Monday, May 15, 2006

Iran’s Quest for Regional Hegemony

Iran’s Quest for Regional Hegemony

Old Strategy and New Challenges

Ali-Asghar Kazemi*


Keywords: Middle East, Persian Gulf, new strategic environment, Iran’s geo-strategic position, nuclear proliferation, Additional Protocol to the NPT, Iran’s military build-up, US strategy


Because of its special geo-strategic position in the Middle East, Iran has always been keen to assume a pivotal role in the region. However, as opposed to the old regime, the present one, while pursuing the same vision, is facing unbearable challenges in its strategy. The main argument of this paper is that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s endeavor to buildup a credible force structure is neither directed toward any power projection against any particular state in the Middle East, nor designed to threaten the presence of any extra-regional powers deployed in the region. Rather, it is mainly devised to ensure its very existence and to deter any potential contender to encroach against its territorial integrity and the survival of the revolutionary regime, and to prove the capacity of Islamic governance to run effectively and in an efficient way the business of a nation-state, with the requisites of the 21st century. Iran’s nuclear undertaking, if ever directed toward unconventional aims and objectives, should be viewed from this perspective.


Iran’s geo-strategic position in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region has always dictated its political and security posture vis-à-vis its neighbors and outside powers. Throughout the long history of this ancient country, from the Old Persian empires to the present time, Iran has always identified itself differently from other nations of the region, in spite of religious binds, which presumably should narrow the gap between the Persian and Arab civilizations. The geopolitical necessities have remained almost untouched and even more sagacious after the revolution and the Iraq-Iran war, which lasted near a decade. The end of the cold war has strengthen Iran’s strategic position, and as a consequence, pushed the Islamic government in power to continue the same path and political vision and aspiration in the region as the old regime.

Thus, in setting up its defense and security goals and interests, we witness that many of the old projects in various domains are being pursued even with more fervor than before.

Once the Shah had the ambition to assume the role of gendarme in the Persian Gulf region; but he did not survive to achieve his dreams. Now, the Islamic Republic is putting its feet in the same shoes, of course with a big difference. That is, while the old regime had access almost to all and every kind of Western weapons and technology, the new revolutionary regime is banned from such sources and is compelled to rely on international black markets to procure what it believes necessary for building a credible power to be reckoned with. Iran’s nuclear ambition, that has created lots of attention in the past months in the world, seems to fit this grandiose objective.

The main argument of this paper is that the Islamic regime in power in Tehran will pursue the strategy of a hegemonistic power in the region for a dual purposes: a) to counter any eventual threat and challenge to the very existence and survival of the revolutionary regime and, b) to show the efficiency and viability of the Islamic governance to respond to the needs of 21st century, as a successful model to be followed in the region.

Old Ambitions in a New Strategic Environment

Almost a quarter of a century has elapsed since the Shah’s regime has been toppled through a series of unprecedented events, stemming from internal social unrests and, as some prefer to believe, external political games and conspiracy that led to the 1979 revolution. During the final years of the old regime, Iran was on the verge of becoming a virtual superpower of the region, thanks to the god-given oil revenues, Shah’s ambition for power, and, of course, western technological and political support, without which it was impossible to think of such ostentatious venture. In those days, the Shah was given almost a carte blanche for all kinds of state of art weapon systems and major defense hardware to build-up a very sophisticated and efficient military power. Ships, aircrafts, tanks and other components of the latest production of the West, swiftly appeared in the inventory of the Imperial Navy, Army and the Air Force, backed by all-out logistical and training support, from all over the world.[1]

With the downfall of the Shah regime and the subsequent events that occurred in Iran, many of the weapon contracts were cancelled and most of the well-trained and educated cadres were purged from the armed forces or preferred voluntary premature retirement. With the outbreak of war with Iraq, some of them came back to do their duty for their homeland. Many young American-trained pilots were among those who fought the enemy courageously and some never came back from their sacred mission. The Navy easily established its sea supremacy in the Persian Gulf in initial phase of the war. The Army, which suffered most from the revolutionary wash out, had a different story. Nonetheless, poor-equipped and disorganized army soldiers and officers fought bravely and courageously until the end of the 8-year war.

Iran-Iraq armed hostilities left many thousands of casualties and extensive material and moral damages from both sides. But the war was a blessing for the fragile revolutionary regime to solidify itself by containing people’s demand for social and political development. Instead, the war induced earnest attempt to rely more than ever on indigenous initiatives and schemes to tackle with Iraq military threats. That was the beginning of the arduous challenge the Islamic regime faced during the war in procuring and producing the much needed weapon systems and equipments to sustain combat capability.

The termination of war between Iran and Iraq brought a new sense of identity and drive for the Islamic regime to embark upon a series of projects initiated during the hostilities.

Missile assembly line, construction of small fast boats, armored vehicles, tanks and other light weapons for use at sea, on land and in the air, were among the many projects which gradually pave the way for relatively self-sufficient and autonomous logistical support in the defense and military industrial complex. In the field of the missile industry a very decisive jump has taken place in recent years, which has become a source of annoy to many in and outside the region.

Against this brief background, and with the more recent suspicions of Iran’s nuclear project, many specialists in the field of defense question the logic and true intention behind Iran’s military build-up in the region.

Iran’s Military Build-up: Facts and Allegations

In the late 1990’s, military observers in the West believed that Iran has embarked on a major modernization and buildup of its forces; that includes selective acquisition of conventional new advanced weapons as well as an ambitious nuclear weapons program.

In the views of American military experts who follow Iran’s development in the field of defense, the current military buildup began in 1989, not long after the conclusion of the 1980-88 war with Iraq. Iran, with a Gross Domestic Product of only about $80 billion in 1990, spent $3.1 billion on its military that same year. The next year, the defense budget rose to $3.8 billion.[2] It is believed that this sum has gradually augmented with the relative increase in oil revenue in the following years.

Washington officials and nongovernmental analysts report that Iran has been active on the arms procurement front. Statistics show that during the period 1989-95, Iran acquired 184 new battle tanks, eighty infantry fighting vehicles, 106 artillery pieces, fifty-seven combat aircraft, and twelve warships. According to this report, the purchases have expanded Iran’s current arsenal to about 1,200 tanks, 1,000 armored personnel carriers, 2,000 artillery pieces, 265 aircraft, and twenty-eight warships.[3]

With a population of about 70 million, Iran maintains an armed forces totaling about 513,000 active troops--including its most elite force, the 120,000-strong Revolutionary Guard Corps. Another 350,000 are reservists. Most of the Guards are ground forces, but they have also developed a parallel armed forces system alongside with the regular army, navy, and air force; a heavy burden that the revolutionary regime has been affording all along, due to some unknown sense of mistrust .

According to Pentagon officials, the revolutionary regime in Iran will “be in a position to construct a crude but workable nuclear device at the turn of the century.” In their view, “the development of a ‘Persian bomb’ is Iran's top priority, and Tehran receives technology and aid from both Russia and China.” [4]

The US Defense Department expert further speculated "we're talking about something the size of a boxcar," he explained, "but with the Iranians, a truck or a merchant ship can be a weapon-delivery system."[5]

In view of the US officials, in the field of conventional power, “Iranian military planners are taking steps to bolster their naval forces, in particular with purchases of Chinese advanced cruise missiles.” Moreover, Tehran has purchased new and upgraded surface warships, including five new "Houdong" Chinese fast-attack craft delivered to the port at Bandar Abbas.[6]

The assumption is that ships, submarines and cruise missiles, along with other recent deployments of missiles on tiny islands in the Strait of Hormuz, form the outline of a developing challenge to US interests in the region.

Iran appears to be using its naval forces mainly as an instrument of defense and foreign policy. But this does not mean that an eventual power projection against an actual or potential hostile who might challenge Iran’s presence in the Persian Gulf, the strait of Hormoz and the Sea of Oman, might not trigger the operation of these forces.[7] Prior to delivery in 1995 of 10 Hudong patrol boats equipped with C-802 missiles, Iran was without a ship-mounted ASCM capability. With the refitting of Iran's Kaman class fast-attack boats, they will have 20 craft carrying this missile and forty C-802 missiles are reported to have been sold. [8]

It is believed that the C-802 missiles are less accurate than the Chinese Silkworm, but the number of missile sites along the Persian Gulf coast, especially near the Strait of Hormuz, could pose a potential threat to whoever that might encroach the waters under Iranian sovereignty.

