Importing Arms, Exporting the Revolution: Mehdi Hashemi and His Fatal Leak to Ash-Shiraa

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Written by Rosa Shapiro-Thompson

The story that broke in the small Lebanese weekly, Ash-Shiraa, on November 3, 1986, led to the exposure of a tangled story of secret arms deals and deceptions. It involved Israeli encouragement, Iranian money, Lebanese hostages, and US missiles. Arms dealers with Pahlavi-era connections initiated the sale of US-made missiles to the Islamic Republic of Iran to be deployed against Iraq. By November, the story was already beginning to take shape. In October, pamphlets had circulated in Tehran warning vaguely of deals with the “Americans or Europeans,”[1] and meanwhile, a CIA cargo plane had crashed in Nicaragua.[2] These two operations, continents apart, relied on each other: the United States, under the direction of the National Security Council’s Oliver North, had begun to divert funds from the secret arms sales to Iran in order to fund the Contras, a rightist rebel group in Nicaragua, thus bypassing a Congressional ban. But although the leaflets and crash began to threaten the secrecy of the affair, it was only because of Ash-Shiraa’s account of former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane’s visit to Tehran that the story made global headlines and forced politicians to confirm the conspiracy to the public.

This paper investigates the remarkable transnational story of the Ash-Shiraa leak and its principal character, Seyyed Mehdi Hashemi. Mehdi Hashemi, a close associate of Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri (then designated as Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor), led efforts to export the ideology of the Iranian revolution to other Muslim countries before his arrest in 1986 and subsequent execution a year later. This paper first places the Ash-Shiraa leak within the context of internal political struggles between factions hoping to export the revolution and those aiming to procure US-manufactured arms for the war underway against Iraq. Second, it presents a brief overview of how the various arms deals were conducted. Third, the paper draws attention to factual points of disagreement regarding how and when Hashemi and his followers came to know of McFarlane’s visit as well as how and why Hashemi was arrested. While misinformation has insinuated itself into English-language scholarship on the affair, primary sources help place the leak within the factional politics of the time and suggest it must be interpreted as a retaliation for Hashemi’s arrest. Lastly, this paper explores how the story in Ash-Shiraa shaped the impact of the arms deals over the long-term. The affair, aside from precluding any rapprochement between the United States and the Islamic Republic, contributed to the consolidation of Ali Akbar Rafsanjani’s power as Speaker of the Majles and to the fall of Montazeri. Montazeri’s fall, in turn, had lasting consequences on the leadership and politics of Iran over the following three decades.[3]

Factional Politics of the Early Islamic Republic

Mehdi Hashemi, the principal character of Ash-Shiraa’s story, was born in 1944 in the small town of Qohdarijan.[4] His family of respected clerics was closely connected to the Montazeri family, both by marriage and through the religious seminary of Isfahan.[5] Mohammed Montazeri became a close friend of Hashemi and his brother Hadi as students in the seminaries of Qom. They all became involved in the struggle against the Shah’s regime. Like many students, Hashemi turned to violent tactics in the face of the Shah’s repression: he went so far as to commit vigilante murders against suspected homosexuals, prostitutes, and drug traffickers. He even  allegedly killed an orthodox cleric who had criticized the elder Montazeri, Mohammed’s father, for his radical interpretations of the Qur’an.[6] For this, SAVAK arrested and imprisoned Hashemi. In the words of historian Ervand Abrahamian, upon the victory of the revolution Hashemi emerged from the Shah’s prisons in 1979 a “religious hero.”[7] He was understood as deeply committed to Khomeini’s vision of the revolution, despite his often-controversial tactics.

