Iran's ruling clique is blaming the US and Britain for having a hand in the assassination of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) deputy commander, his provincial deputy and up to 40 others in two coordinated bomb attacks Sunday.
Although Persian Shi'ites dominate Iran, they comprise only 51 percent of the population. Among the persecuted minorities battling the mullahs are the Baluchis in the border region with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The IRG officers had travelled there to parlay with tribal elders when they were ambushed by Jundullah, an Islamist, Sunni, Baluchi outfit.
Discounting statements from the US State Department, British Foreign Office and the president of Pakistan denouncing the attack, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani promised retaliation. But it is the threat from the Guard's top commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, that deserves special attention. He claimed to have proof of Jundullah's "direct ties" to America, Britain and "unfortunately" Pakistan. Jafari: "There will have to be retaliatory measures to punish them."
As proof of US complicity, the Iranian media is pointing to a May 2007 London Sunday Telegraph report which asserted that the CIA was clandestinely backing Jundullah, and to a May 2008 ABC News story that US intelligence officers frequently advised Jundullah leaders.
Plainly, the realm where espionage, ethno-nationalism, narco-terrorism and Islamist ardor meld is frustratingly murky. For all we know, Jundullah may indeed have links with al-Qaida, the Pakistani Taliban, and even Western intelligence - just as Iran claims.
WHAT MATTERS most at this stage is that Sunday's attack has drawn needed attention to the Revolutionary Guards - also known as the Pasdaran. Founded in 1979 to protect the revolution, some of its charter members had received training in Palestine Liberation Organization camps in Lebanon.
Over the years, the IRG metastasized from a Praetorian Guard to an evil empire in its own right. Today, in addition to keeping Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in power, the Guards fields a shadow army, air force and navy.
It used the civilian vigilantes of its Basij subsidiary to crush opposition protests to the rigged June presidential elections. It is responsible for Iran's nuclear facilities, controls its strategic missiles, trains Hizbullah and Hamas, and conducts espionage out of Iran's diplomatic missions worldwide. That's not all.
The IRG has accumulated control of 30 percent of Iran's economy with interests in import/export, engineering and manufacturing. And as if that were not enough, it has also cornered the black market on alcohol, gasoline and tobacco.
The Guards is not just the glue that holds the regime together; it is its nucleus. Abbas Milani of Stanford University theorizes that the Guards' power may now exceed that of the supreme leader.
YESTERDAY in Vienna, Russia, France, the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency began technical talks with Iranian experts on how to implement Teheran's proposal for shipping uranium to Russia and France for conversion to reactor fuel. In keeping with the mullahs' duplicity, Iran hinted it was rethinking its offer. But Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA chief who has been flacking for Teheran, came out of the session to tell reporters that things had gotten off to a smashing start.
There will be another - technical - session today. A meeting in Geneva is also scheduled for later this month between Iran and the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Whether Iran will allow the IAEA to conduct an inspection at the Qom plant on November 25, as promised, is anyone's guess. What is perfectly clear is that Iran continues, successfully, to play for time while much of the civilized world dawdles.
WHAT SHOULD inform the international community as it tries to negotiate with Iran is that its "government" is in reality a sophisticated criminal syndicate. For Iran's essential character is reflected not only in the theocratic visage of Khamenei and the mad-hatter mug of Ahmadinejad but, more revealingly, in the shadowy role of the Guards.
The sobering reality of what lies at the core of the regime ought to impel the civilized world, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama, to act with all deliberate speed to stop the Iranian bomb. Not only for Israel, but also because this twisted regime is a menace to its people, its neighbors, the region, and beyond.