Iran also processes surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missile batteries on Qeshm and Sirri islands, and on Abu Musa; the island whose sovereignty has long been disputed between Iran and the United Arab Emirates.[9]

Observers believe that the delivery and commissioning of three Russian Kilo-class submarines will confirm the Iranian intention to dominate the Persian Gulf. Each submarine has the capability of carrying 18 torpedoes and at the same time, they can be used as mines-layers. Thus far, Iran is the only coastal state of the Persian Gulf to possess under water capability. Regular naval exercises that take place several times a year by the Iranian Navy, alongside the other forces, are seen by observers as a clear sign that Iran intends to show its undisputable supremacy in the Persian Gulf.[10]

The objective of the Iranian naval buildup, in the view of the American military experts who track the development of Iran’s military build-up, is "to develop the capability to choke us off, at least temporarily, at the Strait of Hormoz, or if they can't choke us off, at least make it very difficult for us to get in. This perception of course has led to a number of preoccupations for the American defense planners, since many of the oil-producing sheikdoms in the Persian Gulf region rely on American military protection to resist the presumed Iranian pressure and influence in the Persian Gulf.[11]

With respect to the Iranian Air Force, it is believed that while Iran processes a relatively small number of combat aircrafts, but it has improved its air capability with Soviet-made MiG-29 "Fulcrums" and Su-24 "Fencers" as its primary air defense forces. With a newly installed in-flight refueling capability, Iran's MiG-29s have been given greater range. Furthermore, it is being speculated that Iran has the capability of air-based delivery of a nuclear weapons (if ever acquired) with the Fencers, supposed to be Iran's main strike aircraft.[12]

As for missile capability, experts believe that Iran has been developing its own Soviet-designed Scud B and Scud C missiles, having ranges of about 300 kilometers and 500 kilometers, respectively. In addition to possessing some 200 to 300 Scuds, Iran also has expressed interest in purchasing No Dong medium-range ballistic missiles from North Korea.

Beside that, in the past few years, Iran has been working on new brand of missile called “ Shihab.” According to defense sources, Iran has already successfully test-fired the Shihab-3 missile, which has a range of 800 miles[13], and is now on the verge of testing a more sophisticated Shihab-4, which will have a range of some 1,250 miles and be capable of carrying a non-conventional payload.[14] It is being speculated that Shahab-5 is the newest missile, which will enter Iranian defense inventory in near future, with a range of about 2500 miles. It is believed that while the Shihab-3 is based on North Korean know-how, the new missile will be based exclusively on Russian technology.

This latter undertaking is indeed a major source of anxiety and threat not only for the region but also for countries located far beyond the Middle East. While Iran’s defense minister, vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani has pledged that Iran's military power will not be directed at any Arab state, Israeli experts interpreted this statement as suggesting that Iran’s military build-up is intended to confront Israel.[15]

As concerned the source of Iranian military acquisition, in his interview with al-Wasat, admiral Shamkhani denied any secret military cooperation or arms-purchase agreements between Iran and Russia: "We cooperate with Russia in the open and there are no secret agreements between us," he further stressed:” We have had to turn East because of the Western arms embargo and our need to develop our defensive systems...But we do not seek to acquire any of the non-conventional weapons." [16]

Nevertheless, Iran's ballistic missile manufacturing program is supposed to lack the capability to produce some parts that are essential for the total production of some types of systems. Presumably, Iran hopes to eventually have complete manufacturing capabilities for its Scuds. Iran also produces short-range missiles similar to the Soviet FROG-7.

With respect to the limitations constraints faced by Iran in its military build-up, Western observers have rightly pointed that the process has been tempered somewhat by its economic woes, which include a US embargo, a cash shortage because of fluctuating oil prices worldwide, rapid population growth, and an external debt.[17] The latter problem has made it difficult for Tehran to gain the international credit needed to finance weapons procurement. In 1996 and 1997, Iran was expected to spend roughly $3.4 billion on weapons. However, it is worthwhile to remember that Iran’s total defense expenditure lagged much behind the total arms acquisitions of the Persian Gulf states, during the past years.[18]

Iran's plan for development of its conventional forces obviously calls for creating units and force capability that are more maneuverable at sea, on land and in the air and have more advanced weapons for specific purposes and outside threats emanating essentially from forward-deployed US forces in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq. Defense analysts in the West, however, seem not to be much troubled with Iran’s conventional arms build-up, rather they have been focusing at Iran as a source of nuclear and biological threat.[19]

The main assertion of American defense experts is that "Iran's priorities [are related to] weapons of mass destruction--their nuclear program, their chemical program, which is pretty well advanced, their biological program, and their missile program, which also is pretty well advanced."[20]

On the other hand, the IAEA’s key findings about Iran are in reports released in March 2004 and November 2003, with the next important one due this June 2004. In November, the IAEA concluded that Iran's nuclear program consists of practically everything needed to fuel a reactor or in effect to produce materials for bombs, "including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and heavy water production."[21]

These allegations are indeed so serious that needs a much closer look. Thus, I have included below a tiny portion of two previous papers, which I prepared for the UCLA Persian Gulf Security Conferences, held successively in Athens- Greece (December 2003), and in Amman-Jordan (May 2004) and seem relevant to this analysis.[22]

Iran’s Nuclear Option:

How much realistic, How far Credible?

Is Iran’s desire to acquire nuclear technology potentially harmful to world order and peace? It depends on whose lens we use to view the issue. The IAEA Board of Governor’s decision to pass a resolution on 12 September 2003 for the implementation of the NPT Safeguards has been interpreted differently inside Iran from at the international level.[23] Preoccupation with the danger of Iran’s nuclear capability is now an alarming issue throughout the world. Iran’s decision to start negotiations for the conclusion of the Additional Protocol, and the IAEA request that Iran should promptly and unconditionally sign and implement it while stopping all nuclear enrichment programs, may bring a modicum of relief to all those who feel threatened by Iran’s undertaking. Since we are now in the midst of this process, it is very hard to pass judgment on the outcome of the ongoing negotiations.

Controversies between Iranian authorities and the IAEA on the one hand and the rest of the world, especially the United States and the EU, on the true intention of Iran’s nuclear activities, have been at its height during the past months. The latest IAEA resolution adopted after lengthily negotiation in mid June 2004, gives Iran one last chance to cooperate fully and in a transparent manner with this world body in charge of nuclear activities of member states.[24]

Iran claims that it is merely using the basic and inalienable right of all NPT member states to develop atomic energy for peaceful purposes and is ready to assure the international community that it has no intention to produce nuclear weapons. Some critics would also argue that the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1 July 1968 is not an endeavor designed to protect mankind from the danger of devastation and annihilation, but rather to preserve the monopoly status of a handful of powers in possession of such technology.

Iran claims that it’s undertaking is legitimate and just. We know well that justice, equity, and fairness have never been highest aim of dealings between states, yet they have served as useful caveats in political discourse for the promotion of national interests. In fact, one of the causes of war and hostility is the frustration of the less fortunate over unsatisfactory conditions allegedly created by the powerful nations. To them, slogans such as rendering justice to the powerless, saving humanity from the plague of hunger and disease, securing the world from the threat of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, atomic bombs and so on are wonderful words that only tickle ears and minds. Indeed, international norms and principles are always coated with some kind of noble and human overtone that merely serves as ground to promote one’s own policy or interests.

Some contend that the main objectives of owning nuclear weapons have always been their deterrent capabilities and use as leverage in political dealings. The argument against this is that nuclear capability in the hands of undemocratic and irresponsible regimes is too dangerous and should be contained at any cost. There seems to be a consensus on this latter point between the United States and many European powers. Realistically looking at the matter, even if we assume that Iran is trying to acquire a handful of nuclear weapons, it would have little operational or deterrent value. On the contrary, such an endeavor would increase Iran’s vulnerability vis-à-vis its potential adversaries.[25]

Digging into the intention of political leaders is a difficult task. Iranian leaders are no excption to this.Therefore on has to make a number of assumptions at different levels of strategic planning and decision-making process.

