Cliff May

History has cheated Mughniyeh of the infamy he deserves. No self-proclaimed jihadist other than Osama bin Laden has murdered more Americans than he. A commander of Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanon-based terrorist militia, Mughniyeh was the mastermind behind the attacks on the U.S. embassy (63 people murdered) and Marine barracks (241 killed) in Beirut in 1983, as well as the truck bombing of a building housing French paratroopers (58 killed). He was also indicted for the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, during which U.S. Navy diver Robert Stetham was murdered.

Kidnapping was another of Mughniyeh’s specialties. William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, was abducted in 1984. For 15 months, he was brutally tortured before finally being murdered.

Through these and many other atrocities, according to former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, Hezbollah incurred a “blood debt” to America. But neither Republican nor Democratic administrations have ever made a serious effort to collect.

On February 12, 2008, Mughniyeh was assassinated. Two days later, The Washington Institute’s Matthew Levitt and David Schencker wrote a paper describing him as a “brilliant military tactician” who served as Hezbollah’s “primary liaison to Iran’s security and intelligence services.”

Born in southern Lebanon in 1962, Mughniyeh “became a sniper in Yasser Arafat’s forces” at the age of 14. His “first major operation outside Lebanon was the March 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people. Two years later, he directed the bombing of the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in the same city, killing 85. Although Hezbollah carried out the attack, Argentinian court documents allege that Mughniyeh’s impetus came from a fatwa issued by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s loyal client, provided Mughniyeh with safe harbor — until it wasn’t. On February 12, 2008, in a fashionable Damascus neighborhood, Mughniyeh attended a reception marking the 29th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. He left the party around 10:30 p.m. and walked to his car. He didn’t notice that the headrest on the driver’s seat had been replaced. The new one contained an explosive. It detonated, killing him and no one else. Nearby buildings suffered only minor damage. It was a very professional hit. There is no proof that Israel was responsible.

The key point is this: Zarif’s homage to Mughniyeh, combined with Araghchi’s boast that Iran’s nuclear activities are continuing, combined with Rouhani’s announcement that America and other world powers have “surrendered,” speaks volumes. It says that for the Iranian side, “Negotiations do not require concessions. Negotiations are a tool for us to receive concessions.” Actually, Iranian parliamentarian Ali Motahari said exactly that.

Many of the most influential members of “the foreign-policy community” are convinced that such rhetoric is without significance — that it’s just for “domestic consumption.” Within Iran, they believe, a great debate is taking place between “hardliners” and “moderates.” They see Rouhani as the latter.

They don’t grasp that the Supreme Leader is called the Supreme Leader for a reason. During the popular upheaval that followed Iran’s fraudulent elections in 2009, tens of thousands protested in the streets, yelling “Death to the dictator!” They knew what they were talking about — even if many in the West did not.

And so, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, the dominant narrative has become that the negotiations now underway offer “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” Those of us who dissent from that view are denounced as “warmongers.”

Or, as news analyst-cum-humorist Jon Stewart told his millions of fans last week, “for the first time in decades” the U.S. is on the verge of reestablishing “diplomatic relations with Iran and a means of ensuring that they would not have a nuclear weapon. Just so long as nobody comes in and figuratively throws eggs at the entire thing.”

Stewart went on to accuse Democrats and Republicans in Congress — at least 59 senators and a clear majority in the House — of doing exactly that by attempting to pass a bill that would put Iran’s rulers on notice that tough new sanctions will be imposed if they fail to make significant concessions over the next six months — if they refuse to dismantle their nuclear-weapons programs in exchange for the sanctions relief the U.S. has already begun providing.

At this critical juncture, you might expect Iran’s rulers to do all they can to make this spin more credible, to at least give American leaders a face-saving way to “surrender.” Apparently, they see no need. They figure they can tell the truth about American retreat and do pretty much as they please on the nuclear portfolio. They are confident that American and other Western diplomats, politicians, and pundits will continue to place their faith in the ability of international inspectors to stop a regime that has spent decades engaging in nuclear mendacity and the slaughter of Americans. No compelling evidence contradicts their thesis.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.