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Hiking in Iran; or, pwog dawgs of war

By Michael J. Smith on Friday June 25, 2010 12:42 PM

The Nation (yes, The Nation) seems to have hit the big time with its recent report -- after a "five month investigation", no less -- that the three hikers arrested last July by the Iranians in the border area with Iraq were in fact on the Iraqi side of the border when the Iranians grabbed 'em. Those fiendish Iranians! Needless to say, the story, written by one "Babak Sarfaraz", which the mag notes is "a pseudonym for a journalist in Iran", has been gleefully picked up by all the major media war-drummers.

Sarfaraz relies, rather uncritically, on mostly Kurdish sources, some of them very fishy indeed; these need to be sifted very carefully for obvious reasons. But there's nothing intrinsically far-fetched about the narrative in itself (though doubts have been raised).

As Sarfaraz mentions, the rugged and remote region, with its "porous" and poorly-demarcated border, is full of smugglers, not to mention the

... Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK)... affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a Kurdish separatist organization that engages in armed conflict within Turkey and has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and other governments. Since 2005 PJAK, based in the mountains in Kurdish Iraq, has been in open conflict with Tehran and has claimed responsibility for killing dozens of Revolutionary Guards soldiers in cross-border raids on Iranian military bases, as well as for the February 2007 downing of an Iranian military helicopter by a shoulder-launched missile in Khoy, in Western Azerbaijan province, which killed thirteen Iranian soldiers....

Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that "Israel and the United States have also been working together in support of [PJAK] and that a government consultant told him that the Israeli government had provided "equipment and training" to PJAK.

Sarfaraz theorizes that the hikers' original capture and remand to Tehran was a local initiative by a rogue Revolutionary Guards commander in the area, on whose checkered career the magazine expends a good deal of somewhat wasted ink. But here again, the narrative, though quite hypothetical, doesn't strain credulity.

What The Nation doesn't discuss is the reasons why the authorities in Tehran might have decided to hang tough on three footloose, adventurous American expats, who really do seem unlikely to be spies or any other variety of American spooktown assets. KvdH and Sarfaraz seem content to leave us thinking that those Iranian madmen are either paranoid or gratuitously cruel or both.

But the unmentioned elephant in the Heuvel Hoffice is a long-standing American/Israeli practice of kidnapping and even assassinating Iranians -- scientists like Shahram Amiri, a particularly weird story with some juicy recent twists(*), or Ardeshire Hassanpour, and government functionaries like Amir Ardebili.

It's likely enough, as the Nation article suggests, that the capture of the three hikers was a fortuitous event, not an action of centrally-directed policy. But once they were in Tehran, at least some of the country's contending influential elements may have seen an opportunity to make a point, which can be concisely stated: "Two can play at that game."


(*) Amiri was kidnapped last year, while on pilgrimage in Mecca, a few weeks before the three hikers were captured.

Comments (1)


Having skimmed the Nation piece, this comes to mind:

Thank goodness that the US border is so orderly and that its economic role is so straightforward! No crooked police or border agents there. No human smuggling or human trafficking. No one taking bribes. No one pushing narcotics across.

Also, not that I know the Nation's position on this, I recall that recently Turkey was aerial-bombing in Iraqi Kurdistan. Will the Nation investigate on the ground? Who was killed? Who authorized the cross border action. Can it be traced to Ankara or was it a local affair.

Finally, who goes 'hiking' along the border between Iraq and Iran without local guides and security assistance? These 'hikers' are either CIA or 'too stupid to live', like the teenager adrift alone in the Indian Ocean a couple of weeks ago.

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