On doctrinal level, it is safe to suggest that Iran’s national interests, objectives and strategies are shaped by its regional political aspirations, threat perceptions, and the need to preserve its Islamic government.[26] But, the problem is that most of the time the term “national interests” is not quite lucid and those who decide about them are not quite apt for such vital task. Thus, in seeking to explain the behavior of a State, such as Iran, in the international or regional scene, we have to read into the minds of men and individuals at the higher echellon of decision making apparatus. This indeed is not an easy job and requires some imagination and speculation.

Assuming that men are rather deliberate and self-conscious about what they do, thus, they should know their own motives and give reasons for their behavior. But this does’t seem to be often true. Because, sometimes people do not want to confess their real motives, or at least not all of them, and so they may knowingly lie or distort or conceal the facts. Sometimes even, they may base their motives and behavior on false assumptions about themselves, their true aims and objectives, their threats, their capabilites and opportunities, or their political and strategic enviroment. This may prove to be very dangerous, not only for them but also for others who interact with them.

One may argue safely that in present day Iran, we are facing with this latter kind of decision-making, that is, we are concened with factors affecting choice other than the entirely conscious and rational criteria that usually come into play in the determination of “national interests.” Political expediencies sometimes overshadow factors related with optimum and rational choices. Perhaps,the reason behind the very risky and high political costs of Iran’s nuclear venture, may find its rationale in such argument which goes beyond the regular calculation of risk or cost-benefit analysis.

With respect to the true intention and objective of Iran’s nuclear activities, the official answer is that this country it merely using its basic and inalienable right of all member States of the NPT to develop atomic energy for peaceful purpose. To this end, Iran claims that it is ready to ensure the international community that it have no intention to produce nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the upper echelon decision-making ladder in Iran has rightfully and in several occasions recognized that Iran does not consider nuclear weapon as a viable and rational useful strategy for defense purposes. The official reading of such statement is that nuclear option may render the country more vulnerable to risks outside threats[27] But, most critiques and specialists in the field believe that these claims are mere rhetoric that is neither supported by factual evidence, nor accepted by the IAEA and the international community as a whole. They refer to recent (February 2004) revelations about international nuclear black market and specific findings of the IAEA during its last inspection in Iran.[28]

How then shall we explain the present situation and the earnest attempt by Iran to pursue its long-standing nuclear policy? In fact, as we know, the project goes back to the 1980s, that is the period in which Iran was engaged in an all out war with its neighboring hostile State, Iraq. The optimistic view would go along with the argument advanced by Iran about its peaceful intention of developing nuclear technology. The pessimists however, have more ground to argue against the peaceful aims of such undertaking. They would eventually base their argument on the following facts and factors:

1) Iran as an important and rich country in oil and gas, having extensive reserves of fossil fuel inland and offshore, does not need to embark on a more costly and risky nuclear project in order to produce energy,

2) Enrichment facilities and related components that are being used or developed by Iranians, do not seem to be for support of civilian nuclear energy plants in Bushehr (considering the fact that the Russians are supposed to supply the necessary fuel for Bushehr plants and the Iranian party is obligated to return the depleted uranium that could be used in nuclear bomb),

3) Iran may be enthusiastic in obtaining nuclear capability with the objective of deterring any potential aggressor that might threaten the very existence of the Islamic regime,

4) Iran may contend that the West is using a double-standard policy with respect to the nuclear proliferation (Pakistan, India and Israel are the ones who have been left out of the black list),

5) Iran might be tempted to acquire nuclear technology for the mere sake of national pride and prestige with a view to boost its regional position vis a vis its potential opponents and contenders,

6) Being a nuclear power for a revolutionary Islamic State may be an indication of the regime efficiency and viability despite the mounting pressure from the world political environment,

Pessimists have a tendency to believe that Iran is pursuing the North Korean tactics by lingering the legal process of ratifying the safeguard measures related to the NPT additional Protocol. In other words, Iran is trying to buy time for enrichment of enough uranium to build a number of nukes before it officially declares to withdraw from the NPT obligations. This will put the IAEA and the world as a whole before a fait accompli,

For them, Iranian leaders would prefer running the risk of being target of an eventual preemptive strike than to give up the power altogether. Since, they believe they can capitalize on such event to consolidate the people while tightening the rope around the opposition neck,

Optimists and pessimists would both admit that strategic thinking; rationality, national interests and optimum choice do not have the same meanings among the Iranian leaders and the Western political thought. This indeed makes a lot of difference when the two sides face each other in a peaceful dialogue or in a hostile confrontation.[29]

Iran hopes to expedite the winding up of the case before the IAEA, using the leverage and influence of the EU members. But the United States authorities appear not satisfied with the idea and wish to pave the way to send the case to the UN Security Council. We have to wait some more time before passing the final judgment on the matter.

New Challenges in the Persian Gulf:

Iran and the US Strategy

The Persian Gulf, which has always been an area of strategic interests for the American foreign policy since World War II, has become the cornerstone of the U.S. strategy after the end of cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Unions. The September 11 events, which led to the military interventions of the United States and Coalition forces in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, created a very vulnerable situation in the Persian Gulf. Iran, as the main power of the region, who has always claimed that the security of this strategic semi-enclosed body of water should be left to local powers, now feels encircled by the United States and is quite apprehensive of this presence. During the past months, the United States did not hesitate to show anger and discontent on various occasions against Iranian authorities. This has made the situation, already very tense between the two countries, even more unbearable.

Iranian decision makers are quite aware of the gravity of the situation and are contemplating ways and means to attenuate the sensitive atmosphere overshadowing the security of the Persian Gulf region. To understand Iranian view on the matter of the Persian Gulf security, one should comprehend the very basic tenure of the revolution, which has brought the present regime into power in 1979, and circumstances that led to the rise of fundamental differences between the two countries.

Of course, the historical background of Iran-US relations go beyond the purpose and objective of this short comment, since many books and articles exist on the matter. My aim here is only to examine a tiny portion of the spectrum of problems dealing with the future security prospects in the Persian Gulf and the appropriate policy recommendations with a view to project a fair and balanced solution for all the regional and international actors.

Let’s first see what is the force arrangement in the Persian Gulf. The United States, which historically had a low profile military and naval presence in the region for many years, at the beginning of the 1990’s, right after the so-called second Persian Gulf crisis (i.e. after the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq), started to build-up its forces in the region. Though it was for temporary missions, yet, from that time up to now, the U.S. presence became more visible and therefore more annoying for Iranian authorities and other Persian Gulf States.

Whereas Iran had tried the policy of confidence building towards littoral States of the Persian Gulf during the past 5-6 year period (i.e. during the Khatami’s administration), and to some extent it was successful, the United States did nothing to promote the situation, and even in some cases aggravated the security environment susceptible to leading to hostilities. One example is the seizure of an Iranian merchant ship not long ago, under the pretext of ‘ search for hostile destination. Other petty incidents in the Persian Gulf between Iran and U.S. created a situation of threat and denial, which could not but aggravate the tense relations between the two State, and consequently to undermine Iran’s policy of confidence-building towards other States of the Persian Gulf, presumably in line with American presence.

The recent experience of force projection in Iraq, clarified a number of security bottlenecks, thus far hidden behind some sort of diplomatic shyness between the United States and the Arab nations of the Middle East. Saudi-Arabia, as the most important traditional ally of the U.S., expressing loudly discontent against American intervention in Iraq, became a vocal critique of this country, while approaching toward Iran. As we witnessed in recent months, the United States changed its stance towards the Saudis, (especially after the disclosure of some kind of doubtful ties between the AlQaeda group and the Saudi officials) and plan to evacuate their forces from there.

With respect to other U.S. allies in the region, we are not quite sure of the trends. But one thing is certain, that is the fact that the traditional regimes of the Persian Gulf, which once the fear of the Islamic revolution in Iran pushed them towards the Americans for protection, now feel much more insecure by the policy of “forceful democratization”, which could end-up to disaster for the internal security and their very existence.

