The Iran Wars
By Jay Solomon, (2016, Random House, 336 Pages)
Reviewed by Steven R. Maher
Two of the biggest issues that will bedevil the incoming Trump administration will be the rogue state of Iran and the nuclear deal signed by the Obama Administration in July 2015. This timely book by Jay Solomon entitled “The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East” is a well written and easy to read account of how we got to this point.
“The Iran Wars” reviews the history of how the United States first sent nuclear technology to Iran during the reign of the Shah, then a U.S. ally. The technology was inherited by the Mullahs after they overthrew the Shah in 1979.
Assassination and Stuxnet
Neither the United States nor Israel wanted to see Iran build nuclear weapons. They resorted to two state tools which have become unfortunately commonplace in today’s world: Assassination and Espionage.
Richard Nixon once said the Israeli Mossad is the best intelligence agency in the world. The shadow war with Iran gave them the opportunity to prove it. With orders to stop the Iranian nuclear program by any means, Mossad infiltrated its agents into the Iranian capital, Tehran, and assassinated several Iranian scientists working on the project.
Enraged, Iran tried to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States in retaliation. In the convoluted world of Middle Eastern politics, the Iranians did this on the theory that the United States was an ally of Israel, and Saudi Arabia was an ally of the U.S.
There was no direct link between Saudi Arabia and the assassinations in Tehran. This incident is worth noting, if for no other reason, as demonstrating the paranoid mindset of those ruling Iran today.
Next the U.S. and Israel launched a cyber-attack on Iran using a malware program named “Stuxnet.” This program was written in a fashion so it would only infect centrifuges in Iran’s atomic plants. It succeeded in delaying Iran’s processing of sufficient uranium to construct an atomic bomb by causing the centrifuges to spin at high speeds and break. This is believed to be the first cyber-attack in history by one nation state against another.
The Rial War
Connoisseurs of spy novels or movies will find the chapter entitled “The Rial War” fascinating. The “Rial” is the Iranian currency. The US launched a financial war against the Iranians. It was the most successful effort against the Iranian regime since 1979.
The international oil market is conducted entirely in American dollars. Treasury Under-Secretary Stuart Levey figured out financial institutions doing business with Iran could be damaged if they were denied access to the U.S. currency. As Solomon put it: “Treasury knew that major businesses simply couldn’t function without access to U.S. dollars, the world’s default currency. Treasury could force foreign firms to choose between doing business with the United States or conducting it with rogue states and criminal enterprises. To most, the decision was a no-brainer.”
Solomon thereafter takes readers through a labyrinth of disreputable banks in the Caymans and Luxembourg, straw fronts, paper corporations, and the other denizens of the financial netherworld. The Iranians used accounts within accounts, false charitable shells, and other subterfuges to hide their illicitly obtained dollars.
Treasury started out by choking off the banks and corporations suppling Iran material and technology to further their nuclear program.
Next, they cracked down on the banks which assisted Iran’s sale of oil on the black market.
Finally, they froze billions of Iranian dollars in U.S. banks on American territory. The value of the Rial went down 30% in one day.
Some 70% of the Iranians’ budget came from oil revenues. When the oil market cratered, Iran’s economy began to collapse, tens of thousands of Iranians were laid off, and Iran came to the nuclear talks in 2013 as an economic basket case.
In July 2015 Iran, the U.S. and the other P-5 powers signed the nuclear deal with Iran. Solomon believes the treaty has given the U.S. a 10-year breathing space to further disarm Iran. President-elect Donald Trump has said he intends to strictly enforce the agreement in lieu of canceling it. Americans must wait and see what Trump does before finding out how this story will conclude.