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Making Iran Pay

An important event, which passed with hardly any media attention, transpired last week. A federal judge ordered that Iran pay $2.6 billion to the family members and survivors of the 1983 Hizballah bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 soldiers. In 2003, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth held Iran “legally responsible” for supporting Hizballah, which carried out the attacks. Last week’s ruling determined the damages. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, “Iran did not contest the charges.”

Why would Iran refrain from challenging such a serious ruling against it? There are two ostensible reasons. The first is that the Iranian regime considers any United States court illegitimate, and would see engaging in an appeal as an infidel ritual. The second, and more interesting, is that this is a tacit acknowledgment on Iran’s part that it was responsible for this crime (which could be considered an act of war). By not contesting the charge, Iran admits, in a not-very-subtle fashion, that it arms and equips Hizballah.

This was not the first time that Judge Lamberth has found Iran guilty of acts of international terror, specifically terror aimed at killing American servicemen. In 2003, he found Iran guilty of training men who carried out the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 23 American soldiers.

Of course, there is no way for the 1983 victims of the Marine barracks bombing to collect the money they have been awarded. Iran’s assets in the United States amount to no more than $20 million, almost all of it diplomatic property that the American government cannot touch. So this ruling, and the subsequent judgment, are both symbolic.

Typical of this symbolism was a portion of Judge Lamberth’s written decision, in which he stated that “this extremely sizeable judgment will serve to aid in the healing process and simultaneously sound the alarm to the defendants that their unlawful attacks on our citizens will not be tolerated.” His first contention—that the awarding of many millions of dollars (which they will never see) will “aid in the healing process”—is one that only the victims of this tragedy can judge. The second—that a force-less American court ruling (not the first of its kind) will somehow dissuade Iran from continuing its support for global terror—is even more dubious.

Iran’s involvement in attacks against American soldiers persists, at least according to General David Petraeus. At a news conference Wednesday after his congressional testimony, the General said, “The evidence is very, very clear. We captured it when we captured Qais Khazali, the Lebanese Hizballah deputy commander and others. And it’s in black and white.”

But according to many on the Left, Petraues is somehow a traitor for reporting such evidence. Others who make mere mention of the Iranian proxy war (most prominently, Senator Lieberman) are called “warmongers,” in the words of net-left favorite Matthew Yglesias. Through such effusions, these critics betray a belief that the Islamic Republic will stop killing our soldiers if we just abandon Iraq. But as last week’s court ruling reminds us, Iran has been killing Americans for decades—long before the 2003 invasion. There’s no reason to think the attacks on Americans suddenly will stop, and all kinds of reasons to think they will increase, should we capitulate.


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