Although the Iranian policy of rapprochement with the Persian Gulf littoral States, has so far not reached to the point of building a true “security community,” but based on the present trends, it does not seem to be a far-fetched strategy that could lead to the following plausible consequences:

a) Inhibiting more and more the U.S. presence in the region;

b) Making the future American interventions in the region much more difficult and costly;

c) Building an anti-American shield against the United States policy of “forceful democratization” in the region;

d) Narrowing down the gap between the Iranian regime and the conservative Arab States;

e) Pushing the Persian Gulf States, especially Iran, toward European Community, and other world great powers, such as Russia and China, while limiting economic interaction with the U.S.

f) Making the strategic environment much more difficult for the United States force deployment in crisis situations.

Based on the above plausible outcome, it would indeed be hard for the United States to bear the consequences, unless the American policy in the Persian Gulf changes its contents and context. That is to say, the American objectives and therefore ways and means to reach them should be adapted to the new emerging environment. The new environment is not necessarily in favor of the American military presence in the region. Especially, the fact that the United States are leaning toward the use of force to achieve their objectives, in spite of world objection, heighten the tense situation among regional States. This in turn may lead to the rise of anti-American sentiments and further push the once hostile attitude of littoral States towards Iran, to a more tolerant policy of accommodation ant entente.

There are multiple ways that Iran could interact positively with the Persian Gulf States. The followings are among the most probable course of action that can lead to amicable relations in the Persian Gulf, which could promote the security of the region for the littoral States as well as third extra-regional parties, provided that these latter abstain to intervene in the internal affairs of the region. The most suitable areas of cooperation seem to be the followings:

a) Regional coordination and cooperation on the matters of maritime environment, sea pollution, through strengthening the ROPME Convention and its relevant protocols;

b) Mutual entente on matter of maritime boundary delimitations (Given the fact that a number of unresolved issues still remain to be negotiated)

c) Cooperation on matter related to sea lines of communication and traffic separation schemes, within the purview of IMO functions;

d) Confidence building through gradual strengthening social, cultural, economic and strategic ties among the regional States

e) Cooperation on matter pertaining illegitimate traffic of narcotic substance, and other illegal trade and contraband.

Through achieving the above objectives, the ground would be ready to embark on more serious business of security cooperation among regional States, with the support and endorsement of other non-regional interested powers.

The United States, as an equal partner and the de facto transitional Power in charge of Iraq, until this latter regains its full sovereign rights to enter into international relations, can help the steady progress of the above course of action. This may expedite the long awaited security arrangement in the Persian Gulf, provided of course, that mutual confidence and good intention from all parts prevail. It is the humble contention of this author that this process is capable to best serves the interests of the United States, as well as the littoral States of the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and the wider world.


Whatever conclusion that may be derived from this short analysis, it can be safely stated that Iran’s endeavor to acquire technological know-how and hardware in the field of defense and nuclear activities, does not seem to be a threat to peace and stability in the region. However, Iran’s recent behavior in the Persian Gulf may be interpreted differently by outside observers. In the wake of a number of incidents that took place during the current month in this region, one may argue against the above proposition.

In fact, the month of June 2004 appears to be a decisive moment in time with regard to Iran’s assertion of sovereign right in the Persian Gulf and the Shat-al-Arab waterway, which forms Boundary River between Iran and Iraq. Few days after the IAEA resolution was adopted in June 2004 with respect to Iran’s nuclear activities, Iranian authorities, while voicing their discontent with the three EU members who had sponsored the resolution, they arrested three British gunboats and their crews in the Shatt-al-Arab River. Though Iran categorically denied any link between the two events, the incident was regarded in the international media as a harsh response to UK’s role in the IAEA Governing Council in preparing the draft resolution along with France and Germany.[30]

Although the incident was rather quickly settled through diplomatic channels[31], nevertheless it can be considered as a real indication that Iran would not hesitate to use similar incidents as a pretext to challenge and humiliate even an important EU power, such as the United Kingdom in the area of its dominion in the region. Interestingly, the incident occurred about a week after another confrontation that took place in the Persian Gulf between Iranian Navy and the Qatari and UAE fishing boats.[32]

How shall we construe such behavior at a critical time when Iran is almost totally encircled by foreign forces, not quite friendly to it? Does this mean that Iran is in fact using its mussels to show its real intention of pursuing an independent hegemonistic policy in the region? The followings are mere speculations about the actual trend of Iran’s posture in the region:

· Recent reemergence of hardliners in Iranian political scene (for the time being in the Parliament), which is the result of a serious rebuff of progressive elements, is gradually showing its products in political arena. This means that the conservative front is preparing to take over almost all the elements of national power in Iran,

· The conservative faction who always had the military instrument under its control, is using Iranian armed forces to consolidate its political power, while shaping Iran’s hegemonistic strategy in the region,

· The true aim of the new emerging conservative government, which would very likely succeed the reformist one in power, is to show that it is more efficient, independent, and enough strong to contain any internal unrest or opposition challenge, and to deter any external pressure or threat that are susceptible to change the prevailing situation in Iran,

· After the new conservative government is established in Tehran, we may gradually witness signs of rapprochement with the United States, if assured that the continuity of the Islamic regime is not challenged or threatened.

* Professor Ali-Asghar Kazemi holds a Ph.D. in International Law and Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Mass. He is the author of many books and articles, and a legal advisor on matters concerning the international law of the sea. Currently, he is dean of the Graduate School of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science and Research Campus) Tehran-Iran.

[1] See for example, Amy Truesdell, “Iran plans Gulf trip, projecting a Powerful Military Force.” In this paper it is suggested that “ The Iranian government's key objective in building up its armed forces is the same now as it was before the revolution in 1979: to secure regional military superiority.” A:\Global Defence Review Iran plans Gulf trip.htm

[2] See: Bill Gerts, “Iran’s Regional Powerhouse,” in: Air Force, Journal of Air Force Association, Magazine Online, June 1996 Vol. 79, No.06.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See e.g. Bill Gerts, “Iran’s Regional Powerhouse,” ibid.

[5] ibid

[6] Idem

[7] Recent incidents ( June 2004) in the Persian Gulf, which began with the attack of a Qatari gunship on an Iranian fishing boat, that triggered a series of retaliatory operations by Iranian naval forces as well as harsh diplomatic protest to Qatari government, is a vivid example of such kind.

[8] To this we should add offensive mines that are believed to be deployed in the Persian Gulf. The EM-52 rising mines are part of a 3,000-weapon stockpile of anti-ship mines. This purchase is significant because, unlike most other mines, the EM-52 is operational in deep water such as the Persian Gulf. When the hull of a ship passes over the device the mine is triggered and a rocket is fired at the hull. Placed in choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz, this device could be devastating. See Amy Truesdell, “Iran plans Gulf trip, projecting a Powerful Military Force.” Ibid.

[9] It is interesting to note that every time when the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council has some kind of meeting, the UAE ‘s claim on the three Islands ( Lesser and Greater Tombs and Abu Mussa) is raised and endorsed by the Arabs and obviously rejected by Iran.

[10] This view is apparently supported by the types of exercises carried by the Iranian Navy in the Strait of Hormoz, such as: sabotaging ports and attacking oil platforms and coastal targets. Cf. A:\Global Defence Review Iran plans Gulf trip.htm

[11] It is interesting to note that about ninety percent of Japan's oil and sixty percent of Europe's oil pass through the strategic region. Cf. ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] See e.g. Douglas Davis, “ Iran's missile buildup seems aimed at Israel,” The Jewish Weekly of Northern California, Friday August 7, 1998

[14] According to experts,” with the Scud Bs and Cs, Iran can bring every capital in the [Persian Gulf Cooperation Council] within range," Furthermore, one Pentagon official suggested that Iran “ can bring debarkation ports within range, and, if they do not already have a chemical warhead, they will probably have one very soon." See Bill Gerts, Ibid.

[15] In an interview with the Saudi-owned weekly al-Wasat, Shamkhani said that Iran's military power is "part of the capabilities of the Arab and Islamic worlds." He further said:

"It is certainly not directed against the interests of the Arab states," he added. "On the contrary, it adds to the strength of the Islamic world in facing the enemies of the Arab and Islamic nations."

