for containing North Korea are somewhat enhanced by counterbalancing forces in that region. China, as North Korea's largest trading partner, exerts considerable influence on North Korea. Also Russia, South Korea and Japan have aligned with the United States in negotiations aimed at deterring North Korea from developing weapons capable of deployment. Having said that, we must remain gravely concerned. Kim Jung Il is irrational at best.

We hear much about the long war on terror which we face. Fortunately, for the past five years we have not had a physical attack on our shores. That is not by accident. Rather, it is a result of high-quality intelligence from our government and other governments around the world committed to deterring the terrorists. Let us hope these intelligence experts do not have to also confront nuclear technology in the hands of irrational regimes in Iran and North Korea in the months and years ahead.

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