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THE IRAN-PRC CONNECTION

"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 technologies.

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 schools
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 Gulf
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 and Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

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.

 



 

 

 

 


 

 






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