Asked why Iran was building up its military muscle, increasing its arms procurements, deploying three Russian-built submarines and developing its missile program, Shamkhani replied: "You would notice that no other country has been as bullied or threatened as Iran. Israel, for instance, menaces Iran more than it menaces any other country." See Douglas Davis, ibid.

[16] Ibid

[17] At the time the report was written, i.e. 1998, total debt of Iran amounted to an estimated $ 35 billion. See Gerts, ibid.

[18] “ In terms of the regional military balance, Iran is, in fact, lagging behind considerably, a fact well documented by the various authoritative studies on arms transfers, including the annual reports by the Congressional Research Service and various editions of World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers. These studies show that, for example, the total arms acquisitions by the six countries of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) during the period 1987-1998 was in excess of 52 billion dollars, compared to 2.5 billion dollars for Iran. To give another example, during 1995-1998 period, whereas the Saudis purchased close to 8 billion dollars of arms, Iran’s figure stood at 1.4 billions.” See Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Iran’s Military Modernization and the Regional Arms Race. A:\Iran’s Military Modernization and the Regional Arms Race.htm

[19] This came in the speech he made at the second session for "The Region and Future Conference" entitled "Iran and the Future of Gulf Security." By Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cordesman said that Iran's new arms agreements signed since the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war are not enough to modernize or sustain its current forces, but that this leaves the standing issue of weapons of mass destruction. He added that in light of Iran's declaration of programs of these weapons, and its import of biological equipment and chemical weapons, one has to wonder at the reasons behind acquiring them. See; A:\IranExpert Iran's WMD critical issue to region -- Cordesman.htm Date: 06/05/2004

[20] Cf. Bill Gerts, ibid

[21] Cf. Iran's Nuclear Program Reaches Critical Juncture,” IEEE Spectrum online June, 2004

[22] See my papers: “Shifting U.S. Threat Perception After September 11and the Fear of Iran’s Nuclear Threat” December 2003; and, “ Iran’s Nuclear Venture: Legal Obligation and Political Temptation,” May 2004, both presented to the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations.

[23] The IAEA stated that Iran had not lived up to its reporting obligations under the terms of its Safeguard Agreement. Iran’s IAEA Safeguard Agreement requires the country to provide the agency with information “concerning nuclear material subject to safeguards under the Agreement and the features of facilities relevant to safeguarding such material.” Technically, Iran is still in compliance with its Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, but as the IAEA stated, “it is the number of failures of Iran to report the material facilities and activities in question” that is “a matter of concern.” Going back over a ten-year period, Iran has followed a pattern of obfuscation that raises well-founded international suspicions about Iran’s nuclear program.

[24] It is worthwhile to note that the new resolution has been prepared and sponsored by three leading EU powers; France, Germany and the United Kingdom, who initiated an accord with Iran last year on the issue of nuclear project. For detail see my paper: “Iran Nuclear Venture, Legal Obligation and Political Temptation.” May 2004, Presented to the Regional Security Conference, UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, www.

[25] This fact has been even recognized by two important personalities directly responsible for Iran’s national defense and security. The leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, once said to his followers that the Islamic Republic’s strength does not lie in obtaining or the domestic manufacture of an atomic bomb, but it is “the power of the faith that can deter our enemy” (Washington Post, 17 November 1992). More recently, Iran’s Defense minister, Vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani, recognized in a February 2002 statement: “ The existence of nuclear weapons will turn us into a threat to others that could be exploited in a dangerous way to harm our relations with the countries of the region.” See the Guardian, 6 Feb. 2002. See also George Perkovich, “Dealing With Iran’s Nuclear Challenge,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 28 April 2003.

[26] According to the analysis presented in the Global Security, “Tehran strives to be a leader in the Islamic world and seeks to be the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. The latter goal brings it into conflict with the United States. Tehran would like to diminish Washington’s political and military influence in the region. Within the framework of its national goals, Iran continues to give high priority to expanding its NBC weapons and missile programs.” See: - Last updated, December 13,2002

[27] Cf. my paper presented December 2003 to the Regional Security Conference in Athens- Greece, on

“The Shifting U.S. Threat Perception after September 11 and Fear of Iran’s Nuclear Threat.”

[28] See my paper of last May 2004, presented to the Regional Security Conference in Amman-Jordan.

[29] Mr. Hassan Rohani, secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, who was in charge of nuclear issue negotiation with the three EU foreign ministers last year, in an interview with the media, after the adoption of the new resolution in June 2004 by the IAEA, said that Iran will revise its position with respect to the uranium enrichment, which it had voluntarily suspended upon the signing of the accord with the EU states (France, Germany and UK). He argued that since these latter countries have not lived up to their commitment, Iran sees itself relief of the obligation created by the agreement.

[30] British navy personnel (two officers and six sailors) were blindfolded and directed to the shore for further investigation. Iranian authorities claimed that they would be prosecuted if proven that they had willfully entered Iranian internal waters. The problem was finally settled through diplomatic channels.

[31] By releasing the arrested crewmembers of the British gunboats, after three days on June 26, Iranian authorities announced that it was found out through investigation that they had mistakenly entered in the internal waters of Iran. But, it seems hard to believe that a gunboat even without navigational aid could loose its way in the rather narrow and shallow waters of the Shat-al-Arab River. Interestingly, few days after their release, the British Navy personnel claimed that Iranian revolutionary guard forced them to Iranian waters while they were passing their normal route. The matter was later endorsed by the UK Defense Secretary and protested against Iranian government.

[32] See supra on the question of UAE claim on the three Iranian islands at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and Iran’s reaction on the matter.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Letter to the "Great Satan"

A Letter to “The Great Satan”

Ali-Asghar Kazemi
May 9, 2006

Not long ago, during the peak of heated debates over the nuclear issue and while the case was on the way to the U.N. Security Council, it was revealed by U.S. media that Americans are aiming at “regime change” in Iran. Many peoples were quite anxious that Iran’s intransigence on nuclear enrichment could finally unleash an armed conflict in the region. Two years ago I argued that chances for a clash between the two states are very slim for quite different reasons. More recently I wrote in a short paper “When….the survival is at stake, everything is permissible, since ends justify means. This is to say that principles can be sacrificed when the issue reduces to this simple question: To be or not to be?”( ...More)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Euphorie Nucléaire de l'Iran

Euphorie Nucléaire de l'Iran

Vers une Confrontation avec l'Occident!

Ali-Asghar Kazemi[*]

12 Avril 2006


Les Iraniens ont beaucoup d’étapes dans leur longue histoire. En fait, l'histoire de l'Iran est pleine des étapes importantes, des héros et des idoles qui ont aidé à sauver cette nation dans les vicissitudes des temps passés. Les Persans doivent leur survie dans l'histoire à ce don merveilleux. Beaucoup d'occurrences telles que la "nationalisation du pétrole," la révolution islamique, et la fin de guerre entre l'Iran et l’Irak, sont parmi les événements plus récents qui sont considérés en tant que tournants en Iran contemporain.

L’étape contestable la plus récente est le prétendu plein accès à l'enrichissement en carburant nucléaire qui a été déclaré avril 11, 2006. Ceci s'est produit à un temps critique au milieu la crise nucléaire, alors que le monde compte en bas les jours de délai accordes par le Conseil de Sécurité de l’ONU au gouvernement islamique pour stopper toutes ses activités nucléaires. En ce jour, le président controversé de dur ligne a solennellement annoncé que l'Iran à acquérir la capacité de l'enrichissement nucléaire sur l'échelle industrielle et a déclaré la date comme "jour national de fierté et prestige."

Le public moyen cependant, impatient au sujet des impacts plausibles de l'événement sur leur vie quotidienne, a montrés peu d'enthousiasme pour les nouvelles. Des citoyens plus instruits et plus expérimentés ont secoué leurs têtes et ont tranquillement exprimé des inquiétudes concernant les conséquences graves de l'entreprise. Les groupes d'opposition, étonnes par la charge lourde d'avertis la couverture médiatique et la propagande, ont exprimés leur mécontentement au sujet de l'effet néfaste du jeu sur les intérêts nationaux de l'Iran.

