Ronald Reagan in Iran

The upcoming presidential election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton seems to carry with it the presumption that the Republican Party is better for Israel and the Middle East. That is not necessarily factual. Ronald Wilson Reagan was a great president of the United States—but not when it came to his dealings with Iran. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the first president of Iran after the 1979 revolution had some interesting comments regarding Reagan. According to Bani-Sadr, former President Jimmy Carter had, he thought, reached an agreement for the liberation of the fifty-two Americans held hostage in Iran.

Carter was assured that an agreement was in the offing, and he could end what had been for him thirty-seven months of embarrassment and consternation. Bani-Sadr stated, in an article written for The Christian Science Monitor:

Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the “October Surprise,” which prevented the attempts by myself and then-US President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 US presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.

While this was not a widely known maneuver, I wonder if it was as clandestine an affair in the world of undercover operations. When the dust had settled following Reagan’s 1980 election, it was obvious that the Iranian hostage situation had aided his cause. As he placed his hand on his mother’s Bible, the 52 American hostages that had been held in Iran for 444 days were released.

As I watched the events unfold, I reminisced about a meeting I had had with Reuven Hecht, adviser to Menachem Begin, and Isser Harel, head of Mossad from 1951 to 1963. As we enjoyed our meal together, I asked Harel, “Will terrorism ever come to America?” Harel leaned back in his chair. “America is developing a tolerance for terrorism. The United States has the power to fight terrorism, but not the will; the terrorists have the will, but not the power. Yes, I fear it will come in time.”

Intrigued by his answer, I asked, “Where will it come?” He thought for a moment. “New York is the symbol of your freedom and capitalism. It’s likely they will strike there first at your tallest building (then the Empire State Building), because it is a symbol of your strength and power.”

Harel paused, “America has the power to fight terrorism, but not the will; the terrorists have the will, but not the power. But all of that could change in time. Oil buys more then tents. You in the West kill a fly and rejoice. In the Middle East, we kill one, and one hundred flies come to the funeral. Yes, I fear it will come in time.”

I also asked Harel whom he thought would be the next US president. He responded:

The word on the streets is that terrorists might have a say about that. They are going to attempt to influence your elections by releasing the hostages precisely when Reagan is sworn into office. They want Carter out because of his challenges to Islam.

It is entirely possible that had Carter and Bani-Sadr completed their negotiations regarding the U.S. hostages, the sitting president would have been reelected.

When the hostages were released on the day of Reagan’s inauguration, I received a phone call from Hecht. He asked, “Are you watching television? Harel is a prophet! It happened exactly as he said.”

In 1983 I was in Beirut, Lebanon covering the conflict there as a journalist. After talking with a group of US Marines on the beach, the soldiers returned to their barracks at Beirut International Airport, approximately 500 yards from the beachhead. Our team unrolled our sleeping bags and made our beds on the sandy beach. A little after 6:00 AM the following morning I was standing on the beachhead talking to a contingent of Marines who had just taken up their posts. Suddenly a terrific explosion rent the air.

We would soon learn that as the American troops were beginning a new day, the Marine sentry at the gate looked up to see a big, yellow Mercedes truck barreling down. The sentry reportedly stated that the driver of the truck smiled at him as he crashed through the gates. The truck was on a course for the lobby of the barracks. The sentries, armed only with loaded pistols, were unable to stop the speeding vehicle.

The Mercedes carried explosives equal to about six tons of TNT. The driver rammed into the lower floor of the barracks and discharged his deadly cargo. The explosion was so great that the four-story building collapsed in a heap of rubble. Many of the dead were not killed by the blast itself, but were crushed beneath the cinder-block building as it pancaked in on itself.

News would soon spread that Islamic Jihad, a pseudonym for Iranian armed and funded Hezbollah terrorists, had taken credit for the attack that had blown up the Marine barracks. The explosion and collapse of the building killed 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel and three Army soldiers.

Despite repeated pledges not to withdraw from Lebanon, President Reagan ordered US military personnel to leave that country. The US never struck back at those responsible for the bombing—not against Hezbollah or Syria or Iran.

In 1985, President Reagan again came under fire for what would become known as the Iran-Contra Affair. While at war with Iraq, Khomeini’s government secretly approached National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane with a request to purchase weapons from the US stockpile. This was despite an arms embargo banning the sale of weapons to Iran. The appeal was presented to the president, and in his desire to secure the release of yet another group of hostages being held by the Iranians in Lebanon, Reagan capitulated.

In his attempts to bring the Americans home, he was easily convinced that it was the right move. He was not, after all, negotiating with terrorists, but was on a humane mission to free the U.S. captives. Unfortunately for Mr. Reagan, he had violated not only the arms embargo, but his own pledge not to negotiate with terrorists. His plan was supported by CIA director William Casey, but was opposed by both Secretary of State George Schultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

When the plot was uncovered by Al-Shiraa, a Lebanese newspaper, Reagan at first denied any involvement, but was forced to retract his avowal a week later. Although it damaged the president’s veracity for a time, his popularity recovered in time to win reelection.

In May 1986, Robert McFarlane led a committee to Iran in a secret mission to reestablish a relationship between Iranian leaders and the U.S. In the group was retired CIA official George W. Cave. According to Cave, McFarlane was charged with delivering a Bible with a handwritten verse from President Reagan. Also included in the items to be presented was a key-shaped cake meant to symbolize the reopening of Iran to the West. That, of course, did not occur until the nuclear arms agreement was signed and sanctions against Iran eased.

With such a checkered past and so much bad blood between the two countries, why should there be détente between them? One, Iran desperately needed freedom from the restrictions under which it has operated for decades. And two, President Barack Obama wanted to add another star to his crown of political achievements. Sadly, little thought has been given to what getting in bed with Iran means to the US ally, Israel.

The whole affair is a bit reminiscent of another politician who thought little of joining forces with a fanatical dictator just before the launch of World War II. Great Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had traveled to Munich to meet with Adolf Hitler and officials from France and Italy. He boldly stood outside the door of No. 10 Downing Street and proclaimed “peace for our time.” It was the first tones of the death knell for six million Jewish men, women, and children.

As Mr. Obama today believes Iran’s hateful rhetoric against Israel is only for show, Chamberlain believed Hitler’s odious oratory was meant to encourage the German people. Obama’s concept of his legacy omits the obvious: Iran is skilled in breaking agreements and procrastinating in discussions until its objectives have been reached—to the detriment of the West.

Iran has left in its wake a history of broken promises, shattered agreements, and a nuclear program that could put the world at risk. The genie has been let out of the bottle; Pandora ’s Box has been opened. Iran is on the cusp of possessing a nuclear bomb; who knows what the future impact will be.


Dr. Michael Evans is a #1 New York Times bestselling author. His book, Friends of Zion, John Henry Patterson and Orde Charles Wingate, is available at



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