The revolution victorious, Hashemi established several armed groups that sought local control of his hometown and the nearby Najafabad and Isfahan, while Mohammed Montazeri set up a group to spread the revolution to other Muslim countries.[8] Hashemi was also appointed to the central command and the ideological committee of the newly founded Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or the Pasdaran, a coalition of the revolution’s paramilitary groups brought together to counterbalance the less-ideologically driven army. Together, Mohammed and Hashemi set up a short-lived organization, Satja,to export the revolution by supporting Islamist movements abroad with which Mohammed had cultivated ties while in exile. According to Ash-Shiraa, the organization was disbanded as it “conflicted with the concept of the state.”[9] Though the elder Montazeri was at times forced to distance himself from his son’s scandalously extremist politics, he, too, sought the export of the revolution more than the pragmatist government and supported Hashemi and his son’s goals. “If our Muslim brethren in Afghanistan, in Palestine, in Lebanon and in any other place are involved with the superpowers and invaders, we are involved because we are the Afghans’ brethren,” Montazeri preached in 1980. “Wars against our brethren […] are wars against us.”[10] Montazeri supported his son and Hashemi in setting up an organization within the Revolutionary Guards to “organize ideological training and material support” for other revolutionary Islamist movements. While Mohammed initially led this Office for Islamic Liberation Movements (OILM), Hashemi soon took control after Mohammed’s assassination in 1981 and ran the organization out of Ayatollah Montazeri’s office in Qom. Montazeri would regularly ask his followers at Friday prayers to donate a day’s wages to liberation struggles abroad, which he then channeled to Hashemi at OILM.[11] Montazeri was a powerful official boasting strong ties to Khomeini himself: Khomeini was his “long-time friend and mentor” and in 1985 a committee of expert clerics designated Montazeri as Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor, faqih of the Islamic Republic.[12]

Hashemi and Montazeri were part of the early Islamic Republic’s factional politics, which emerged as the radical clerical forces of Khomeini consolidated their power. The 444-day hostage crisis that had ended in January of 1981, in particular, had strengthened the most radical elements of the revolution. Khomeinists built new institutions while liquidating the opposition.[13] Yet although Khomeinists came to dominate all the institutions they built, as historian Nikki Keddie writes, “[they] were not unanimous in their views and had autonomous leaders in several powerful institutions, some of them elected. Iran never became a dictatorship but always had a complex variety of power centers.”[14] Although alliances shifted over time, these factions loosely consisted of the Islamic Left, the Conservatives (or Islamic Right), and the Pragmatists (or Modern Right).[15] Khomeini often chose not to engage directly in policy-making, but rather would mediate debates and decide whom to support.

According to Ash-Shiraa, these debates over foreign policy concerned the very nature of the Islamic Republic and the revolution itself: was Iran to exist as a bastion of revolution, supporting Islamist groups throughout the Muslim world in their anti-imperial liberation struggles, or was it to function as a state, and keep its revolution within its borders? To draw on Soviet terminology, Hashemi and Montazeri’s faction advocated for a Trotskyite state of permanent revolution.  The foreign policy pragmatists accepted Islamic governance in just one country. According to the Ash-Shiraa story, Mohammad Montazeri was indeed known as the “Trotsky of the Iranian revolution.”[16] Ash-Shiraa frames the struggle between advocates of permanent revolution and advocates of pragmatism as an existential one between two dialectical ideologies. Above the sensational headline, “This is what happened in Tehran,” the cover shows Montazeri on the left, mid-speech and righteously angry, while Rafsanjani on the right looks unsure, or perhaps apologetic. Both leaders stand crudely superimposed above the revolutionary crowd and between them the subheading reads “the mindset of the state and the mindset of the revolution.”[17] [See Figure 1]. This oppositional positioning of Montazeri and Rafsanjani was an accurate portrayal not only of their immediate struggle for political influence but also of their ideologies.

Permanent revolution, on the one hand, looked beyond the borders of Iran and towards continuing the revolution’s anti-imperial work in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, and the Gulf monarchies. In practice it entailed providing both ideological and material support to Islamist groups. On the other hand, acting as a bounded state led to a pragmatic foreign policy that necessitated disregarding the anti-American, anti-imperial rhetoric of the revolution. Mohammed Montazeri and Hashemi saw the 1979 revolution and their subsequent work as part of the “wider fight of the Third World countries against imperialism and US hegemony,” writes historian Ulrich von Schwerin.[18] In contrast, the pragmatists, rather than eschewing contact with the United States, moved beyond Khomeini’s epithet of the “Great Satan,” which characterized the United States as an evil “other” corrupting the pure Islamic body politic.[19] They solicited arms from the Great Satan itself.

