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Defense and Foreign Affairs Daily

August 27, 2004

Part of Strategic Analysis of Chief 

Editor Gregory Copley

Iran: But to get to that main list of concerns in the Middle East, let us first look at Iran, with a population moving toward 100-million, and which is the most important element of the regional dynamic. It is today even more critical, because the Iranian clerical leadership, under Supreme Leader Ali Hoseini Khamene‘i and former President and the Chairman of of Iran’s Expediency Council, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (the highest authority in formulating Iran’s strategic policies), feel that they are now confronted with a life-or-death challenge to their leadership. As a result, we will need to take more time with Iran than with the other problems.

The Iranian clerical leadership has been at war with the US, and the West, since the beginning of 1979; that is, for a quarter-century. The clerics knew this all along, but only lately is the West discovering the level of ambition and hostility emanating from Tehran. Iran has been the principal sponsor of radical Islamist terrorism worldwide, and, essentially, was the source of the phenomenon, working with a range of Sunni as well as Shi’a leaders to create what is essentially, today, a new approach to Islam.

The Iranian population — which is essentially more Persian in orientation than Muslim in the Arab sense — was ready to revolt against the Khomeini Administration in 1982, when the clerics launched the attack on Iraq. This stopped all domestic opposition to the then-new Government, and people united against a perceived foreign threat. That cost Iran a million dead and wounded, and set back the economy and society by decades, but for the clerics it was a small price: they retained power.

Today, the Iranian clerics find themselves surrounded by hostile forces: Iraq, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states. And in all of this they see the hand of the US, against which Khomeini had declared war in 1979. The Iranian Government had been proselytizing for a quarter century in the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and in Africa. It took the lead rôle in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, an operation in which Libya took a very secondary function to Iran and Syria. It took an active rôle in the first World Trade Center bombing in New York in 1993, working with Sunni terrorists. And it has worked closely with the Wahabbist al-Qaida group for many years.

Today — as a result of extensive preparations over the past few months — Iran is ready to move to the next stage: it is willing to let some of the mask slip from its war preparations. Until now, it has fought the US and the West through proxies and alliances. Now it is preparing to provide open military support for its surrogate in Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr and his “Mehdi Army”.

The clerics believe that if they do not remove US Pres. George W. Bush in 2004, and if he is re-elected, he will ensure that they, the clerics, are removed in Iran. They see his re-election as an inspiration to domestic Iranian opposition elements which have, in the past year, been only barely contained.

To assist in this process, the clerics have encouraged the break-up of Iraq, and have persuaded the Iraqi Kurdish leaders Barzani and Talabani to pursue this line. This momentum is now underway. As well, they sent al-Sadr to build a local power base in Iraq, and in this, to a large extent, he has failed; there is no widespread popular support for his insurrection, even from among the Shi’a population of Iraq which does not necessarily appreciate the intervention of Iranian Shi’a clerics.

So Iran is now preparing to provide open military support to al-Sadr, using, particularly, Iranian Revolutionary Guards — Pasdaran — to attack US forces around Najaf. This is intended to provoke a US strike against Iranian forces, preferably inside Iran. Through this gesture, the clerics hope to repeat the 1982 lesson: namely, that the Iranian people would unite around their national leaders and against the external aggressors.

The Iranian clerics are probably correct in assuming that this would not result in any US invasion of Iran. The US political and military leadership is aware that Iran is too big to invade, and such an act would be strategically counterproductive. There are now about a quarter of a million Iranian troops in the south-west of the country, adjacent to Iraq. These forces, Pasdaran and regular Armed Forces, are not like the Iraqi forces; they are supported by sophisticated weapons which Saddam, for example, could not acquire in the past decade. The Iranian Air Force would have a significant capability which the US Air Force did not have to face in Iraq.

Let me quote to you from our Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily intelligence report of August 24, 2004. This was part of an estimate by GIS Senior Editor Yossef Bodansky, who authored the major new book, The Secret History of the Iraq War. He was also author, in 1999, of the monumental and important study, Bin Laden: the Man Who Declared War on America. He noted in his August 24, 2004, study:

Around May 20, 2004, Chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani … formally proposed to the higher Iranian leadership that Iran sends “volunteers” to Iraq in order to carry out “qualitative operations” — the euphemism for spectacular terrorism — against the US forces at the Shi’ite heartland [of Iraq]. Hashemi-Rafsanjani argued that it was imperative “to fight the Americans in Iraq to foil the US plan for the region” that he believed would be detrimental to the fate of the mullahs’ Administration.

