Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Iran Mocks President Obama by Honoring Mughniyeh

by Elliott Abrams
January 14, 2014


President Obama has a full court press under way to stop Congress from passing new sanctions legislation that could–could, not will–impose sanctions on Iran one year from now if negotiations break down or Iran cheats. The idea seems to be that passage of the bill would signal mistrust of Iran, or would break the spell of sincerity being cast at the negotiating table.

But what is Iran doing while the president woos legislators? Laughing at us all. Yesterday, Iran’s foreign minister–one of the reputed moderates in the Rouhani camp–was in Beirut and laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh.

Mughniyeh was the Hezbollah terrorist who had killed more Americans than any other man until the attack on 9/11. Mughniyeh was involved in bombing the Marine barracks in Beirut, the bombings of US embassies, the torture and killing of CIA station chief William Buckley in Beirut, the hijacking of TWA 847 and the murder of Navy diver Robert Stethem–among other acts of terror. He was also indicted in Argentina for the bombing of the Israeli embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

So what does the urbane Zarif do when in Beirut? He lays a wreath at Mughniyeh’s grave; Reuters has published the photo.

It is obvious that while we are supposed to freeze any Congressional action lest we upset the sensitive Iranians, they plan to mock the President and indeed the United States. We are to walk on eggshells; they honor a terrorist who murdered hundreds of Americans. (And more: last week Iran shipped weapons to rebels in Bahrain.)  The administration’s reaction to all this is to insist with greater and greater heat that Congress must not act, and to cast aspersions on those members who back the legislation.

This dishonors those whose lives were taken by Mughniyeh, but it does more: it suggests to Iran that the administration is now hostage to the nuclear negotiations. For the Obama administration, the talks MUST succeed and nothing will be permitted to get us off that track. This is dangerous, freeing Iran not only to honor a terrorist who murdered Americans and to give  greater backing to terrorism today, but ultimately to cheat on the nuclear deal as well–under the logical assumption that the Obama administration will not see evidence it does not want to see and that would turn its diplomatic achievement into dust.

But the administration may be sowing the seeds that will kill its own deal down the road, if and when Iranian cheating is discovered. A weak American posture, a suggestion that no Iranian actions will be taken seriously and that the administration is totally committed to keeping this deal under all circumstances, is a formula for trouble down the road. It is exactly contrary to the message that we should be sending Iran today.

Post a Comment 15 Comments

  • Posted by ah

    Meanwhile, our politicians are honoring a now deceased Israeli leader who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of men, women and children across Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon. So essentially, honoring the man allegedly representing “our” interests in the region.

    Iran’s honoring of Muganiyah is not much different when viewed from the Iranian angle. It is paying respect to a man who they believe to have been honorable, and the other side believes to have been reprehensible.

    I’m sorry Mr. Abrams, but your relentless attack on Obama and Iranian negotiations, and your outright support of the Israeli position, is wearing thin and bordering on the irrational at times.

  • Posted by Adam

    Oh please ah, are you seriously comparing Ariel Sharon and Imad Mugniyeh? That’s exactly the kind of ‘tar them all with the same brush argument’ that is used to blur the distinction between terrorists and soldiers. How very middle eastern of you. While you are at it, ah, why not compare Assad and Obama, Bush and Bin Laden, or U.S. troops and Al Qaeda? Can you tell the difference?

  • Posted by Philip Meyer

    Of course, Elliot Abrams doesn’t discuss his preferred alternative, which is another unecessary and probably unwinnbale Middle East war.

  • Posted by Emile Tubiana

    Mr. Abrams is right. Should the United States blindly follow Obama? Mr. Abrams has more experience and common sense than anyone. It is his prerogative to support any position he chooses to. After all the United States is a democratic country that grants the freedom of expression.
    It is not surprising that Mr. Zarif honored the tomb of a terrorist, since his boss, Mr. Rouhani honored the architect of the terror attacks in Lebanon by elevating Mr. Hussein Deghgan to be his Defense Minister.
    It is even more surprising that the US administration is so terribly eager to make any kind of agreement with this kind of people. Would that be because it desperately needs a success at any price? Who will pay the price? Should that be our longstanding ally?

  • Posted by Emile Tubiana

    To Philip Meyer. You pretend to know Mr. Abram’s “preferred alternative”. I wonder what caused you to believe you know Mr. Abram’s view. Did he share this view with you?

  • Posted by John Chrsitopher Sunol

    I do not think that negotiations with Iran will et anywhere I think that eventually this could mean all out war between the US/Israel and Iran as Iran does not want to listen when the honour a murderous terror leader like this.

    I would support the US fully over this if it went to war against Iran

  • Posted by ah

    Yes Adam, Indeed I am and just did.

    You actually support my point exactly – with your blur the distinction between soldier and terrorist comment.

    So for you, because Sharon had Israeli government backing, as he targeted civilian men, women and children, that is fine. But because Muganiyah was not an official representative of any government, he is therefore legitimate.

    So, then. If Muganiyah had been officially appointed by Iran or Lebanon or Syria, by your logic, he would have been equally legitimate to murder civilians, similar to Sharon? Point taken.

    Essentially, your unspoken argument is that because Sharon is Israeli – it is okay to murder civilians. Arabs don’t receive the same dispensation for you however (as doubly apparent in your dumb statement about “how Middle Eastern of me”.)

