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Don’t negotiate with Iran — it tried to kill me in 2018

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Don’t negotiate with Iran — it tried to kill me in 2018

There’s nothing the Iranian regime won’t stoop to as it tries to keep its ironfisted hold on power. It would even risk murdering thousands of innocents on Western soil if it could assassinate an opposition leader. I know because I was one of them.

A Belgian court Thursday convicted an Iranian official of plotting to bomb a dissident rally outside Paris in June 2018. It hit Assadollah Assadi with the maximum sentence, 20 years, for attempted terrorist murder and working with a terrorist group.

He was an intelligence agent for the regime’s internal-security directorate Department 312, which the European Union classifies a terrorist organization, but he worked undercover as a diplomat in Iran’s embassy in Vienna. Three accomplices got sentences of 15 to 18 years. Belgium found the scheme was planned and approved by Tehran.

Let that sink in: Iran attempted a terrorist attack on European soil, aimed at an event featuring high-profile former officials from the United States, Canada and Europe, including former Gov. Bill Richardson, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former US Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former foreign ministers of France and Italy. How can President Biden and European leaders possibly want to deal with — and normalize — such a murderous regime?

I remember waking up nearly three years ago to the news that I might have been murdered the day before. My head ached a little as I groggily grabbed my phone. I’d been up into the wee hours in deep discussion with Iranian-Americans and -Canadians in the hotel lounge.

It was my second time covering the annual event, organized by the exiled pro-democracy group the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The year before, I’d spent hours interviewing three young people who’d been jailed and tortured under so-called moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Many attendees had similar stories of the persecution they or their loved ones endured before escaping the Islamic Republic. Some shared their tales with me over bottles of wine as I distracted one couple’s cute children by installing a popular game on my phone.

Those children could be part of the future of a free Iran: Their parents plan to return if the regime falls and help their countrymen rebuild. But they might have been murdered, along with tens of thousands of others, if Belgian and German security services hadn’t foiled Iran’s plot at the last minute.

Assadi brought a pound of explosives and a detonator on a commercial flight from Iran to Vienna — he actually carried them in a diplomatic pouch! — then drove to Luxembourg to hand them off to an Iranian couple who’d been granted political asylum in Belgium.

Police arrested the pair as they drove their Mercedes to Paris the day of the event. Another accomplice was arrested, and Assadi was nabbed in Germany — where authorities said his diplomatic immunity from Austria didn’t apply.

The plot’s target was NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi; Iran blames her opposition group for anti-regime protests that have shaken the murderous mullahs.

Assadi appears to lead Tehran’s European espionage network: A notebook detailed 289 places in 11 European countries where he made contact with alleged agents. In prison, he was visited by Reza Lotfi, a liaison between Iran’s foreign ministry and intelligence agency.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif first claimed the thwarted attack was a “false flag” operation — but it appears he was part of the plot. “The plan to attack was conceived on behalf of Iran and under its leadership,” Jaak Raes, chief of Belgium’s State Security Service, told prosecutors. “It was not a personal initiative of Assadi.”

The terrorist showed no remorse and refused to testify at his trial, claiming diplomatic immunity — but he threatened Belgian authorities that if he’s found guilty, unidentified groups could retaliate. Zarif hasn’t disputed the evidence either; his ministry simply claims diplomatic immunity makes the conviction invalid.

You might remember Zarif’s face from photos of him standing smiling alongside John Kerry, who as secretary of state helped negotiate the nuclear deal — and who out of office met with Zarif several times, trying to undercut President Donald Trump’s Iran policy.

Biden’s administration wants to meet with this murderous man again, in an attempt to re-enter the deal. Europe is anxious to see it happen. But the Paris plot proves this regime isn’t a good-faith actor. And it’s capable of plenty of death and destruction even without a nuclear weapon.

Kelly Jane Torrance is a member of The Post’s editorial board.

Twitter: @KJTorrance

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Opinion

‘Fiscally conservative’ war hawks are trying to defraud GOP voters — again

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‘Fiscally conservative’ war hawks are trying to defraud GOP voters — again

With the Republican loss in the 2020 election, there is a great deal of debate on where the party and the wider conservative movement are headed. According to betting markets, the 2024 field is wide open. The odds-on favorite is former President Donald Trump, but even he only has around a 20 percent chance as of this writing. In second place is Nikki Haley.