Contingencies of War and Arms Exchanged

The contingencies of the war against Iraq entailed an immediate need for weapons that the pragmatists recognized. Iran’s supply of US-made weapons left over from the extensive, multi-billion-dollar arms deals between the United States and the Pahlavis, was being rapidly depleted.[20] As the war dragged on, historian Malcolm Byrne accounts, Iran became “increasingly desperate” to replenish its arsenal, seeking both spare parts and new weapons.”[21] Not only had the United States begun providing crucial intelligence support to Iraq out of fear of an Iranian victory and the potential spread of the revolution, but beginning in 1983 the State Department had also actively discouraged other countries from supplying arms to Iran. Hard-pressed for military hardware, Iran had to seek weapons covertly on the international black market. Private arms dealers sought lucrative financial opportunities and many states ignored the prohibition. Among other examples, twenty-five US F-5 fighter jets officially intended for Turkey landed in Iran.[22]

Despite US disapproval, Israel became a primary supplier of weapons to the early Islamic Republic in its war with Iraq. “Khomeini was not a friend,” a former Israeli general explained, “but Saddam Hussein was our enemy.”[23] In selling arms, Israelis not only sought to ensure that the balance of power would not tilt further toward the Arab states but also hoped to gain leverage over Iranian policy towards its 60,000 Jews. Congressional reports brushed over Israeli’s crucial role when the scandal broke.[24] Although this tendency to disregard Israeli involvement insinuated itself into subsequent scholarship, Tel Aviv had for years pressured the United States to join in its weapons sales to Tehran. The United States refused to join in or officially sanction Israel’s policies until 1984, when the hostage crisis in Lebanon escalated; Shiite militant groups with close ties to Hashemi’s group had abducted a number of Westerners. The Reagan administration then gave into Israeli pressure and itself shipped weapons to Tehran in August of 1985.

Over the course of the next fourteen months, the United States secretly sold over 2,500 missiles to Iran, as well as various spare parts. But the miscommunications and misunderstandings proved too great to allow for a successful arms-for-hostage deal, let alone a meaningful rapprochement between the two hostile states. The Ash-Shiraa leak put the final nail in the coffin. On the United States side, the deals were fraught with deception and flagrant contraventions of Congress and the Judiciary. In selling weapons to Tehran, a designated state-sponsor of terrorism, Robert McFarlane and Oliver North of Reagan’s National Security Council knowingly violated the US Arms Control Export Act as well as the stated policy against selling arms for hostages. Furthermore, Congress had also banned any material support to the Nicaraguan Contras.[25] Meanwhile, the middleman, arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, promised more to each side than either was willing to give. Frustration and distrust ensued on both sides. In May of 1986, McFarlane brought a delegation to visit Tehran to engage in direct talks. Speaking directly for the first time, McFarlane met with the chair of the Majles Foreign Affairs Committee and foreign policy advisor to Rafsanjani, Dr. Ali Hadi Najafabadi.[26] The Iranians felt rightly mistreated by the exorbitant prices they had paid to keep their side of the deal, while the United States was frustrated that the Iranians managed to free only one hostage in Lebanon.[27] It quickly became clear that Iran could not control the hostage-takers—or at least, Rafsanjani’s group of pragmatists with which they were dealing could not. When Hashemi’s group learned of McFarlane’s visit, and later publicized it, the revelation quickly brought a harsh end to the deals and any efforts towards a rapprochement.

Hashemi’s Leak: Breaking News from Beirut

The history of the leak itself is under-examined, and the circumstances surrounding both Hashemi’s discovery of McFarlane’s visit and his subsequent arrest remain mysterious. This silence is surprising given the international and domestic importance of the exposure. The leak not only precluded any rapprochement between the two countries but also provoked major political problems in both Iran and the United States. Investigating these unresolved pieces, and answering them to the extent that the sources allow, places the leak deeper within the Montazeri–Rafsanjani factional struggle. The pragmatists had long sought to curb Hashemi’s radical activities when they came into conflict with state policy. When they eventually arrested Hashemi, he and Montazeri’s faction exposed the arms deals in retaliation.