Il y’à beaucoup de doutes que cet événement pourrait être considéré comme borne limite et être classé comme percée dans des possibilités scientifiques du pays. On croit que la déclaration était une manoeuvre délibérée afin d'atteindre un certain nombre d'objectifs en ce moment critique: a) la consommation domestique pour ceux qui deviennent de plus en plus frustré au sujet de la réalisation du président de ses promesses de faire face à la pauvreté, à la corruption, aux inflations et à d'autres maux sociaux; b) pour encourager le directeur général de l'AIEA (attendu visiter l'Iran en 12 avril ) pour noter son rapport sur le cas de l'Iran au Conseil de Sécurité en quelque sorte pour éviter des sanctions certaines sous chapitre VII (article 41) de Charter l’ONU.; c) pour envoyer un message sombre à l’ONU le et les membres permanents du Conseil de Sécurité que dorénavant elles font face à un fait accompli et devraient faire attention en faisant face à l'Iran nucléaire. Pas étonnamment, sur l'annonce de cette déclaration, tous les membres permanents du Conseil de Sécurité ont pris garde et ont averti l'Iran au sujet des conséquences négatives du fait.

Seulement quelques heures après la déclaration, le prix du pétrole sur le marché international et le prix de l'or et du dollar dans des transactions domestiques ont sauté à un nouveau haut record. Les observateurs politiques croient qu'en réalité la fin de la commande réformiste dans le gouvernement iranien devrait être considérée comme borne limite importante dans la mesure où le destin politique de l'Iran et sa place dans la scène internationale sont concernées. En effet, pendant l’ autorité des progressive dans les branches exécutives et législatives du gouvernement, l'Iran à pu survivre au-dessus de beaucoup de menaces et calamités qui pourraient mettre en danger l'existence même du régime islamique. L'ouest et le monde en général ont espéré que la tendance mènerait finalement à la société civile d'épanouissement et aux établissements démocratiques qui laisseraient des idées obsédantes et fondamentalistes. Mais, l'apparition du nouveau conservateur président de dure ligne était un coup sérieux aux idéaux progressif qui a tourné les rêves doux des naïves au cauchemar.

Dans le camp des Etats Unies aussi, les Hawks néo--conservateurs semblent être déterminés pour contenir les ambitions nucléaires de l'Iran, qu'ils ont pensées pour être une menace sérieuse à l'ordre du monde. En fait, la déclaration provocatrice récente sur le plein cycle d'enrichissement est susceptible pour lâcher une vraie confrontation entre les deux camps conservateurs. En outre, le défit de l'Iran du rapport du Conseil de Sécurité et de l'infraction réclamée l'accord de Paris avec EU3 aussi bien que le protocole additionnel au NPT, pourraient préparer le terrain pour que les Américains convainquent la Russie et la Chine qu'un règlement politique n'est pas possible et elles devraient atteindre un consensus sur une résolution grave sous le chapitre VII de la Charte de l’ONU.

Peut-être maintenant les Etats-Unis ont une évidence et une justification plus persuasive pour pousser des membres du Conseil de Sécurité pour entreprendre des actions sérieuses contre l'Iran. Les Américains ont averti que s'ils n'obtiennent pas une résolution forte ils pourraient essayer de former une coalition séparée pour faire face aux menaces de l'Iran. Ainsi, il semble que si les deux adversaires conservateurs ne sont pas contenus par un certain genre de médiation ou de négociation directe, la situation pourrait escalader et mener au désastre.

Pour les raisons pratiques cependant, les chefs iraniens ne semblent pas s'inquiéter beaucoup d'un embargo certain ou des sanctions économique, bien que ceci sûrement cause un bon nombre d'ennui et de dérangement à la nation entière. Mais, ceux qui souhaitent par la suite que le peuple révolte contre le régime islamique en cas de blocus économique devraient se rappeler que depuis la révolution, ce pays a été sujet à des toutes sortes de sanctions pendant la guerre de l'Irak et Iran et après, et aucune telle chose s'est jamais produits. Au contraire, Iraniens ont prouvé qu'ils ont une tendance à consolider pendant les périodes difficiles.

En ce qui concerne les frappes de préemption sur les installations nucléaires de l'Iran ou les installations pétrolifères sur la terre ou en mer, directement par les Etats-Unis ou par l'Israël, il y’à peu de chances que ces opérations pourraient produire les résultats prévus. Ceci peut seulement produire des résultats contradictoires: réveille le nationalisme iranien en consolidant la nation contre l'invasion étrangère, ou donne un dessus au régime islamique pour augmenter plus loin sa poignée domestique.

Le gouvernement islamique a réclamé dans plusieurs occasions que s'il perçoit une vraie menace dans le golfe Persique ou ailleurs sur son territoire, il a la capacité de rendre la région entière dangereuse pour tous. L'exercice naval récent en golfe Persique, détroit de Hormoz et mer d'Oman, où un certain nombre de nouvelles armes ont été examinées, était organise' assurément pour envoyer le signal que l'Iran peut engager dans une série d'opérations peu usuelles qui pourraient décourager et intimider tous les adversaires potentiels. En fait, l'Iran a déjà montré à d'autres occasions, (en Afghanistan, en Irak, au Liban et en Palestine) qu’elle est capable pour frustrer la stratégie ou les actions des Etats Unies dans toute la région.

Si l'euphorie nucléaire de l'Iran a n'importe quelle justification raisonnable autre que l'agitation et l'irritation autour du monde et si les actions intrépides et provocatrices récentes pourraient décourager l'ouest ou il peuvent aboutir au désastre, nous n'avons aucun autre choix que d’attendre et voir comment les politiciens compétents contrôleront sagement la crise imminente.


[*] Professor of International Relations and Politics. See:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Iran's Nuclear Euphoria...

Iran’s Nuclear Euphoria
Heading for a Clash with the West!

Ali-Asghar Kazemi
12 April 2006


Iranians have many landmarks in their long history. In fact, Iran’s history is full of milestones, heroes and idols that helped to save this nation through the vicissitude of times. Persians owe their survival in history to this marvelous gift. Many occurrences such as “oil nationalization,” Islamic revolution, termination of Iran-Iraq war, are among the more recent events which are considered as turning points in contemporary Iran.

The most recent disputable landmark is the so-called full access to nuclear fuel enrichment which was declared on April 11, 2006. This happened at a critical time amid the nuclear crisis, while the world is counting down the time limit set by the U.N. Security Council to the Islamic government to halt all its nuclear activities. On that day, the controversial hard-line president solemnly announced Iran’s enrichment capability on industrial scale and declared the date as a “national day of pride and prestige.”

Average public however, anxious about the plausible impacts of the event on their daily life, showed little enthusiasm about the news. More educated and experienced citizens shook their heads and quietly expressed concerns about the grave consequences of the venture. Opposition groups, surprised by the heavy load of media coverage and propaganda, voiced their discontent and warned about the detrimental effect of the gamble on Iran’s national interests.

Whether the event could be considered as a landmark and be filed as a breakthrough in scientific capability of the country, is subject to doubt. It is believed that the declaration was a deliberate maneuver for the purpose of achieving a number of objectives at this point of time: a) domestic consumption for those who are becoming increasingly frustrated about the president’s fulfillment of his promises to cope with poverty, corruption, inflations and other social evils; b) to encourage the IAEA Director General (expected to visit Iran on April 12) to write down his report on Iran’s case to the Security Council in a manner to avoid eventual sanctions under Chapter VII (Article 41) of the U.N. Charter; c) to send a somber message to the U.N. Security Council and its permanent members that henceforth they are facing a fait accompli and should be careful in dealing with nuclear Iran.

Not surprisingly, upon the announcement of this declaration, all permanent members of the Security Council condemned the action and warned Iran about the negative consequences of the deed. Hours after the declaration, oil price in international market and the price of gold and dollar in domestic transactions jumped to a new record high.

