Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage says Iran has "done some good things in the war on terrorism since Sept. 11."
That assessment is profoundly troubling to people in the region where I live. Tehran's "good things" would have to be monumental to outweigh the enormous damage it has done and threatens to do to the region. Iran supports and funds Hezbollah and has varying ties to other terror organizations: Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It pressures them to carry out suicide attacks against Israel; as the rate decreases and fewer Israelis are killed, it threatens to cut funding.
Iran also has been involved with smuggling weapons to Gaza, such as those captured on the vessel Santorini in May 2001. The arms shipment on the Karine-A, en route to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2002, also was organized by Tehran.
Iran's proxy in Lebanon is Hezbollah, through which it operates international terror cells such as those that carried out the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in July 1994. Iran has provided thousands of missiles and rockets in southern Lebanon, aimed at Israel's northern towns and villages. One out of every five Israelis lives within the range of these missiles. Officers from Iran's Revolutionary Guards train and oversee the Hezbollah terrorists.
Almost 600 Israelis have been killed in terror attacks since Sept. 11, 2001. About three-quarters of these were killed by terrorists answering to Iran. Are these the "good things" that Armitage is speaking of?
Armitage says "there is one dramatic difference between Iran and the other two axes of evil, and that would be its democracy." True, everything is relative. Relative to North Korea, Iran is an enlightened democracy. But Iran's rulers have shut down all newspapers that criticize the religious regime, and many reform activists are in jail. A religious council vetoes candidates for parliament whom the ruling ayatollahs do not like. At the top of the ruling pyramid is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the supreme authority over the judicial system, the Revolutionary Guards, the army, the intelligence services, the law enforcement authorities, radio and television. Iran is no democracy; it is an obscurant theocracy.
Iran is in a very advanced stage of its efforts to build nuclear weapons. It is doing so with crucial technological support from the Russians, help that has not ceased despite U.S. pressure. American intelligence agencies know that with North Korea's help, Iran is developing a ballistic missile with a 3,000-mile range. It already has missiles with an 800-mile range.
In his State of the Union address, President Bush declared that the religious regime in Tehran "represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction and supports terror." It is certainly encouraging that the president knows the truth and says it out loud.
But we cannot ignore what a senior official like Armitage says. What it may mean is that Iran has been granted immunity, will emerge unharmed from a war with Iraq and will continue its support for terror and its development of nuclear weapons. That is my profound concern.