  • Posted by ah

    End of 3rd paragraph – *”he is therefore *illegitimate”

  • Posted by Adam

    Ah, as I suspected, you can’t tell the difference between a soldier and a terrorist. The difference between a soldier and a terrorist has nothing to do with whether they receive an official government salary, and everything to do with the purpose of their combat activities. A terrorist specifically targets civilians in order to kill as many as he can. A soldier targets other combatants in order to kill them. As we all know, there is plenty of collateral damage in war and mistakes are made in war, which is why the majority of casualties in most wars are civilians. But that does not make a soldier a terrorist.

  • Posted by ah

    Interesting, I was hoping you would say that.

    So when Sharon intentionally demolished 45 houses in Qibya, where their men, women and children residents inside, this qualifies as targeting “other combatants”?

    Or perhaps when he stood idly by as 3,000 people were killed by Israeli allies in Sabra and Shatila. This is okay, because he is a “soldier”?

    From your responses on other posts Adam, I know you have critical thinking and analysis skills. So I’m not going to tread into the ridiculous ad hominem attacks that you are bordering on by simplistically explaining to me the common definition of soldier vs. terrorist as used by Israeli PR when they are trying to write off their latest mass civilian casualties.

    Regarding your other point, on the purpose of combat activities, I think that is actually one in the same. For any combatant, whether a soldier or a terrorist, it is to remake the order of things in a manner which they deem to be appropriate, whether a “secure Israel”, a Palestinian state, or an advantageous balance of power in the region.

  • Posted by Adam

    Ah, there is no evidence in either case that Sharon either ordered or knew what was going to happen to the civilians, both in Qibya or in Shabra and Shatilla. That doesn’t make the deaths any less tragic, but neither are there grounds for calling him a terrorist.

    I have come to the conclusion that you don’t want to understand the difference between a soldier and a terrorist. Perhaps it doesn’t sit well with you that causes you might support are championed by murderers? I don’t know. But I do know that I would have a very hard time cheering for a team who consider killing civilians a success.

    I wonder whether Imad Mugniyeh rationalized the murder of civilians in the same stomach-turning way you do? Was he just “remaking the order of things” as you euphemistically put it?

    “For any combatant, whether a soldier or a terrorist, it (the purpose) is to remake the order of things in a manner which they deem to be appropriate, whether a “secure Israel”, a Palestinian state, or an advantageous balance of power in the region.”

  • Posted by ah

    Tsk tsk, you are denying reality because it does not fit your tidy definitions. He commanded the unit for god’s sakes, are you suggesting he was off having a coffee miles a way as his troops were blowing up the houses and shooting the fleeing civilians? With Sabra and Shatilla, the Israeli government seemed to disagree and reprimanded him for his role in the affair.

    Paragraph 2 I am ignoring because it is is not saying anything.

    Paragraph 3 – I would imagine he rationalized his actions (which, I agree were stomach-turning and murder, just as I think Sharon’s actions were stomach-turning and murder) the same way Sharon does – ends justifying the means to bring about their vision of what reality should be.

    Paragraph 4 – Yes, that is my quote, and it is still legitimate and common sense.

    What truly boggles me about your positions is your willingness to exonerate Sharon of any and all crimes simply because you delude yourself into believing that Sharon did not target civilians. That point really should not even be a contested fact it has been so consistently used by Israel – and its enemies – across their many wars.

    What underlies all of this, is that you simply think Israel is the good guy and therefore has the right to do whatever is necessary to protect its civilians, everyone else be damned. It’s fine, we disagree completely. I’ve simply moved on from a 19th century tribalism that makes an “other” of anyone and everything that does not fit some historical ethnic lineage and/or religion.

  • Posted by diana

    Hobeika, (who had family and fiancée murdered by Palestinians)and as told by Hakem, his bodyguard, lied to Sharon. He told Sharon he was going after the killers of Gemayel, President of Lebanon.
    The only way he could have stopped Hobeika was by entering the camp, risking Israeli’s lives, trying to control the massacre. Sharon was censured and forced to resign.
    I always admired Sharon, though that was not his finest hour and he paid for it. All leaders involved in wars have blood in their hands. The blood that belong to their own soldiers and the blood of the enemy. War is not nice and that’s the reason that one of the 10 Commandments is “Thou shall not kill” but the other side of the Biblical coin is “an eye for an eye”
    Had Sharon lived he would have returned large portions of the W.Bank to Jordan, and let Abdullah (married to Rania, a Palestinian) incorporate better the Palestinians into Jordan.

  • Posted by Jon

    Am I the only person who doesn’t get the connection between an Iranian diplomat visiting what they consider the grave of a martyr (however they justify to themselves that he is a martyr), and threatening the deal-of-the-century (one that relieves the Iranian people from the economic choke-hold that they have endured).
    Does Mr. Abrams really think that the negotiations should be called off unless the Iranians renounce the role they played in Lebanon by supporting Hezbollah? To them, Hezbollah and its role in the 80’s, 90’s, 2006, and in Qusayr in 2013, are key reasons the nuclear program is even on the table. Mr. Abrams knows this, but he shares the same aspirations as the Israeli government (and every American-Iranian I’ve spoken with); and that is for these negotiations to flop, because its success strengthens the Ayatollah regime.
    Pathetically, however, the most persuasive argument this writer could come up with is “You’re gonna let him talk about your mother like that?!”
    This to me indicates that Mr. Abrams couldn’t come up with a single convincing geo-strategic argument for why the negotiations do in fact harm American interests in the region. Instead, he attempts to appeal to anti-Obama-rhetoric, and shortsightedness, with a “proud to be an American” tone (accompanied by a leap in logic) in order to accomplish a purely Israeli desire.

  • Posted by ah

    Jon – Agreed – it is a long stretch picking for anything he can find to purposefully scuttle negotiations.

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