There are various narratives regarding how Montazeri and Hashemi learned of McFarlane’s visit. Presumably, they knew of the pressure to free the hostages that their allies within Islamic Jihad in Lebanon were facing from Tehran, and they likely disproved of this shift in policy as a betrayal of the revolution internationally.[28] Yet it is unlikely that the hostage-takers themselves would have known of any potential or real arms deals. One account suggests that Hashemi’s group came to know of McFarlane’s visit via the Revolutionary Guards at the airport. Another indicates that Montazeri found out months later through letters written by Ghorbanifar after officials discovered his deception and excluded him from further negotiations. The Ash-Shiraa article itself is silent on the subject.

The first version of Hashemi’s discovery of McFarlane’s visit, written by professor and journalist Gary Sick in the months following the Ash-Shiraa leak, contends that “Hashemi had evidently learned of the McFarlane visit after the American visitors, left waiting at the airport, finally identified themselves to officials who turned out to be Revolutionary Guards.”[29] But in fact, as early as 1982 the Majles had moved to curb Hashemi’s power and by 1985 Hashemi had been forced out of his seat on the central command of the Revolutionary Guards.[30] He was no longer affiliated with any official institution, and only working independently out of Montazeri’s offices in Qom.[31] Hashemi, then, would not necessarily have learned of the visit from the Guards. This account relies on Sick’s assumption that Hashemi must have known all along. When requested for comment, Sick responded that Mehdi Hashemi “was a true insider in the more radical elements of the revolutionary elite, and the story of the McFarlane visit was known to quite a few people—from airport guards to the highest levels of the [Islamic Republic of Iran] leadership.”[32] Yet the political landscape of the time quickly discredits the wisdom of Sick’s assumption that if Rafsanjani and Khomeini approved the deals, Montazeri and Hashemi knew of them, too. Rather, the deals were a closely guarded secret, and the officials involved understood the potential for severe political repercussions. As McFarlane reported after his visit, the Iranian officials “still [could not] overcome their more immediate problem of how to talk to us and stay alive.”[33] The Iranians would have tread with caution and preserved secrecy to the greatest extent possible. Although Sick’s account is not entirely impossible, it is not fully convincing. Sick goes on to write that the Guards “later attempted to kidnap McFarlane and his party, but were thwarted by forces loyal to Rafsanjani.” Although other accounts indeed corroborate the presence of the Revolutionary Guards at the airport—Byrne notes that they ate a cake intended as a gift for Iranian officials—there is no record of any kidnapping.[34] Moreover, Sick did not recall the sources for the kidnapping story or manage to find them in his records.[35]

Since Sick’s article, more information has come to light in Montazeri’s now-published memoirs. Drawing on these memoirs, Ulrich Von Schwerin, a German reporter on Iran who has produced substantial scholarship on both Hashemi and Montazeri, relays a second, more convincing account: Montazeri did not know of the deals until July or August when he received a desperate letter from Ghorbanifar.[36] After McFarlane’s visit to Tehran, a new channel was established through Rafsanjani’s nephew, Ali Hashemi, replacing the deceptive Ghorbanifar. Ghorbanifar then faced “unpaid bills allegedly going into the millions” and became increasingly desperate to restore his place in the negotiations.[37] In July of 1986, he first wrote a letter to the officials managing the deals.[38] When that attempt failed, he forwarded copies to Montazeri and other more radical figures outside of the pragmatist faction.[39] Ghorbanifar understood the factional politics at play and sought to exploit them, understanding the power of the information that he held and from whom it had been kept.

