To the Washington, DC policy community, and to Jewish organizations across America, Uri Lubrani had become a familiar face.
The first time I met him in Washington was in November 1994, when he came to openly challenge the Clinton administration over what he saw as an appeasement policy toward the Iranian regime.
His words at the time ought to resonate in the ears of policy-makers and corporate lobbyists seeking to do business in Iran today.
As I wrote in Countdown to Crisis, the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran:
“Let me make it absolutely clear,” Lubrani said. “The Iranis have no doubt in their mind that when some of the largest U.S. companies seek a working or trading relationship with Iran, even if this is done indirectly, it cannot be done without the knowledge and explicit approval and authorization by the highest quarters in Washington. This is so because it would be unthinkable to an Irani mind, which has no understanding of the inner workings of a democracy, that such activities are at all possible without being sanctioned from above.”
At the time, the company seeking to do business in Iran was oil giant Conoco. Today, of course, it is Boeing.
On Monday, with Lubrani’s peaceful death at the age of 91, Israel lost a warrior, and a giant.
That 1994 event, where Lubrani faced off with the Clinton administration’s top MidEast diplomat, Martin Indyk, wasn’t the first time I had met Lubrani. By that point, we had become close personal friends, and he frequently dined at my house while visiting the nation’s capitol.
Our relationship began in 1988, when Lubrani was in charge of Israel’s secret policy in Lebanon. At the time, his biggest concern was recovering downed F4 navigator Ron Arad, who was captured by the Shiite Amal militia after ejecting from his aircraft over Lebanon in October 1986.
I was invited to London to meet Lubrani at an Israeli government safe house in London to discuss information I had published in a confidential newsletter about Lebanese intermediaries believed to be close to Arad’s kidnappers.
Uri wanted to know everything I could tell him about the intermediaries, and how serious I thought they might be. Although the operation I ultimately participated in with Uri to negotiate for Arad’s release failed, we met repeatedly over the next three decades, in Israel, in various places in Europe, and in New York and Washington.
On one occasion, I arranged a private dinner at my home for him and Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former Shah. At another, while we were having coffee at the King David hotel in Jerusalem in December 2009, we bumped into Abraham Foxman, then head of the ADL.
Everyone knew him. He was a quiet warrior, and a passionate advocate, speaking to Jewish audiences around the world on behalf of his country.
Uri cut his stripes within the Israeli bureaucracy as Israel’s last unofficial emissary to Iran in late 1970s, when he sent home a now famous dispatch predicting the demise of the Shah.
The kicker, he told me, was a dinner party he attended at the home of a top advisor to the Shah in late 1977. Again, from Countdown to Crisis:
The Shah had jetted down to the private beach resort he had built for his court on Kish island in the Persian Gulf. With the Shah safely out of town, his top advisers began talking out of school, mocking his gestures, his habits, his every decision. “It wasn’t just the criticism; it was the tone of the criticism,” Lubrani said. “It was personal. It was vicious. These were his top advisers, people who, whenever I saw them at court, were falling all over themselves to praise His Imperial Majesty. I realized at that moment that they no longer feared him, and that if things went bad, they wouldn’t lift a finger to defend him.”
Lubrani sent the cable predicting the Shah’s downfall in December 1977, just as President Jimmy Carter flew to Tehran and called the Shah’s Iran an “island of stability.”
Freedom-loving Iranians owe him a much bigger debt than most of them realize. For many years, tirelessly, he worked behind the scenes to help a variety of pro-freedom groups better organize and to perfect their messaging.
In 2002, he was among the Israeli leaders who recommended handing sensitive intelligence information on then-secret Iranian nuclear weapons sites to the Islamic-Marxist opposition group, the MEK.
Lubrani only chose the MEK after a prominent Iranian opposition leader, far better accepted in the West, refused to take the Israeli information, for fear he would be painted as an Israeli stooge. The MEK had no such fears.
Israel and the Middle East as a whole have lost one of their greats. RIP, dear friend.