"Where leaders lack vision, the people perish... "
Military Buildup at the Price of Social and Economic Reforms
The People's Republic of China (PRC) has committed itself to facilitating
and expediting the clerics' drive to dominate and destabilize
the Persian Gulf area. Chinese military assistance is a crucial
factor in the Iranian military build-up and the key to Islamic
Republic's ability to challenge and threaten its neighbors and
the Western forces deployed in the area. The latest and very important
manifestation of this commitment is Beiiing's agreement to provide
the mullahs with $4.5 billion worth of weapon systems as well
as other military technologies and production capacity. The deal
was signed during the late August visit to the PRC by Iranian
Minister of Defense and Logistics Mohammad Foruzandeh.
This visit is the most important development in the Sino-Iranian
defense cooperation since I fashemi-Rafsanjani's 1992 visit to
Beijing when a then unprecedented military deal -- a mere $ 1.5-billion
-- was signed. Significantly, both the 1992 and the 1996 Sino-Iranian
deals, as well as key phases in Sino-Iranian defense cooperation
have been directly tied to specific developments in Tehran's regional
strategy. I knee, the Chinese military assistance and supplies
should be considered an expressions of Beiiing's support for the
steps taken by Tehran.
The unique importance and magnitude of the recent deal is best
understood when examined in the context ofrecent Sino-Iranian
defense cooperation. By comparison, the entire Sino-Iranian military
cooperation in the 1990s totaled between $3.0-billion and S3.5-billion,
including Hashemi-Rafsanjani's 1992 deal for almost half the total.
Moreover, these purchases include the rebuilding of Iranian military
system after the horrendous attrition of Iran-Iraq War and replenishment
of strategic stockpiles. Under these deals, the PRC has already
supplied complete factories for missiles and other weapons that
thoroughly modernized Iran's indigenous military production capabilities.
The deal reached by Foruzandeh and his hosts is thus one-and-a-half
times the entire Sino Iranian defense cooperation in more than
five years! Furthermore, from a military perspective, the significance
of this deal is far greater than the mere numbers suggest because
the way the prices of the weapons and barter items are calculated.
On the "books", the unit price for both Chinese weapons
and Iranian export goods is a fraction of the real Dollar values.
For example, the Chinese "sell" fighter aircraft for
about a third of what a comparable aircraft would cost in the
West. The clerics "sell" the Iranian oil to the PRE
for less than half the market price. The overall calculation of
the deal is completed on the basis of the make-believe prices
and not the real Dollar value of the goods traded. Hence, these
deals cover significantly more weapons and other military capabilities
than their monetary size would suggest. In other words, if the
mullahs were to purchase the same equipment on the Western market,
Tehran would have had to pay between $9.0-billion and $13.5-billion!
Tehran's embarking on such a huge weapons deal is not entirely
surprising. The defense budget Hashemi-Rafsanjani introduced in
December 1995 anticipated a 31% increase (in real terms after
inflation). Fie justified the need for such a major increase at
times of economic hardships by stressing growing strategic threats
to Iran and ensuing requirements for a military build-up to meet
these challenges. Hashemi Rafsanjani neglected to mention that
it is the clerics' own assertive and increasingly belligerent
strategy that is the cause for the growing tension in the Persian
Gulf. The PRE was apprised of Iran's strategic designs and expectations
from Beijing during bilateral high-level strategic discussions
held in Tehran in late January 1996. These discussions concentrated
on the ongoing strategic cooperation and coordination in relation
to the further consolidation ofthe Trans-Asian Axis. Both countries
sought to coordinate their positions given the then escalating
crises in the Taiwan Straits and the Arabian Peninsula -- the
anticipated intensification of the Islamist subversion of Saudi
Arabia and Bahrain. Islamic Republic's Vice-President Hassan Habibi
concluded the talks, stressing that "the common outlooks
of the two countries in relation to many regional and international
topics is a good reason wh . y the two countries could further
expand their relations. "
Foruzandeh's Visit to Beijing:
Foruzandeh arrived in Beijing in late August, at the head of a
large delegation comprising of 15 senior officials from the Iranian
armed forces as well as numerous technical and military , experts.
In Beijing, Foruzandeh stressed that his visit was "based
on the continuous exchange of views between the two countries'
top military brass." Nevertheless, he explained, this visit
would be uniquely important because the Sirto-Irattiatt 'joint
defense coo/x-rc Uion will be renvrvwd" by senior officials
from both countries.