Von Schwerin’s story proves convincing. It is clear that Montazeri did not know of the deals until receiving this letter in July or August: upon receiving Ghorbanifar’s letter, he was both “alarmed that he had not been informed about the negotiations” and “scandalized that Iran should fight its Muslim brothers in Iraq with Israeli weapons.” Although he did not on principle oppose negotiating with the United States, he was wary of the deals since he suspected that the United States was more interested in prolonging the war than in either helping the Iranians or reaching a rapprochement.[40] Later scholarship supports this view.[41] Moreover, Rafsanjani and Khomeini’s son, Ahmad, were “much displeased that he had learnt about the matter.”[42] These sources present the deals a closely guarded secret that the pragmatists did not intend Montazeri to know.[43] This account, then, leads us to see the Ash-Shiraa leak as a carefully calculated political move by Montazeri’s faction. The leak was neither an isolated incident nor a knee-jerk ideological reaction to deals with the United States. Rather, his arrest and the subsequent Ash-Shiraa leak are part of a much longer story of the consolidation of power and the regime’s desire to curb Hashemi’s activities.

The Ash-Shiraa story itself also supports such a reading. The article does not focus on McFarlane’s visit as the core of the story, or even the arms deals themselves—it is as if the editor, Hassan Sabra, could not grasp the significance of the exposure or its potential to provoke scandal.[44] Rather, Sabra tells of the dialectical, ideological struggle between the revolution and the state, and then focuses primarily on a sometimes-erroneous account of Hashemi’s revolutionary activities, his arrest, and the accusations of the regime against him. To Sabra, the story of McFarlane’s visit was important as part of “a power struggle such as takes place in most regimes in the world,” which the pragmatists resolved by removing Hashemi, a “former participant in the government and decision-making turned overnight into a traitor deserving execution.”[45]

An ally of Hashemi, Montazeri, and Hezbollah, Sabra’s politics seep into his writing: Sabra lauds Hashemi as truly “living the revolution” and acting “in accordance with religious teachings,” while he describes McFarlane as trying to stop Tehran from “supporting liberation movements in the world on the pretext that they are terrorist movements.” Ash-Shiraa defends Hashemi against the charges for his arrest: smuggling arms to Jeddah and kidnapping the Syrian chargé d’affairs. In this account, Hashemi was arrested because his commitment to international revolution now conflicted with the state. The timeline supports this story. Hashemi was arrested October 9th, whereas the initial distribution leaflets throughout the city that condemned “leaders who have had contacts with the US and who have negotiated with American representatives” took place afterward, in mid-October.[46] The exposure followed the arrest rather than the other way around. Indeed, it is shocking that so many casual references to the affair subsequently reported that Hashemi was arrested because of this leak: the Ash-Shiraa article clearly states that Hashemi is already in prison.[47] 

Hashemi’s actions as an international revolutionary were increasingly coming into conflict with state interests and had begun to prove a liability for the regime. Beyond the OILM’s role in training the Shiite militants who came to form Hezbollah, the Office, or Hashemi in his personal capacity, was also involved in a coup attempt in Bahrain, in abductions and attacks on embassies in Kuwait, in smuggling arms to Saudi Arabia during hajj,  and in kidnapping the Syrian chargé d’affairs when visiting Tehran.[48] These all provoked unpleasant diplomatic backlash for the regime. The hajj smuggling in early August, in particular, led to a direct crack down. Under Reyshahri, the Ministry of Intelligence raided the OILM’s training camps in Isfahan and arrested a number of leaders, seeking also to weaken Montazeri’s power base. As Von Schwerin writes, Hashemi’s arrest soon after should be read as not just as part of the struggle between the export of the revolution and the formation of a pragmatic state policy, but also a part of “an attempt by Ahmed Khomeini, Rafsanjani and the Minister of Intelligence, Hojatoleslam Mohammed Reyshahri, to weaken Montazeri’s position and to bring the him under their control.”[49]

Montazeri  defended Hashemi, straining his relationship with Khomeini.[50]  On October 4th, Khomeini, after a meeting with Rafsanjani and Khamenei, who sought to limit their rival Montazeri’s influence, admonished Montazeri for his support of Hashemi, writing:

To my regret you have acted, spoken and written under the influence of others and [on their instigation] have held public speeches and sent messages to the judiciary. In the interests of the nation, I expect you, for many years my friends […] to clean your house of its relations to Seyyed Mehdi and to refrain from any reaction to the trial against him, which will surely end with his condemnation.”[51]

On October 9th, Montazeri responded to Khomeini by taking responsibility for Hashemi’s actions, telling Khomeini he could find a different successor.[52] Then three days later Hashemi and forty others were arrested. It was only after Hashemi’s arrest that associates of Hashemi and Montazeri approached Hassan Sabra at Beirut’s Ash-Shiraa with enough details to provoke scandal. The exposure might be better understood, then, as also Montazeri’sleak, rather than just Hashemi’s: Hashemi was already in prison at the time of publication. The timeline of the arrest and exposure presents the leak as Montazeri’s attempt to protect Hashemi, or failing that, to retaliate against his arrest by exposing the sensitive secrets of the regime.

Aftermath: An Execution and Montazeri’s Fall

Although public outrage followed the exposure of the deals in both countries, in Iran the affair did not become the full-blown scandal it did in the United States. In fact, the political repercussions for those Iranian officials involved in the deals were next to none. There is a certain parallel in the successes of both American and Iranian officials in avoiding any meaningful repercussions for their deals or secrecy: in the United States, despite the television drama that ensued during Congressional hearings, George H.W. Bush, upon entering office, pardoned all officials involved (he himself had been a participant), while Rafsanjani’s group employed the incident to their distinct political advantage.

Hashemi was executed a year later after his televised confession to “deviation” from the official path.[53] Eight months of interrogation and torture forced him to recant his politics, to confess that “carnal instincts (nafsaniyat) had enticed him into illicit relations (ravabat) with Satan/SAVAK,” causing him to “sow dissension” and “misuse Montazeri’s office.”[54] The sensationally televised confession, reaching an almost Stalinist level of absurdity, broadcast the danger of political disobedience even within the confines of  Islamist politics. Though the state denied it, the show-trial confession and execution most certainly resulted from the Ash-Shiraa exposure. The impact of the exposurewas both individual and collective, both immediate and enduring in its repercussions.

Hashemi’s rebelliousness had not only cost him his life, but it had also profoundly shaken the close relationship between Khomeini and Montazeri, as Montazeri defended Hashemi and challenged the Supreme Leader. The ensuing strain in their relationship contributed to Montazeri’s fall from power. Upon Khomeini’s death in 1989, Ali Khamenei, though he lacked equivalent religious credentials, was selected as Khomeini’s successor and Rafsanjani became President. It is worth considering the future that might have been in Montazeri’s Iran: after Montazeri had been chosen as successor, “in a series of lectures on velayat-e faqih [he] set out to reinterpret this doctrine in order to allow for more popular participation and political freedom.”[55] After years of privately voicing criticism to Khomeini, particularly regarding abuses in courts and prisons, in Khamenei’s Iran, Montazeri became one of the regime’s fiercest critics, coming to “prioritize civil rights, pluralism, and popular participation.”[56] The Ash-Shiraa leak contributed to Montazeri falling from a position of power to one of dissent.

The leak, then, contains a multitude of possibilities: what if Montazeri had succeeded Khomeini, or the United States had enacted meaningful reforms of its national security process to bring the decisions of the executive under meaningful scrutiny and review, or, perhaps, the deals had succeeded. A close examination of this history begins bringing these possibilities, otherwise elided, to light as it seeks to correct the easy narrative that Hashemi was arrested for exposing the arms deals. It constructs a careful timeline based on Ash-Shiraa and other primary sources that places Hashemi’s arrest within a broader struggle between his forces of permanent, international revolution and those of the state. His arrest constituted an attempt by Rafsanjani and Reyshahri to bring the activities of the Office of Islamic Liberation movements under control while weakening Montazeri. This story, too, is part of the factional struggle between Montazeri and Rafsanjani that Montazeri ultimately lost. This is a story that the English-language literature on “Iran-Contra” has too often ignored entirely, the history lost within the intrigue of TOW shipments, cakes, keys, bibles, and the televised drama that followed. But without Hashemi’s story, the history is incomplete and the agency of Iranians and the dynamic politics of the time more easily forgotten.

image 14
Figure 1. Ash-Shiraa cover, 3 November 1986.
image 15
Figure 2. Young Mehdi Hashemi.
image 16
Figure 3. Screenshot of Hashemi’s televised confession, 1987.
image 17
Figure 4. A page of Hashemi’s handwritten confession.