The former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador is an object of Beltway fascination, as can be seen in a recent feature profile in Politico. But what would a candidate or President Haley stand for? Would her views jibe with those of the working-class voters who propelled her ex-boss’ unlikely journey to the Oval Office?

If her new organization, Stand for America, is any indication, the answer is no. Instead, it looks Haley will offer the old and tired combination that GOP primary voters decisively rejected in 2016: fiscal conservatism married with a hawkish foreign policy. Whether or not this fusion has a chance politically, basic arithmetic shows that what are likely to be the two pillars of the Haley 2024 campaign are in contradiction.

Not long ago, Haley complained about Democrats wanting to bring back earmarks, highlighting a $50 million project for an indoor rainforest in Iowa. But Americans who believe that Washington should live within its means must see through what is a transparent fraud: Haley frets about a $50 million indoor rainforest — while supporting a foreign policy that costs trillions.

Fact is, pork-barrel projects are a drop in the feds’ sea of red ink. In 2019, the US government spent $4.4 trillion. While tens of millions of dollars may seem like a lot of money, projects in that range shouldn’t be the focus of true budget hawks.

Where does most of the budget go? About half to entitlements, which are politically untouchable. The next category, however, is the military, which amounted to 3.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2019. At the height of the War on Terror, the numbers were higher; in 2010, the armed forces consumed 4.5 percent of GDP, and we could easily return to such numbers under the budgets preferred by many Republicans.

To see how meaningless pork-barrel projects are in the grand scheme of things, we should return to the indoor rainforest that so upset Haley. According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University, as of 2019, the post-9/11 wars had a long-term cost to the United States of around $6.4 trillion. About $2 trillion of that was wasted on Afghanistan alone, with the Taliban now controlling more land than it did in the years immediately after the 2001 invasion.

If the price of an indoor rainforest is $50 million, then the Afghan War has cost taxpayers 40,000 times as much. No, that isn’t a typo: For the price of being in Afghanistan, the federal government could have built an indoor rainforest every 80 square miles across the entire continental United States, or, if it preferred, 13 in each US county.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be the best use of government money. But the point is this: It’s undeniable that foreign wars have been a massive drain on the nation’s resources. Trumpian Populists and progressives would like to see the government invest money at home. But even those who think budgetary restraint is important shouldn’t be manipulated by mathematically ignorant arguments made by those who seek power.

War hawks can’t honestly claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism while only attacking relatively minuscule pork-barrel projects. If American dollars are better spent in places like Afghanistan and the South China Sea than at home, fine. But politicians should make that case directly to the American voter, not try to burnish their fiscal reputations by attacking puny projects while leaving untouched far heftier expenditures.

Republican strategists and activists beware: The combination of opposition to indoor rainforests and support for more pointless war isn’t the path to either electoral success or fiscal responsibility.

Richard Hanania is president of the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology and a research fellow at Defense Priorities.

Twitter: @RichardHanania

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NY parents desperate for more school choice: Lift the charter cap!

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NY parents desperate for more school choice: Lift the charter cap!

Parents fed up with the city Department of Education’s disastrous performance this last year are desperate for better choices. Better-off families can pay for alternatives such as private and parochial schools. To give low-income New Yorkers the same opportunity, state lawmakers have a clear duty to lift the cap on public charter schools.

In the city, charter-school enrollment was 138,000 across 267 schools in the 2019-2020 school year. Expansion of existing schools will let that grow some, but not enough.

The DOE’s timidity in reopening schools, its open-close-and-repeat approach to those that aren’t shuttered and its utter failure to make remote learning more than a sad joke frustrate parents across the city. A major exodus from public schools is inevitable — unless the state allows for more high-quality, well-managed charters.

As the pandemic raged, Mayor de Blasio and outgoing Chancellor Richard Carranza took no break from their war on charters. Recently, a state judge ordered the DOE to include charters in the same weekly COVID-19 testing program used at regular schools — and the city is appealing the decision.

Some charters, such as Success Academy, were forced to go all-remote because the DOE wouldn’t let them reopen classes in spaces shared with traditional public schools — lest they make those schools look bad. Yet Success and others at least made remote classes work. KIPP Infinity in Harlem recorded 98 percent attendance because every kid received devices and those with connectivity issues got hotspots.