Foruzandeh held talks with Chinese Defense M inister Chi Haotian
on steps to further improve strategic relations and cooperation
between the two countries and their defense establishments (not
just the armed forces). They spend a lot of time discussing issues
of regional strategy. Significantly, they compared notes and assessments
on the stability of Saudi Arabia.
The Iranians were most interested in Chi Haotian's impressions
from his visit to Saudi Arabia in late May 1996. The Chinese and
Iranian delegations then studied closely assessments and estimates
of possible US reactions to major crises in the Persian Gulf.
Foruzandeht pointed out that "the United States by creating
tension, turmoil and unrest in various part of the world like
the Persian Gulf"region has practically endangered the global
peace, security and stability." The lessons of the US role
in the Taiwan crisis were studied carefully. Chi Haotian compared
US activities and posture in the Persian Gulf to its hegemonic
and interventionist policies concerning Taiwan. I le assured Foruzandeh
that US direct intervention can be avoided given the right military
preparations and political resolve.
The official PRC announcement on Foruzmndeh's visit stressed
that Chi Iiaotian "condemned the hegemonic and bullying policies
of the United States." Concerning the US Middle Fast policies
as discussed in Beijing, Tehran reported that "Iran and China
hold an identical view in this regard." While in the PRC,
Foruzandeh also met the Chinese Minister of Electronics Industry
Hu Qili to discuss bilateral cooperation in the area of telecommunication
and electronics, particularly the Iranian defense industries.
The acquisition of production technologies was a major subject
for Foruzandeh. He and the entire delegation spent several days
in visits to some of the Chinese military industrial and research
centers. They received detailed explanations on major programs
and the export potential of both weapon systems and production
In the aftermath of Foruzandeh's discussions with the uppermost
Chinese leadership, Islamic Republic and the PRC reached an agreement
on a major defense deal worth S4.5-billion. "the deal includes
the sale of combat aircraft (mainly F-7s, up-graded J-8s and FC-
I s fighters, as well as B-7 strike aircraft bombers), over a
dozen Y-7 assault transport planes, several types of missiles,
rocket launchers, missile-carrying FACs (Fast Attack Craft), auxiliary
naval vessels (mainly amphibious craft), and armored personnel
carriers. Tehran expressed interest in purchasing "long-range
ballistic missiles" that can reach the US -
ICBMs. The deal also includes a marked expansion of the PRO's
participation in, and support for, the development of the Iranian
military industries. The first joint projects are building numerous
types of missiles, helicopters and large-caliber artillery. Other
important programs of the Iranian ground forces already enjoying
Chinese technology are the Zulfiqar MBT and the new 122mm self-propelled
gun -- a PRCderivative of D-30 installed on modified Buraq APC.
The Buraq is an Iranian adaptation of PRO's WZ501.
Given the anticipated strategic dynamics, Beijing promised to
expedite the delivery of the items. Foruzandeh signed an agreement
in principle. Military and logistics experts still have to work
out the details of unction timing, the availability of slots in the Chinese military
in order to train Iranians on the weapon systems and production
lines. The final details of the delivery schedules, as well as
the exact quantities of the equipment and weapon systems will
be finalized before the end of the year in another cycle of strategic
discussions to be held in Tehran.
Beijing's Strategic Analysis:
Thus, the PRC is essentially committed to assisting, if not facilitating
for the mullahs in Tehran to alter the regional balance of forces.
Bei' ing is convinced that the time is ripe for a major strategic
challenge for the US. In late July, Chinese experts pointed to
what they believe a turning point in the development of US hegemonism.
They believe that US power and influence have just peaked. and
the US is facing the beginning of its strategic decline. Beijing
concluded that the level of localized challenges to "US hegernonism"
all over the world have reached critical mass, and that their
aggregate impact now erodes US posture. As this process grows,
it creates conducive conditions for a strategic push against the
US and a major challenge to its influence.