About the Author

Rosa Shapiro-Thompson is a senior history major in Pierson College and a member of the Multidisciplinary Academic Program in Human Rights. In history, Rosa’s interests focus on immigration policy and the United States’ relationship with the modern Middle East. She plans to devote her career to working on issues of justice, conflict, and migration.


Primary Sources

Al-Shiraa, 3 November 1986 (Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Reports, South Asia). Excerpts in translation

Hijazi, Ihsan A. “Hostage’s Release is Linked to Shift in Iranian Policy.” New York Times. 4 November 1986.

“Iran-Contra Report; Arms, Hostages and Contras: How a Secret Foreign Policy Unraveled.” New York Times, 19 November 1987.

Sabra, Hassan. “This is what happened in Tehran.” (Hadhā mā jarā fī Tehrān). Ash-Shiraa. Beirut, Lebanon. 3 November 1986.

Sick, Gary. “Iran’s Quest for Superpower Status.” Foreign Affairs. Spring 1987.

Sick, Gary (Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University’s Middle East Institute; adjunct Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs; journalist on Iran and Iran-Contra), responded to comment via email, 2 May 2017.

Secondary Sources

Abrahamian, Ervand. 1999. Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Blight, James G. Becoming Enemies: U.S.-Iran Relations and the Iran-Iraq War, 1979-1988.

Byrne, Malcolm. Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and The Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power. Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas University Press, 2014.

Jones, Toby C. 2012. “America, Oil, And War In The Middle East.” Journal Of American History 99 (1): 208-218. doi:10.1093/jahist/jas045.

Keddie, Nikki R. 2006. Modern Iran. 1st ed. New Haven: Yale University Press.

McGlinchey, Stephen. US Arms Policies Towards The Shah’s Iran. Routledge Studies in Foreign Policy, 2014.

Milani, Mohsen M. “Hostage Crisis.” Encyclopaedia Iranica. 14 December 2004. Vol. XII, Fasc. 5, pp. 522-535.

Segev, Samuel. Iranian Triangle: The Untold Story of Israel’s Role in the Iran-Contra Affair.  Translated by Haim Watzman.  

Von Schwerin, Ulrich. “Mehdi Hashemi and the Iran-Contra Affair.” BritishJournal of Middle Eastern Studies, 42:4, 520-537, 2015. DOI: 10.1080/13530194.2015.1028520

Von Schwerin, Ulrich. The Dissident Mullah: Ayatollah Montazeri and the Struggle for Reform in Revolutionary Iran. London:I.B. Tauris, 2015.


[1] Ulrich Von Schwerin, “Mehdi Hashemi and the Iran-Contra Affair,” British Journal of Middle East Studies, 534

[2] Malcolm Byrne, Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and The Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power, (Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas University Press, 2014), 1.

[3] Nikki Keddie, Modern Iran, (New Haven, 2006),260-262.

[4] Von Schwerin, “Mehdi Hashemi,” 522.

[5] Ibid; Byrne, 253.

[6] Ervand Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions, (University of California Berkeley, 1999), 162; Von Schwerin, “Mehdi Hashemi,” 522.

[7] Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions, 162-163.

[8] Von Schwerin, “Mehdi Hashemi,” 522.

[9] Sabra, Hassan, “This is What Happened in Tehran,” Ash-Shiraa, Foreign Broadcast Information Services, 3 November 1986.

[10] Von Schwerin, “Mehdi Hashemi,” 522. Quoting Mostafa Izadi’s Extracts from Speeches of Ayatollah Montazeri (Tehran: Islamic Propagation Organization, 1984), p35.

