Archival Institute Interviews Judith Yaphe

Dr. Yaphe ran the Iran desk at the CIA during the American Hostage Crisis and discusses the events of the late 1970s and 80s surrounding the 1979 Revolution in Iran, the taking of 52 American hostages at the American Embassy, and the conflict with Iraq.

Judith Yaphe is an adjunct professor in the Elliott School and Senior Research Fellow and Middle East Project Director in the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. Before joining INSS in 1995, Dr. Yaphe served for 20 years as a senior analyst on Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf issues in the Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA. She specializes in Iraq, Iran, Arabian/Persian Gulf security issues, and Political Islam/Islamic extremism.

Yaphe received the B.A. with Honors in History from Moravian College and the Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History from the University of Illinois. Selected publications include Strategic Implications of a Nuclear-Armed Iran with Dr. Kori Schake, (2001), The Middle East in 2015: The Impact of Regional Trends on U.S. Strategic Planning (2002), The United States and the Persian Gulf, ed. by Richard D. Sokolsky (2003).

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Interview Excerpt

And I had done some work for him and he was off on his way to Beirut on a mission for Secretary of State Shultz at the time, having to do with the PLO and peace prospects, so very early stages, and he was killed in the Beirut bombing in April of 1983.

And I think I was one of several people I knew who were so effected by that event that we found ourselves, a year or two later, in the Counterterrorism Center, which was just getting started, and I think it was the beginning of – well, what became, obviously, a full-blown industry, although not really until 9/11.

But that was the beginning and the decision had been made at the time not to sit back and wait for things to happen, but to try to be more proactive.  But I was an analyst on my area of specialization and at a time when Iran was a high focus. This is the early to mid-1980s, the Iran-Iraq War is on, of course, but Iran is also involved in a number of bad activities, lots of terrorism going on, and by terrorism, international acts of terror against civilians.  There was a pretty good definition at the time, it was not about military operations but it had a _________ they were especially targeting westerners, the United States for different reasons. These were supporters, if not surrogates, of Iran.

And it was a high-agenda item for the U.S. government.  When the hostages were taken in Lebanon, that was an extremely high visibility issue, maybe visibility isn’t the right word ’cause nobody knew who – you know, we were not known as to who was working on this.  But the point I wanted to make is it had the attention of the president, President Reagan, and nobody, I think, really understood how deeply he was affected by that.

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