As far as the Far East goes, Beijing points out that even close
US allies, particularly Japan, "are unwilling to see the
world change into a 'unipolae one, in which the United States
has the final say, and they have constantly resisted the power
politics pursued by the United States." This profound development
will override other facets of US Japanese relations, including
defense treaties. Hence, the US-Japanese "never-ending conflicts
and disputes in the economic field" will soon dominate their
relations, bringing about a major blow to the US posture. Beijing
stresses that the PRC conducted its recent Taiwan brinkmanship
because the US was in position to challenge the PRO's assault
on vital US interests. "The United States sent two aircraft
carriers to the area to flex its military muscles, but China withstood
the US pressure, and successfully accomplished the military mission,...
giving a resounding slap in the face to the United States for
its hegemonic act." The PRC displayed a comparable resolve
in resisting US pressure over trade disputes, and, Beijing is
convinced, has won that confrontation as well. The Chinese experts
use these and comparable examples to draw a general conclusion
about the emerging trends in US strategic capabilities, and particularly
its ability to meet serious challenges to its hegemonic aspirations
and strategic challenges. In mid July, the Chinese experts concluded
that accumulating lessons from recent crises involving the US
leave no doubt that the US will find it harder to implement and
pursue its global strategy. "Facts have proved that in a
multipolar world, if an individual nation refuses to abandon the
Cold War mentality in an attempt to monopolize world affairs and
seek a leading role, it will find it more and more unworkable
and find the going tougher and tougher." Hence, they recommended
to Beijing, the time is ripe to confront the US. Beijing adopted
this analysis, and Chi Haotian's discussions with Foruzandeh about
lessons of the Taiwan crisis followed the same reasoning.
Moreover, in the second half of August, on the eve of Foruzandeh's
visit, Beijing closely studied two recent events and decided that
they were turning points in the consolidation of a new regional
order in the Near East, and especially the Persian Gulf area.
Given these developments, Chinese experts concluded, circumstances
are most favorable for altering the strategic posture in the region
by destroying the US hegemony.
The first event is the Turkish-Iranian close relations cemented
recently by Turkish Prime Minister Erbakan. Beijing is convinced
that this development is most important because "Turkey also
agreed to form a military alliance with Iran" despite its
NATO membership. Official Beijing gloated that these developments
"gave Washington a slap in the face." The main reason
for optimism, Beijing believes, is the larger strategic context
of the new era in Turkish-Iranian relations. "Turkey is prepared
to hold a meeting with Iran, Iraq, and Syria to discuss the security
issue in northern Iraq. All these run counter to the US policy
of isolating Iran. No wonder critics say that Turkey is trying
to exclude the United States from the security issue in this region."
The lesson Beijing draws from this development is that it is possible
and advisable to further exploit and capitalize on the American
vulnerability demonstrated by Washington's inability to prevent
an ostensible ally -- Turkey -- from adopting a strategic policy
so detrimental to US interests.
The other event highlighted by Beijing is the collapse of the
CTBT talks in Geneva. Although purporting to be supporter of the
treaty, Beijing defines its collapse as an expression of a global
resistance to US strategic hegemony. The Chinese interpretation
of the demise of the CTBT is that the US-led West proved incapable
of overcoming the resistance of Third World states, and had to
give up on the initiative. Significantly, Beijing argues that
it was Iran's "principled stand", rather than India's
veto, that brought the CTBT initiative down. While Beijing's repeats
its lip-service support for the CTBT, Chinese officials stress
that the CTBT`s fall prevented the US from being able to unilaterally
intervene in, and suppress, the ability of developing states to
realize their own strategic aspirations.
Tie mere existence of thesmvo precedents embolclens Bcijing in
its strategic discussions with Tehran. Given the two recent US'def:ats',
the PRC felt confident to commit itselfto supporting the mullahs'
military build-up programs, despite the regional and global strategic
consequences of the ensuing Iranian military surge. Beijing should
not have any misconceptions about the character and direction
of the clerics' military build-up, because the massive weapons
deal agreed upon during Foruzandelt's visit comes on top a rapidly
accelerating build-up already in progress.
The Clerics' Build-up in the Persian Gulf
Thus, the PRO's commitment to a massive military build-up of the
Islamic Republic, reinforces recent developments in the Persian
area where the clerical regime has been significantly upgrading
its military capabilities. In early 1996, the mullahs' deployments
already reached the point of constituting a viable threat to the
freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.
