Why the Shah's pilot flew Bani-Sadr to Paris
Behzad Moezi has earned himself a place in two separate chapters of Iran's swift and turbulent history by doing what he knows best -- flying airplanes and removing dangerous human cargo from Iran.
Wice now, this Iranian Air Force colonel has run a kind of "Exile Airways Ltd.," featuring hasty takeoffs from Tehran's military airport and a somewhat bumpy ride for the departing enemies of Ayatollah Khomeini.
On the eve of the Iranian revolution, Colonel Moezi flew the Shah and his family into Moroccan exile -- an "extended vacation," as it was called at the time. Moezi, who didn't like the Shah much, then flew the plane back to Iran, braving an angry mob at Tehran's airport.
"The mullahs [Muslim clergymen] never forgive me," Moezi recalled bitterly. "Nobody thanked me for getting rid of the Shah, nobody remembered that I brought back a $45 million airplane to the iranian people."
Colonel Moezi, who doesn't like Ayatollah Khomeini much, either, soon secretly joined the Mujahideen-e Khalq, a radical Muslin organization that has been engaged in bloody guerrilla activities against Khomeini's fundamentalist regime, activities that are rapidly escalating into a civil war.
The Mujahideen organization, which claims the support of some 70,000 armed sympathizers inside iran, are reviled as "Islamo- Marxists," but men like Colonel Moezi hardly fit that label.
A US-trained pilot who served in the Shah's Air Force for 23 years, he has seen enough of democracy to want something for iran other than what he calls the "ignorant reactionaries" now dominating the government. As a professional soldier, Colonel Moezi has also added up the score of Mujahideen hits and seen that they, out of all the opposition factions, stand the best chance of toppling Ayatollah Khomeini.
After flying 1,200 hours in iran's Gulf war against Iraq, the colonel took on this next exile mission: slipping the two most hunted men in Iran -- ex-President Abohassan Bani-Sadr and Mujahideen leader Massoud Rajavi -- aboard a military tanker plane and carrying them to safety in France, one step ahead of the three Iranian fighter jets sent up to intercept them.
[Reuters reports that 57 French nationals asked by their government to return home have arrived in Paris. Another 140 were scheduled to leave Aug. 12. President Francois Mitterrand called them home after street demonstrations in Tehran against France's decision to give asylum to Bani- Sadr.]
Col. Behzad Moezi, still wearing his zippered green Iranian Air Force Flight suit, stays at the large house in Auyers-sur-Oise, a prosperous little village some 30 miles north of Paris, where Bani-Sadr and Rajavi are planning their resistance to the Tehran fundamentalists.
Rajavi explained why the Mujahideen, although fervent Muslims, broke with Khomeini. Their quarrel started on Feb. 1, 1979, the night the Ayatollah flew home victorious from Paris and took his place as Iran's revolutionary leader. "The Mujahideen were still in hiding the night Khomeini got back from Paris," said Rajavi.
"So he sent his son, Ahmad, round with a message. Khomeini wanted two things: That we accept his enemies as our own enemies, and that the Mujahideen publicly recognize the Ayatollah's divine nature. We sent Ahmad away."
"Later," Rajavi added with a smile, "I met Khomeini. He held out his hand for me to kiss, and I refused. since then, we've been enemies."
One guesses that Rajavi can hold his own even against a powerful adversary like Khomeini. A quick, tense man in his mid-30s who looks 10 years younger, Rajavi has a reddish mustache that barely conceals a scar he received in a gunfight with the Shah's police.
But Rajavi's real power is in the organization under his command. When the Shah's Army melted away during the revolution, the Mujahideen rushed to the military bases and emptied the armories. One Tehran resident recalls, "I was driving by an Army garrison close to home. The gates were open, and looters were carrying off guns as if it were a bazaar."
The fundamentalist government accuses the Mujahideen of bombing the headquarters of their Islamic Republican Party, killing 74 senior politicians and clergymen, including Ayatollah Muhammad Behesthi, the IRP's shrewd leader. The Mujahideen's latest victim, another senior IRP politician, Dr. Hassan Ayat, was gunned down outside his home last week by two men who then escaped on motorcycles through Tehran's jammed streets.
"The Mujahideen never wanted an armed struggle," Rajavi insists. "For 2 1/2 years we suffered without doing anything. In that time Khomeini killed off 85 of our sympathizers and stripped us our constitutional rights. In the Shah's time there were 4,000 political prisoners in jail. Today, the Mujahideen alone have 7,000 people behind bars. In June [after Bani-Sadr's impeachment], we decided to fight back."
The Mujahideen's first move was to hide Bani-Sadr, whose big mistake in office was never setting up his own network of supporters. The well-organized Mujahideen slipped the fugitive ex-President underground, first moving him down to southern Iran, then back to a secret location in Tehran itself. From there, Rajavi and Colonel Moezi master- minded the escape to France.
Most political observers say that, without RAjavi at his side in France, former President Bani-Sadr's luster would soon fade in Iran's fast-moving revolution, turning him into just another exiled politician denouncing the fundamentalist mullahs from a safe, Paris sidewalk cafe.
But Bani-Sadr can use Rajavi's talents as a ruthless tactician and his militarily precise command over thousands of guerrilla cells, spread throughout the northern provinces and the big cities, to lead an armed rebellion against Khomeini's legions. In exchange, the Mujahideen need Bani-Sadr -- the first elected President in Iranian history -- for legitimacy and a broader popular base. The Mujahideen's critics caution, however, that once he has ousted the fundamentalists, Rajavi will probably discard Bani-Sadr.
Those who do not accept that the Mujahideen guerrillas are simply manipulating Bani-Sadr point out the several concessions made to the ex-president. Rajavi now agrees that the middle and upper classes have a place in his ideal Islamic society, as long, he says, "as these national bourgeoisie aren't controlled by foreign interests."
The eventual goal of the Mujahideen and Bani-Sadr is a freely elected government based on "independence, freedom, and Islam," according to their coalition manifesto.
Both Bani-Sadr and Rajavi found influential backers in the Iranian clergy who dispute Khomeini's "divine nature."
"Khomeini has been promoting sectarian warfare," Rajavi said. "At the start, the clergy and the Iranian people respected Khomeini and the IRP. But maybe because they expected so much from them, they lost confidence a lot quicker."
Another reason the Mujahideen have attracted pro-Westerners like Colonel Moezi is that under their islamic rhetoric, they are fiercely nationalistic. The colonel explained, "What Khomeini failed to understand is that I fought the Iraqis to protect my country -- not my country and the mullahs."