Political observers believe that in reality the end of reformist control in the Iranian government should be considered as an important landmark as far as Iran’s political fate and position in the international scene are concerned. Indeed, during the progressive rule in the executive and legislative branches of the government, Iran was able to prevail over many threats and calamities that could endanger the very existence of the Islamic regime. The West and the world in general hoped that the trend would ultimately lead to flourishing civil society and democratic institutions that would leave behind obsessive and fundamentalist ideas. But, the emergence of the new hard-line president was a serious blow to the progressive ideals that turned naives’ sweet dreams to nightmare.

In the US camp too, the neo-conservative hawks seem to be determined to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which they believed to be a serious threat to world order. In fact, the recent provocative declaration on the full enrichment cycle is susceptible to unleash a clash between the two conservative camps. Furthermore, Iran’s defiance of the Security Council Statement and the claimed breach of Paris Accord with EU3 as well as the Additional Protocol to the NPT, could pave the way for Americans to convince Russia and China that a political settlement is not possible and they should reach a consensus on a severe resolution under Chapter VII of the Charter. Perhaps now the United States has more persuasive evidence and justification to push members of the Security Council to undertake serious actions against Iran. Americans have warned that if they fail to get a strong resolution they might endeavor to form a separate coalition to face Iran’s threats. Thus, it seems that if the two conservative opponents are not contained through some kind of mediation or direct negotiation, the situation could escalate and lead to disaster.

On practical grounds however, Iranian leaders do not seem to worry much about an eventual embargo or economic sanctions, though this surely will cause lots of trouble and inconvenience to the overall nation. But, those who eventually wish that the people would revolt against the Islamic regime in case of an economic blockade should remember that ever since the revolution, this country has been subject to all kinds of sanctions both during Iraq-Iran war and after, and no such thing has ever happened. On the contrary, Iranians have shown that they have a tendency to consolidate during the hard times.
With respect to an eventual preemptive strikes either on Iran’s nuclear facilities or oil installations on land or offshore, directly by the United States or through Israel, there is little chances that these operations could produce the expected outcome. This may only generate contradictory results: either awakens Iranian nationalism by consolidating people against foreign invasion, or gives an upper hand to the Islamic regime to further expand its domestic grip.
The Islamic government has claimed in several occasions that if it perceives a real threat in the Persian Gulf or elsewhere on its land territory, it has the capacity to make the whole region insecure for all. Recent naval exercise in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormoz and Sea of Oman, where a number of new weapons were tested, was undoubtedly organize to send the signal that Iran can engage in a series of unconventional operations that could deter and intimidate any potential opponents. In fact, Iran has already shown on other occasions, (in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine) that it is capable to frustrate U.S. strategy or actions throughout the region.
Whether Iran’s nuclear euphoria has any rational justification other than stirring up irritation around the world and whether recent bold and provocative actions could deter the West or it may end up to disaster, we have no other choice than to wait and see how competent politicians will wisely manage the impending crisis./

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Iran's Mixed Signals to the West

Strategy of Asymmetric War
Iran’s Mixed Signals to the West

Ali-Asghar Kazemi[*]
7 April 2006

While the count-down of the remaining 30 days for Iran to comply with the demand of the United Nations Security Council to halt its nuclear activities has started, the Islamic regime has been giving mixed signals to the international community. On the one hand Iranians took a conciliatory and cooperative stance urging the Western powers to continue their negotiating efforts within the IAEA for the benefit of world peace and order, and on the other hand they embarked on a bold and confrontational venture in the Persian Gulf.

A major naval exercise was carried in this strategic region, including the Straits of Hormoz and the Sea of Oman, where an assortment of new weapon were brought into play. Among these, a new version of ballistic missiles (Shehab III) with multiple warhead or MIRV (Multiple Independently targeted Reentry Vehicle) capability and a very high speed torpedo, both of which claimed to have radar and sonar hidden ability. A number of other new weapons and platforms of rather offensive character were also demonstrated in the week-long maneuver.

The media coverage of the exercise was rather unprecedented, leaving the impression that the Islamic hawks intended to send a strong message to the West, especially the United States, that they must think twice before deciding to pass a harsh resolution against Iran in the Security Council or threaten the survival of the revolutionary regime. In fact, the defense doctrine of the Islamic Republic is based on a Qur’anic verse that commands the Moslems to acquire all sorts of weapons and equipments they can afford in order to deter and scare their opponents and the enemies God. Not surprisingly, this canon is coined as the symbol of the Revolutionary Guards and appears as an emblem on their flag and as a badge on their military uniform.

One important aspect of this exercise which eventually escaped the eyes of observers was the almost total absence of the regular Iranian navy whose functions are normally limited to classical tasks of sea denial and power projection ashore in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormoz. We know by experience that in a purely classical naval engagement the Iranian navy would not be able to sustain combat capability and will soon be out of effective operation. That was the case in the late 1980s where Iranian navy lost some of its warships in an unequal interface with the American units.

That experience led the defense planners to devise new tactics with limited but effective light and fast units to hit and run, which was initially termed as “guerilla warfare at sea.” In fact, like operations on land, when two unequal opponents face each other, the best way for the weak side is to recourse to war of attrition and guerilla operations. In an enclosed narrow and rather shallow region such as the Persian Gulf, this tactic can be very decisive against large units and can deny the enemy from effective deployment, sea lines of communication and power projection.

Thus, the rationale behind the April 2006 Iranian joint forces maneuver in the Persian Gulf should be found in the strategy of “asymmetric warfare” carried by the Revolutionary Guards with the objective to deter the Americans from risking any adventurous plan to ultimately topple the Islamic regime as they did in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq. At the same time Iran is taking up other long-term strategy in the region which relates to confidence building and gradual rapprochement with the Persian Gulf littoral states pursing the following objectives:

- Inhibiting more and more the U.S. presence in the region of the Persian Gulf;
- Making the future American interventions in the region much more difficult and costly;
- Building an anti-American shield against the United States policy of “forceful democratization” in the region;
- Narrowing down the gap between the Iranian regime and the conservative Arab States;
- Encouraging the Persian Gulf States toward Asian markets and other world great powers, such as Russia, China, India and Japan, while limiting economic interaction with the U.S.;
- Making the strategic environment much more difficult for the United States force deployment in crisis situations.

All these would suggest that it would indeed be hard for the United States to bear the consequences of a serious entanglement with Iran in the near future, unless the American policy with respect to Iran and the Persian Gulf changes its contents and context. That is to say, the American objectives and therefore ways and means to reach them should be adapted to the new emerging environment. The new environment is not necessarily in favor of the American military presence in the region. It is not however quite certain that Iran’s hostile signals during the April 2006 exercise would deter in any way the neo-conservative hawks in Washington who are leaning toward the use of hard power to achieve their objectives.

However, we should recognize that there is a major difference between “force” and “power.” A nation may have one but not the other, since for example, sea force is only one of the many composing elements of sea power. Geographic position, indigenous technological base, industrial productive capacity, scientific potentialities, strong communication and economy, wisdom of leadership and above all domestic and international supports are among other prerequisites of power. Failure to comprehend these principles together may lead a nation to the “illusion of power” and consequently to risky situations which could jeopardize the vital interests of a nation.

Whether the Islamic regime will surrender to the demand of the U.N. Security Council in order to avoid further escalation of the nuclear issue, is a matter of threat perception of the Iranian decision makers and their capacity to manage the crisis. Indeed, if they realize that the risks of defying the U. N. demands are much too high and beyond their endurance, they will surely come to their sense and do whatever necessary to avoid the worst to happen./


[*] Professor of International Relations. For detail see:

Monday, March 20, 2006

Iran: The Moment of Truth

Iran: The Moment of Truth
Ali-Asghar Kazemi
March 17, 2006


When one is guided by mere force of dogma or instinct and not reason, and the survival is at stake, everything is permissible, since ends justify means. This is to say that principles can be sacrificed when the issue reduces to this simple question: To be or not to be?

Twenty seven years after the coming into power of a regime which started its religious reign with the hostage taking of the American diplomats for 444 days, the revolutionary Iran is now facing the crude realities of the rules of the game in world politics. Iran’s nuclear case has been referred to the U.N. Security Council and is awaiting a crucial decision which will eventually decide the fate of a theological regime in the 21st century.

