The Lost Opportunity For Regime Change In Iran: An Admiral's Lament

Adm. (Ret.) James "Ace" Lyons recalls the military plan that could have changed the course of history -- and who sabotaged it.

The debate on the future of the Iran nuclear deal has had two overriding views, that of President Trump who is inclined to scrap it, and that of his close advisors who caution against it.  Admiral James “Ace” Lyons, Jr. has an altogether different approach:  “a regime change in Iran.”

Admiral James “Ace” Lyons Jr. was the keynote speaker at a memorial service held at the Bergen County Court House in Hackensack, NJ, for the 241 U.S. Marine peacekeepers, killed in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983 by terrorists, on orders from the Ayatollahs regime in Tehran.  Beirut native Joseph Hakim, President of the International Christian Union, is the founder of the annual memorial service. 

Adm. (Ret.) Lyons, the 90-year old naval hero, though frail in body, used his booming voice to enumerate the opportunities and failures of various U.S. administrations to depose the radical Islamist regime that was responsible for the death of numerous U.S. Marines and other U.S. servicemen in Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere throughout the world.  He also reminded the audience of 200, mostly U.S. Marine veterans, of his personal plans of action to eliminate the oppressive Iranian regime. 

As an officer of the U.S. Navy for thirty-six years, most recently as Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the largest single military command in the world, his initiatives contributed directly to the economic stability and humanitarian understanding in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, and brought the U.S. Navy Fleet back to China.  He also served as Senior U.S. Military Representative to the United Nations.  As deputy Chief of Naval Operations from 1983-1985, he was principal advisor on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters, and was the father of the Navy Red Cell, an anti-terrorism group comprised of Navy Seals. He established this in response to the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut.

Admiral Lyons was also Commander of the U.S. Second Fleet and Commander of the NATO Striking Fleet, which were the principle fleets for implementing of the U.S. Maritime Strategy.  Admiral Lyons has represented U.S. interests with the military and civilian leadership worldwide – including China, Japan and other Pacific Rim countries, the European continent and Russia.  As Fleet Commander, he managed a budget of over $5 billion and controlled a force of 250,000 personnel.  Key assignments preceding Flag rank included Chief of Staff, Commander Carrier Group Four, Commanding Officer, USS Richmond K, Turner (CG-20), and Commanding Officer, USS Charles S. Sperry (DD697). 

Admiral Lyons has been recognized for his distinguished service by the United States, and several foreign governments.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and has received post graduate degrees from the U.S. Naval War College, and U.S. National Defense University.  Currently Admiral Lyons is President/CEO of LION Associates LLC, a premier global consultancy providing technical expertise in the areas of international marketing and trade, enterprise risk including anti-terrorism, site and port security, foreign policy and security affairs along with defense and commercial procurement.

This reporter used the occasion to interview Admiral Lyons, nicknamed “Ace”.  

Joseph Puder (JP): You had a plan of action in 1979 that would have done away with the Ayatollahs regime in Tehran. Please describe how it was derailed and by whom?

Admiral James Lyons, Jr. (JLJ): When the Ayatollah goons took over our Tehran embassy in November, 1979, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) called me up (I was the Director of political Military Affairs for the JCS at the time) and asked me what options do we have.  I said our only good option was to take Kharg Island, Iran’s main exporting oil depot up in the Persian Gulf.  I was probably the only senior officer that had been there and I knew what we could do.  My plan involved taking control of the main control facilities building with a detachment of U.S. Navy Seals.  I was going to give the Iranians 24 hours to get out of our embassy and release our diplomats or they were going to have the biggest ashtray in the Middle East.  President Carter rejected the plan when I was told National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski brought it up to him.  I attributed this to the influence of the powerful Washington Iran lobby group. 

One of the members of the Iran lobby group, Gary Sick, was the Iranian desk officer at the National Security Council (NSC).  According to reports, Sick leaked a story to the Boston Globe that there would be no military response to the atrocious action taken against our U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which is sovereign U.S. territory.  Unbelievable! 

JP: What was the role of Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger in thwarting your plan of retaliation against the Iranian directed Shiite Amal terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut? 

JLJ: We had proof positive the orders for the bombing came from Tehran based on a National Security Agency intercept of the Iranian Ambassador in Damascus reporting back to the Foreign Ministry in Tehran.  The orders he gave to the terrorists’ leadership (which he previously received from Tehran) were to concentrate the attack on the Multi-National Force, and specifically to take “spectacular action” against the U.S. Marines.  That intercept was dated September 27, 1983, almost 4 weeks before the bombing.  At the time, I was the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, and did not see that message until two days after the bombing, on October 25, 1983.  I had the GAO do an investigation on where was that message.  I never got a satisfactory answer.  I personally talked to Colonel Gerrity, the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Marines Peacekeeping Force, and he said he never saw it either, nor did the Carrier Task Group Commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet.  

Once the terrorists were located at the Sheik Abdullah Barracks above Baalbek, we made up a four plane A-6 attack aircraft strike plan (to be modified by the Carrier Task Group Commander as necessary) that was going to make the Lebanese Sheik Abdullah Barracks look like a plowed cornfield in Kansas.  I personally briefed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Vessey, and then the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, who all approved.  I then briefed Secretary Weinberger in his office.  The day of the NSC meeting with President Reagan, John McMann, Deputy CIA Director called me and said, “Casey is back from his trip and insists on taking the meeting.”  I asked if it was going to get screwed up.  He said there is nothing he could do about it.  I was not invited to the meeting.

At the meeting, Secretary Weinberger told the President that he thought there were Lebanese army troops in those barracks.  The President turned to Bill Casey and asked, “What about it?” Casey, just back from a trip, couldn’t answer. President Reagan told both of them to sort it out.  Earlier, I had called the Sixth Fleet Commander, and had him load the planes because it was going to be a first light strike. 

At the next meeting with the President, it was ascertained that there were no Lebanese Army troops in the barracks.  Bud McFarlane, National Security Advisor, told me that Weinberger said that if we go ahead with the strike, we are going to lose all our Arab friends.  He threw enough “dust” in the air to confuse the President so that we couldn’t get an “execute order.”  In short, he sabotaged the strike.  We could have changed the course of history.  We are now living with that failed decision.

JP: What is your opinion of the Iran Nuclear Deal, and how should the Trump administration deal with it?

JLJ: The first thing you have to know is that it is an “unsigned” agreement.  It should be immediately cancelled.  The agreement, in my view, borders on treason.  Further, the total Iranian infrastructure must be dismantled or destroyed. There can be no negotiating with the apocalyptic mindset of the Khamenei regime.  There will be no sense of stability in the Middle East until there is a regime change in Iran. 

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