Since the spring of 1995, there has been an unprecedented build-up
of missiles and related military installations on the islands
in the Strait of Hormuz. Most impressive is recent increase in
the deployment of antiship cruise missiles -- over 100 of the
latest Chinese land-based cruise missiles CSSC-3 (SEERSUCK ER)
and a few SS-N-22 supersonic cruise missiles acquired from Ukraine
augmented by over 300 older but very effective Chinese CSSC-2
(SILKWORA4) anti-shipping cruise missiles. The Islamic Republic
also installed ballistic missile facilities on the islands and
nearby coastal area. Most important are numerous tunnels dug in
early 1996 along the Gulfcoast line in orderto shield long-range
ballistic missiles (SCUDS & NODONGS) until launch time. In
the late summer of 1996, the clerical regime constructed two fortified
sites for launching NODONGS on the strategic Qeshm island.
This missile deployment is protected by a rapidly expanding air
defense system based on batteries of SA-5 and SA-6 SAMs. At least
nine sites of long-range SAMs were identified recently, an up-grade
from three Hawk sites in the early 1990s. In March 1996, Iran
completed a major airstrip on Abu Musa capable of handling heavy
jets and highperfomiance combat aircraft. The Islamic Republic
then began building of a major port on the island distinct for
its all weather capabilities and ability to service larger combatants
-- the "PRC-made" major combatants Tehran is expecting
to receive. In April, the regime in Tehran completed a power station
on Greater Tumb. The availability of an autonomous power source
will enable the Iranian forces to conduct protracted operations
under siege. This station goes on-line just as Tehran installed
a new and upgraded command and control and communications system
for strategic operations. The new system is optimized and dedicated
for the use of weapons of mass destruction and other strategic
weapons on authority of the highest echelons in Tehran -- Khamene'i
There is a concurrent improvement in the Iranian surface fleet
capabilities. In March 1996, Iran took delivery of last five HEGU-class
FACs equipped with the long-range C-802 anti-ship cruise missile
(120 km range with 700 kg warhead). This brings the Iranian fleet
to ten HEGU FACs. Chinese and Iranian experts also modified at
least five older KAMAN-class FACs to cam , modem anti-shipping
missiles--a combination ofC-801 s (a Chinese derivative of the
French Exocet) and C-802s.
No less important is the marked improvement of the Iranian overall
military capabilities proven and demonstrated in their intense
training in the Persian Gulf area. Between October 1995 and April
1996, the clerical regime conducted 36 major exercises in the
Persian Gulf - amphibious landings, naval operations, missiles
launches, electronic warfare and chemical operations. In January
1996, during one of these exercises, the Iranians successfully
accomplished the first live launch of a C-802 from a FAC in the
Arabian Sea. The test launch demonstrated the out reach of the
Iranian naval forces. Between April and June 1996, the Iranians
escalated their exercises to include exercising over 100,000 troops
to demonstrate Islamic Republic's ability to mobilize and control
massive forces at the Persian Gulf area.
On May 13, 1996, in the aftermath of a major naval missile exercise
under the command of Col. Parviz Qowsi, Tehran claimed that its
forces launched for the first time an Iranian long-range anti-shipping
missile called Tondar. The missile was fired from a fortified
land launcher. The Tondar is most likely a locally produced or
assembled C802. The C802 is a sophisticated missile and Iran's
ability to even assemble it, let alone locally produce it, reflects
an impressive up-grading of Iran's missile production and technology
largely made possible by the flow of technology and expertise
from the PRC. Taken together, the military build-up and exercises
provide Iran with impressive regional power projection capabilities.
Iran's build-up in the Persian Gulfarea already constitutes a
formidable obstacle for any effort, even by the US, to intervene
and impose one's will through the use of force beyond the Strait
of Hormuz. For Tehran, the current military forces in the Persian
Gulf region are merely an early stage in a planned massive build-up
to which the new Chinese weapons will contribute.
Meanwhile, in late August, Major General Mohsen Reza'i, the Islamic
Revolution's Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander, announced that the
IRGC will soon establish a major rapid reaction force optimized
for regional interventions. He stressed that the kernel of this
has already been exercised in recent maneuvers. "Today, the
1RGCis moving towtards establishing a 'rapid deployment' force
and the Ashura maneuvers proved the capability of the IRGC in
the swift and timely deployment of »tore than 100, 000 farces
for launching such a grand maneuver, " he declared. Reza'i
stressed that "without the IRGC there could be no stability
in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia".
The primary objective of the Islamic Republic's build-up and
exercises in the Persian GuIfarea is to acquire military capabilities
to threaten, if not actually prevent, a US intervention in case
of a regional crisis. Beijing and Tehran are convinced that the
mere fear of massive losses in men and equipment will deter Washington
from a massive regional intervention to save its interests, as
was the case in the Persian Gulf Crisis (1990-91).