That these were not empty words was highlighted by the fact that there was a noticeable intensification in the activities in the Iranian system of bases in the Ahwaz area near the Iran-Iraq border, particularly the arrival of elite forces organized by Iran’s Al-Quds Corps. Most of them were volunteers from Khuzestan — Iran’s Arab-populated province — who are indistinguishable from Iraq’s Shi’ite population. The Ahwaz forward HQ was placed under the command of Gen. Ahmad Foruzandeh, a highly experienced veteran who has been involved in intelligence and subversion activities in Iraq for a long time.

Tehran had no illusions that its active support for the rejuvenated Shi’ite intifada would be noticed by the US. Hence, by mid-June 2004, Iran deployed four Army divisions toward its southern border with Iraq: the area bordering the Shi’ite heartland. The force included the élite Golden Division and a host of Special forces and intelligence elements. These divisions were deployed in the vicinity of Dezful in the Maysan sector, facing the Al-Amarah and Al-Basra sector in Iraq; and in Shalamcheh, facing the southern parts of the Al-Basra sector in Iraq. As well, Iranian intelligence began infiltrating into Iraq numerous military intelligence units and teams which were making contacts with the Shi’ite militant elements in order to establish operational cooperation and coordination with the Iranian military units. (The Iranian build-up has continued unabated throughout the Summer and Tehran aims to reach at least 20 divisions by early Autumn 2004.)

But the tactical aspects of such a contest are the least important. What is significant is that any action perceived by the Iranian people as an attack on Iran by the US could save the life of the clerical leadership of the country. It could condemn Iranians to decades more of clerical rule. The clerics know this. They know that they can afford to strike at the US forces, and at worst they would lose many tens of thousands of troops, maybe more; but they would be safe. And Iran would then be free to develop as a major nuclear power, and expand its dominance of the region, as it has been on the brink of doing. And Tehran sees itself not only as master of Central Asia, but also as a major player in the Indian Ocean, capable of dominating the sea lanes through that ocean. The rôle of the clerical Iranian leadership in essentially dictating the terms of the Somalia conflict in the 1990s was evidence of that, despite the fact that most Western defense planners remain to this day unaware of Iran’s ongoing and pivotal influence in the Horn of Africa.

So, if the clerics survive, they would have Iran emerge as the major strategic threat to the region, to Europe, and to the West generally. [So I would stress here that the threat to the West in the future is not the People’s Republic of China, as many old Cold Warriors have postulated, but Iran. China, in a very significant sense, has already joined “the West”, despite the fact that there are many things still to be resolved, particularly relating to Taiwan and North Korea.]

Alternately, if the US does not respond to provocation by Iran, then there is a strong chance that the Iranian public will take matters into its own hands and remove the clerics. It should be noted that, historically, the Iranian people like to instigate changes themselves; they do not like their choices thrust upon them.

However, in a further twist, if Sen. John Kerry wins the US Presidency, then the pressures on the Iranian clerics will be automatically removed. Kerry’s close links with pro-clerical Iranian-American financiers has resulted in a commitment by Kerry to normalize US relations with Tehran if he came to office.

So, if Bush is re-elected to the US Presidency and does not allow the US to be provoked into a war with Iran, then the clerics could fall and the entire situation in the Middle East — and much of the rest of the world — will change for the better. Iran, after all, has always had the potential, since the time of the Hellenic Wars, to have been a major and positive element of forward-looking modern society. Iranians, without the clerical domination, would again be able to focus on their own civilizational development and the incomparable literary focus of Ferdowsi, Omar Khayyám, and others. But if Bush goes, and Kerry wins, or if the US falls for the bait and responds to Iranian attacks, then the clerics stand a good chance of consolidating power and crushing all internal dissent. And the world then faces an ongoing slate of terrorism.

So much hangs on what Iran does, and how the US responds, in the coming weeks and months.

But if the clerics prevail, then Iraq is broken up and Iran has access through Kurdish and Shi’a territories to the ‘Alawite Shi’a territory of Syria and the Shi’a area of southern Lebanon, allowing a projection of Persian influence into the Mediterranean for the first time since Cyrus the Great in the Sixth Century BCE. Iran would be free to link up with its allies in the Balkans, particularly through Albania and into Kosovo and Bosnia, where Pasdaran forces are already based in support of terrorist operations.










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