How Khomeini deceived ‘the Great Satan’

Sunday 26/06/2016
Iranian hard-line students hold portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran, in April 2006.

Washington - Iran’s propaganda machinery consistently depicts Grand Aya­tollah Ruhollah Khomeini as an uncompromising revolution­ary who devoted his life to the fight against “the Great Satan” — the United States — and the shah of Iran.

Newly declassified US govern­ment documents, including dip­lomatic cables, policy memos and the minutes of top-level meetings, however, depict Khomeini as an able chess player who masterfully deceived the United States to secure a bloodless transfer of power from the shah’s regime to Iran’s Islamic revolutionaries.

The documents also disclose the unbelievable naiveté of the Carter administration.

Khomeini’s first overture to the United States was a letter written in November 1963 during his house arrest to president John F. Kennedy. In it, the ayatollah condemned the shah’s “white revolution”, which, among other things, distributed the land of religious charities among landless peasants and granted Ira­nian women the vote.

Both initiatives were anathema to the Shia clergy, who incited the mobs in the holy city of Qom to re­bel against the authorities. While at­tacking the shah, the ayatollah care­fully explained he was not opposed to American interests in Iran and considered a US presence necessary to “counter the Soviet and British influence”.

Khomeini did not receive a re­sponse to his letter. Iranian prime minister Asadollah Alam success­fully crushed the Khomeini-led uprising in 1963 and Kennedy was assassinated a few weeks after the letter was delivered to the US State Department.

Towards the end of 1979, the situ­ation had changed: Cancer was de­vouring the shah and his regime was crumbling. Khomeini’s star was in the ascendant and only the imperial army stood between the ayatollah and control of Iran.

The Carter administration did not care too much for the shah and had its eyes fixed on its Cold War enemy in Moscow. As long as Iran did not go red and the Iranian military was preserved as a bulwark against So­viet expansionism, it did not matter much to the Carter administration whether the ayatollah or the shah was in power.

Khomeini’s representative, Ebra­him Yazdi, was more than happy to reassure American diplomats in Paris and a deal was struck between Washington and the revolutionar­ies: Washington would not object to the abolishment of the monarchy and would prevent a military coup in Iran.

In return, Khomeini pledged not to destroy the Iranian military, promised an Iran free of Soviet domination, neutral, if not friendly to the United States, one that would not export its revolution abroad nor cut the flow of oil to the West.

The Carter administration lived up to its part of the bargain: It per­suaded Nasser Moghadam, head of the SAVAK, the shah’s notorious US-and Israeli-trained intelligence and security service, and Abbas Ghara­baghi, the army chief of staff, to en­gage in negotiations with Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, another of Khomeini’s representatives.

US president Jimmy Carter tasked US Air Force General Robert E. Huys­er with dissuading the shah’s gener­als from staging a last-minute coup.

On February 11, 1979, the Supreme Military Council indeed declared it­self “neutral in the current politi­cal disputes” but Khomeini did not show the same degree of fidelity.

Early cadres of what later became known as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), armed with weapons seized from military gar­risons and police stations, rounded up the top generals, who were later executed by firing squad.

Moghadam, who was a key wit­ness to Khomeini’s “deal” with Washington, was among them.

The United States was too good an enemy for Khomeini to lose and, as soon as he used Washington to neu­tralise the threat of a military coup, he sang the usual anti-American hymn.

As the BBC’s Persian Services broadcast the latest declassified US government reports, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ac­cused Washington of “fabricating” evidence of the liaisons between Khomeini and the Carter adminis­tration.

But Khamenei, himself a master of deceiving Washington, knows better than that and is emulating his predecessor. It is Washington that has not learnt from its previous en­counters with the Islamic Republic.