The flexibility enjoyed by charters allows for out-of-the-box thinking not just in responding to challenges like a pandemic, but also in providing a quality public education for mostly low-income, minority student bodies. They’ve proved to be the laboratories of innovation and achievement that then-Gov. George Pataki envisioned when he pushed charter-school legislation through the Legislature over two decades ago.

In that time, a total of 397 charters have been issued statewide, with 325 schools now serving students, plus 26 approved but not yet open. The 2015 law that raised the state charter cap to 460 allowed only a few dozen more for the city — all which have now been used.

There remain about 25 so-called “zombie” charters — ones that were revoked or approved but never opened. Those licenses should be re-assigned, but it still wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the huge demand for charter seats, grades K-12.

Families need new legislation to lift or eliminate the cap. The progressive lawmakers who now dominate the Legislature should ignore the teachers unions, which despise charters, and do right by inner-city kids. It’s a matter of fundamental fairness to give low-income children the same chance to escape bad schools that the wealthy enjoy.  

A million city kids have essentially lost over a year of education. Public charters can lead the way in bringing thousands back up to speed via a quality, rigorous instruction.

Save public education and increase basic equity: Raise the cap!

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Alzheimer’s took my mom, but her dignity and love shone to the end

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Alzheimer's took my mom, but her dignity and love shone to the end

There are a hundred things I could tell you about my late mother that are more important than the disease that caught her in its grip the last few years of her life.

I could tell you about her relationship with my older bother, who has autism, and her deep, lifelong friendship with him. 

I could tell you how she took her experience fighting the schools to educate and treat my brother decently and went into social work as a career, helping countless other disabled and mentally ill people. 

I could tell you about her accomplished painting, her love of cats or her civic involvement. 

After losing her last week, though, I want to share something about the worst, about the end, about the Alzheimer’s disease that took this vibrant woman, who made friends and plans wherever she went, and confined her to a wheelchair and rendered her nearly mute and inert. 

Because I’ve come to believe that this crushing disease doesn’t, during almost all its progression, achieve as complete a victory as it might seem. It takes away so much. The ability to live independently. The ability to talk. And in the end, the ability, or will, to eat. There are no heartening stories of Alzheimer’s survivors. 

But our personhood is so strong that the disease, even in its late stages, can’t fully extinguish the human personality. No, the spark is still there, flickering, very difficult to detect at times, but there. 

I acknowledge that some families have worse experiences than mine, wrenching though it was, and Alzheimer’s forces you constantly to ratchet your expectations downward. First, you’re glad of conversation, even if it doesn’t make much sense. Then, you’re glad of any words. Finally, you are glad of, well, anything. 

Still, there are little gems of surprises. Once, I was wheeling my mom from the cafeteria area in her nursing home, hoping to get her from Point A to Point B without incident, when she reached out and got a death grip on the chair of another resident. 

This other resident was a notably stately woman. “Hello, gorgeous!” said my Mom. Where did that come from?

Toward the end, when things were bleakest, my Mom would still shine through the shroud of the disease. If she talked, it was always incoherently, but I could see her making points the way she always had. She might chuckle softly at a mention of my brother. Even when I couldn’t get anything else out of her, she’d hum, to patriotic songs, to hymns, to “Ode to Joy.” 

No matter how bad it got, you’d see grace notes in the incredible love showered on her and others by the staff of the facility caring for her. Or another resident would do something amusing or touching. 

I remember an otherwise despairing visit, when another lady sat down randomly besides us. I said I liked the stuffed dog she had in a basket on her walker. She said he was a good boy, began to pet him and then kissed him a couple times lovingly on the snout. It was so sweet, I was moved to tears. 

The last time I visited my Mom, days before she took to her death bed, I badgered her, as I often did, to try to get a reaction out of her: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”

Sometimes she wouldn’t say anything. Sometimes you might notice her trying to reply. This time, she got out an unmistakable, “Yep.” 

I played the “1812 Overture” on my phone, loud. Again, to get a reaction, I swung my arms in exaggerated, mock conductor movements, especially toward the finale, with Tchaikovsky’s chimes ringing and the cannons firing in a crashing crescendo of victory and resolve. 

And right at the end, my Mom briefly raised and twisted her hand in a conductor motion of her own. 

Take that, you merciless, godawful disease. 

Twitter: @RichLowry

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