Iran’s smoking guns

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Wall Street Journal – REVIEW & OUTLOOK: Following the weekend intelligence disclosures about Iranian-supplied weapons killing GIs in Iraq, we predicted Tuesday that “a large part of Washington will pretend the evidence doesn’t exist, or suggest the intelligence isn’t proven, or claim that it’s all the Bush Administration’s fault for ‘bullying’ Iran.” The Wall Street Journal

REVIEW & OUTLOOK

February 16, 2007; Page A14

Following the weekend intelligence disclosures about Iranian-supplied weapons killing GIs in Iraq, we predicted Tuesday that “a large part of Washington will pretend the evidence doesn’t exist, or suggest the intelligence isn’t proven, or claim that it’s all the Bush Administration’s fault for ‘bullying’ Iran.” Sure enough, President Bush faced a barrage of questions Wednesday wondering whether senior Iranian leaders were really aware of the weapons transfers, whether he was using “faulty intelligence,” and whether the disclosures were part of a strategy designed to “provoke Iran.”

So here is the state of our public discourse: American military officials present prima facie evidence of Iranian weapons implicated in killing 170 U.S. soldiers and wounding 600 more, and Washington’s main concern is not for the GIs but in refighting the last intelligence war.

Well, here’s an item that doesn’t seem to have been manufactured by Dick Cheney. According to a report in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, U.S. forces in Baghdad have recently discovered 100 high-powered sniper rifles made by Austrian gun-maker Steyr-Mannlicher. The .50-caliber Steyr can accurately fire an armor-piercing round at a range of 1,500 meters. The weapon is good against Humvees, helicopters and body armor.

In 2004, Iran purchased some 800 Steyrs, allegedly for use against drug traffickers. At the time, both U.S. and British officials urged the Austrian government to bar the $15 million sale, fearing the weapons would fall into enemy hands. Former Austrian Chancellor Wolfang Schüssel thought otherwise, and let the deal go forward. To better grease the skids, then-Steyr-Mannlicher CEO Wolfgang Fürlinger made the case that the weapons were basically harmless and that Tehran had signed “end-user certificates” guaranteeing they would not be re-sold, according to the German newsweekly Der Spiegel.

Today, the Austrian government pleads that the sale had been “checked very thoroughly,” and that “what happened to the weapons . . . is the responsibility of the Iranians” — which prompts the question of why the Austrians would have bothered with the end-user certificates. The Bush Administration took a less cavalier view and in 2005 banned Steyr-Mannlicher from bidding for U.S. government contracts.

It remains to be confirmed whether the serial numbers on the Steyrs found in Iraq match those from the 2004 sale — if they do, it ought to prompt a top-to-bottom review of all Austrian military contracts. Meantime, is it too much to expect American journalists and Members of Congress to devote as much skepticism to Iran’s motives and behavior as they do to Mr. Bush’s?

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