[11] Von Schwerin, The Dissident Mullah, (London, 2015).

[12] Ibid, 521.

[13] Mohsen M. Milani, “Hostage Crisis,” Encyclopaedia Iranica. 14 December 2004. Vol. XII, Fasc. 5, pp. 522-535.

[14] Keddie, Modern Iran, p242

[15] Keddie, Modern Iran, p255; Mark Gasiorowski quoted in Blight’s Becoming Enemies, p130.

[16] Sabra, “This is what happened in Tehran.”

[17] Sabra, “This is what happened in Tehran,” cover.

[18] Von Schwerin, p523.

[19] Amanat, “Khomeini’s Great Satan: Demonizing the American Other.”

[20] McClinchey, US Arms Policies Towards the Shah’s Iran.

[21] Byrne, 34.

[22] Byrne, 30-34.

[23] Byrne, 35.

[24] Byrne, 306; Segev, The Iranian Triangle.

[25] Byrne, 77-79.

[26] Byrne, 196. Although Najafabadi was the highest-ranking official that McFarlane spoke with, according to Albert Hakim, Fereidun Mehdinejad, head/deputy head of intelligence for IRGC, was the main manager of the deals from the Iranian side. He was presented as “Ali Samii.” Another official was presented as “First Deputy Prime Minister Mustafavi.” Mohsen Kangarlou, aide to Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Mousavi. Byrne, 96.

[27] Byrne, 59.

[28] Sick, “Iran’s Quest for Superpower Status,” Foreign Affairs, Spring 1987.

[29] Sick, “Iran’s Quest.”

[30] Sabra, “This is What Happened,” translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Services.

[31] Sabra, “This is What Happened”; Von Schwerin, “Mehdi Hashemi,” 527.

[32] Interview with author, 2 May 2017.

[33] Byrne, 199.

[34] Ibid, 195. Here Byrne cites an interview with the former Iranian deputy foreign minister, whom he does not name. Though the Foreign Minister at the time was Ali Akbar Velayati, Byrne attempts to maintain anonymity of this official interviewed.

[35] Interview with author, 2 May 2017. Professor Sick, though unable to find the source in his records, suggested it could have been during the Iran-Contra hearings. Although I did search the records, my access to transcripts of the hearings was limited and I did not watch tapes of each hearing.

[36] Von Schwerin, The Dissident Mullah; “Mehdi Hashemi and The Iran-Contra Affair,” 98.

[37] Von Schwerin, “Mehdi Hashemi,” 531

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid, 523. In particular, Ghorbanifar sent a copy of the letter to revolutionary judge Hojatoleslam Fatollah Omid-Najafabadi, whom he knew from before the revolution, in order to get the letter to Montazeri. Omid-Najafabadi was ultimately executed along with Hashemi and others in 1987 for his dissenting views and activities.

[40] Von Schwerin, The Dissident Mullah, 98.

[41] Jones, “America, Oil, and War in the Middle East,” Journal of American History, 2012. Jones writes that “While the United States claimed to have been caught off guard by Iraq’s invasion of Iran, many U.S. policy makers came to see a continuation of the war as a useful way to bog down two of the region’s most highly militarized regimes and to stave off short-term threats to the regional order and the political economy of oil.”

[42] Ibid.

[43] Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions.

[44] Segev, The Iranian Triangle.

[45] Sabra, “This is What Happened,” Ash-Shiraa, Foreign Broadcast Information Services translation.

[46] Segev, The Iranian Triangle, 284.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Keddie; Ash-Shiraa; Byrne, 252; Von Schwerin, 526, 532; Ash-Shiraa, p5.

[49] Von Schwerin, Dissident Mullah, 90.

[50] Von Schwerin, 532

[51] Von Schwerin, The Dissident Mullah, 90.

[52] Ibid, 533.

[53] Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions, 162-166.

[54] Ibid, 165.

[55] Ibid, 7.

[56] Ibid, 89; Von Schwerin, The Dissident Mullah, 2.

[57] Arsh News, 29 January 2015,