For 30 years, when it has come to addressing Iran's acts of war against the United States, we have reacted like a "ship of fools." Iran has been treated as a "sanctuary" from which it openly continues to conduct acts of state-sponsored terrorism against the United States and also train, equip and lead through proxies and the Quds Force the adversaries we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each administration since President Carter's has chosen to ignore or pretend that the Iranian theocracy is not behind the repeated acts of terrorism or combat killings of hundreds if not thousands of our military and civilian personnel. Never has there been such a stain on our honor.
It started with the takeover of our embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and the holding of our diplomatic personnel as hostages for 444 days. That was followed by the truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, with the loss of 241 of our finest military personnel. We have proof positive that the orders came from the Iranian Foreign Ministry to the Iranian ambassador in Damascus. Unbelievably, our response was to move the Marines offshore even though we knew where the Iranian-backed terrorist group Islamic Amal (forerunner to Hezbollah), which had carried out the attack, was holed up in the former Lebanese army barracks above Baalbek. It took over the barracks on Sept. 16, 1983, with the help of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. For the record, we had the planes loaded and ready to attack but could not get authorization to launch. Osama bin Laden has often cited our failure to respond when faced with losses, concluding that Americans will cut and run.
Since that time, Iran has continued to conduct acts of war against the United States, including the Persian Gulf tanker war in the late 1980s as well as the truck bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 of our military personnel. Further, its support of the insurgency in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan continues unabated.
The most recent Iranian cash payment of 1 million euros in a plastic bag to Afghanistan's corrupt Karzai government to buy influence in Kabul while at the same time supporting the Taliban to bring down the Afghan government follows the same formula Iran used successfully in Iraq. What's astounding is that we have known all along about these bribes. The State Department when queried could only pathetically respond that it hoped Iran would be a constructive influence on Afghan's future.
When we are sending our finest military men to fight in two wars with no intention of addressing the basic problem - Iran - it is more than dereliction of duty; it borders on criminal. Why has Iran been off-limits for more than 30 years? Unfortunately, should we strike Iran, the fear factor has been implanted successfully about what Iran might do in Iraq and Afghanistan or what mischief it would have Hamas and Hezbollah create for Israel or how it possibly might interfere with the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz. Are we afraid of the reaction of Iran's chief ally, China, which has been a key source of conventional, missile and even nuclear technology for Tehran?
Let's remember that we have fought much tougher enemies than Iran. There is no question that we have the military capability to launch and sustain a devastating strike on Iran. It's our leadership that has failed the American people.
The latest information I have is that the illegitimate Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime is coming apart from within. However, we cannot overlook that we are in a race to bring about the downfall of this corrupt regime before it can achieve a nuclear weapon or nuclear device. The opposition in Iran is poised to act, but it requires outside support. This can come in many forms that we have used successfully in the past. Financial support is one of the key elements, as is forming a "shadow government" to replace the current regime. To launch the opposition movement, a tsunami-like event must occur. Such an event should be the execution of our Strategic Strike Plan (SSP), which has been developed to be carried out on short notice. Phase I of the SSP should be limited to striking the key facilities of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, including the energy grids that support those facilities. A key element of the SSP should include plans to neutralize the current Iranian leadership.
There is no question that such action will resonate well beyond the Middle East. Our commitment to freedom and democracy will be clear. It also will signal that there will be no more sanctuaries, and our honor will have been restored. We owe this to the thousands of men who paid the ultimate price.
Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.
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