Tehran and Beijing are convinced that once a strategically viable
umbrella is established, the clerics and their allies should be
able to markedly escalate their relentless campaign to subvert
and then dominate the Persian Gulf states, particularly Saudi
Arabia. The Iransponsored Islamists should thus be able to confront
the Arab governments without fear of a massive US intervention
because the Iranian umbrella will deter such intervention. The
PRC's all out support for the mullahs' building of this umbrella
expresses Beijing's endorsement of Tehran's overall regional strategy.
This strategic assessment is of crucial significance as the clerics
and their lslamist allies have embarked on overthrow of conservative
regimes in the Persian Gulf-- particularly Bahrain and Saudi Arabia--
already in the spring and summer of 1996. The clashes in Bahrain
and the series of anti-American terrorist strikes in Saudi Arabia
are but opening shots in an anticipated major escalation.
In late August, Usama Bin Ladin, the Saudi Islamist billionaire
who is one of the three top leaders of the Tehran sponsored and
controlled "Hezbollah International", declared the beginning
of this escalation. He issued a lengthy manifesto, declaring "the
Jihad against the Americans who are occupying the land of the
two [Muslim holy] .shrines." There should be no doubt about
the unique importance of the lslamist war for Saudi Arabia. "Pushing
out this American occupying enemy is the most important duty after
the duty of belief in God," Bin Ladin writes. The lslamist
Jihad is to be waged through the
escalation of terrorism in the Arabian Peninsula into an lslamist
popular war. "The presence of the American crusades armed
forces in the countries of tire Islamic Gulf ts the greatest danger
and the biggest harm that threatens the world's largest oil reserves,"
Bin Ladin writes. "The infidels must be thrown out of the
Arabian Peninsula. This will be accomplished only through lire
use office". Bin Ladin explains that the Islamist Mujahideen
will employ "fighting tactics using light and swift moving
troops" based on the experience acquired in Afghanistan,
"launching guerrilla war in which the sons of the Ummah take
part hul not the armed . forces."
A Danger to the Iranian People, the Region, and the World:
Thus, the essence of the Iranian strategy is to destabilize and
incite Islamist Revolutions in Saudi Arabia. A precondition for
the success of this struggle is the eviction of US and allied forces
through terrorism, while deterring US and/or Western military
intervention b y threats of' unacceptable losses to naval forces
on approach to the Persian Gulf, as well as the prevention of
oil exports from the Persian Gulf by blocking the Strait of Hormuz.
While Tehran's own vast terrorism sponsorship empire can easily
handle the terrorists and subversion issues at a level far higher
than current struggle, Iran could not have established the impressive
military umbrella over the Persian Gulf, especially the Strait
of Hormuz, without the PRC's generous help. Hence the primary
outcome of Foruzandeh's visit and the massive military supplies
deals should be considered both an expression of Tehran's anticipating
further escalation and growing tension, as well as Beijing's support
for such an aggressive strategy.
Obsessed with the dominance of the Holy Shrines and the Persian
Gulf oil, the Mullahs are committed to the pursuit of this objective
virtually at any cost to Iran. Even without a military clash with
the US-led West or any other military conflagration, Iran's present
Persian Gulf strategy is extremely costly to the people of Iran.
Given the country's economic plight, including the economy's inability
to recover from the war with Iraq, the resources spent by the
Mullahs on their military build-up could have been used far better
for the betterment of the Iranian economy. However, determined
to ensure both regional prominence and internal stability through
overwhelming military might, the Mullahs are pushing Iran into
a vicious cycle of economic devastation and adventurism.
Furthermore, the Mullahs' preoccupation with the acquisition
of offensive strategic weapons also comes at the expense of Iran's
own legitimate national security interest. The vast majority of
weapons acquired in the PRC, North Korea and Eastern Europe are
allocated to the Pasdaran units. Meanwhile, the overall military
capabilities of the Armed Forces -- historically a patriotic and
nation-building institution -- continue to deteriorate. The recent
deal signed by Foruzandeh will also provide mainly for (lie offensive-oriented
elements of the Pasdaran. Consequently, Iran, the power that should
be, and could have been, the key to the stability in one of the
most important regions of the world has been transformed by the
Mullahs into the catalyst of regional upheaval dangerous to both
Iranians and the people of the region.