During the past decades Iran was somehow able to escape the long awaited chastisement for its controversial deeds in international scene, either through smart maneuvers or by taking advantage of its God-given riches to buy support or to fuel hatred and disturbances in the region. Indeed, to overcome multiple threats and complots, Iran had to pay a very high price. But, it is not quite sure whether it will be able to bear the consequences of appalling political and diplomatic blunders during the past six months.

Iran-Iraq conflict was a war by proxy conducted by those who wanted to diminish to nil the two controversial destabilizing regimes in the region. The “Dual Containment Strategy” only worked until the end of the bipolar world and then changed the course without the expected results. More than a million perished in this futile war and the two feuding powers managed to come safe out of the bloody mess.

Aggression on Kuwait by a frustrated powerful Iraq provided the opportunity to Iran to pose as an innocent party to the conflict blaming its neighbor for aggressive intentions in the region. The case temporarily ended up through the first American military intervention in Iraq, choosing not to remove the “butcher of Baghdad” fearing Iran’s ascendance to regional power. The mission was finally accomplished through a second U.S. intervention whose outcome was the collapse of Baath regime as Iran’s perennial hostile and archenemy. All of these developments occurred in absolute favor of the Islamic regime in Iran.

The fall of Saddam Hussein and the consequent turmoil in Iraq was indeed a miracle that only could be achieved through hands of the Almighty God. Miraculously, these hands came out of the sleeves of the Great Satan. In fact, U.S. President is regarded as the savior angel for revolutionary Iran; since every thing he has done so far is in the direction of achieving its interests. Furthermore, as long as the American forces are entangled in Iraq’s havoc, Iranian rulers feel secure from any harsh action that would endanger their existence.

During the two previous governments, formed by the pragmatic Rafsanjani and the self-styled reformist Khatami, Iranian leaders managed to avoid a direct confrontation with the U.S. A couple of times they preferred to settle their disputes (including the hostage, Airbus and Oil-platform cases) through the International Court of Justice (ICJ). This meant that Islamic regime’s overall propensity to engage in a conflict with a superpower has been very low. On the other hand, Americans too did not wish to entertain active hostility with Iran for the reasons beyond the scope of this short essay. This was despite all the rhetoric and verbal challenges made against Americans during the past decades.

Only six months after the coming into power of the new conservative hard-line president, the situation changed and on U.S. persistence Iran’s nuclear case was referred to the U.N. Security Council. This means paving the way for sanctions, military intervention and ultimately toppling an unwanted regime which has been listed on the “axis of evil” for quite sometimes. This was prompted by a number of unwise statements made by the inexperienced president, who out of naïve political beliefs or pure religious zeal, provided a fertile ground for the international community to reach a consensus against Iran’s danger for world peace and security.

This whole development is exposing a new face of the Islamic regime which never before appeared on the scene. Some people argue that there is nothing new in this outlook; since Mr. Ahmadinejad truly represents the soul of the religious Shiite enigma, and a revolutionary regime that pledges to guide the whole world to the path of salvation. Curiously enough, this regime is striving to acquire nuclear technology and claimed to be ready to pay the price for its contested venture. Who in the world of politics is ready to deal confidently with such a controversial government?

Unfortunately, the moment of truth is approaching with all of its bitterness and glumness. Now that the seriousness of the situation is felt by the intransigent hard-liners, they are declaring their readiness to sit and negotiate with the Great Satan. It does not really matter whether it is on Iraq’s situation, nuclear issue, human rights or terrorism. They just want to convey the message that finally we were not so much serious about what we said before. Surely, they can launch their propaganda apparatus in order to justify their new position for public. In fact, not only people will not object to the matter but also will be much grateful with such broken covenant, provided it would insure that there would be no foreign intervention in their homeland. To many, these direct talks should have taken place many years ago before it could inflict so much material and human damages to this country. But, as I argued elsewhere, only hard-liners could dare to raise the issue and achieve this task.

Americans however have said that this is not really a negotiating process but some kind of warning to Iran about the continued violence in Iraq and the necessity that the neighboring state should abstain from meddling in its internal affairs. The Islamic regime wishes that once ices are broken they can benefit the opportunity of the new environment to de-escalate the crisis condition. This may in turn help to redirect the nuclear case from the Security Council to the IAEA Governing Council for further negotiations.

To be or not to be, this is the question. We shall wait and see whether this maneuver can do any good to attenuate the grave situation.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Shadow of Terror over Iraq

The Shadow of Terror over Iraq

Ali-Asghar Kazemi
March 10, 2006

The unfortunate bombing of one of the holiest Shi’a shrine in Samara is considered the most dramatic event since the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Some observers even went so far as to equate the incident as another 9/11 attack which would eventually decide the fate of new Iraq and American presence there. The immediate reaction of Shi’as against Sunnis escalated the crisis to a full-scale bloody confrontation between the two Moslem factions, and brought the country on the verge of a civil war. This whole situation happened at a critical point of time when the new democratically elected parliament was in the process of forming a permanent government.

What are the immediate and long term consequences of the impending crisis? How the neighboring nations, especially Iran as a Shiite state, will be affected by the event? What should be done to curb the negative implications and avoid the worst case situation to happen, namely the total disintegration of Iraq?

One of the most urgent outcomes of the crisis is the new obstacles before the formation of the Shiite-led government which has been charged for its anti-Sunni attitude. Mr. Al-Jafari, accused to be incompetent to establish law and order, is already under serious pressure from all sides, including secular Shiites and the Kurds, to withdraw his candidacy for premiership. The Sunni faction in the parliament (with 44 seats) may harden its position to participate in a national unity government and invest its supporting strength in the legitimacy of the political process.

Among the neighboring states, Iran has multiple interests in the current situation of Iraq. With a long history of rivalry, hostilities and war, Iran will be indeed affected in many ways by any haphazard development. Iranians perceive the present condition very volatile and fear eventual collapse of the new Iraq. Of course, this will not meet the expected objectives, aspirations and potential opportunities opened to them with the majority Shiites in Power.

First of all, we should realize that Iran’s national interests are very much tied to all political, strategic and structural changes in Iraq. The collapse of the Baath regime, through the American military intervention, has created a new strategic environment for the Islamic regime in Tehran. Thus, Iran’s national interests are best served by a stable, democratic and free Iraq with a legitimate strong government willing to cooperate with its neighbors in the promotion of regional calm and security.

From a realistic point of view, Iran has every reason now to support the established Shiite-led government in Iraq and try its best to promote the delicate balance and stability there. Of course, at the beginning of U.S. military intervention in Iraq, Iranian leaders were quite anxious and believed that a quick victory in Iraq would bring the Americans in a face-to-face confrontation with the objective of toppling the Islamic regime. But now, after three years of harsh violence and bloodshed, Iran has gained some sort of assurance that the Americans would not venture another gamble whose outcome is quite uncertain.

As a point of interest, we should remember that since the beginning of U.S. intervention in Iraq, Iran has followed a clever policy that may be termed as a ‘two pillar strategy’ with respect to Iraq. On the one hand, it condemned American military intervention as an unlawful and aggressive act against a Moslem country, on the other it considered the downfall of Saddam Hussein and the Baath regime as a God blessing.

In fact, the downfall of Iran’s archenemy and longtime hostile produced a number of challenges and opportunities for Iran. The most threatening challenge was and still is the presence of American forces all around Iran, which virtually encircle Iran’s strategic position on land and at sea. This dimension of U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been very alarming if Americans had succeeded to a quick round up in Iraq and did not encounter serious challenge by insurgents.

Thus apparently, it seems that the continued turmoil and insurgency in Iraq has an immediate benefit for Iran, since the United States may not be tempted to use hard power against Iran in the foreseeable future. But, at the same time, if chaotic situation continues and passes a certain threshold, it would be counterproductive for all neighboring states and the region as a whole. This proposition is especially true with respect to Iran, which has a lot of common interests with the newly established Shiite majority in Iraq. Therefore, it is fair to suggest that Iran should rationally do everything in its power to attenuate the ethnic, religious, sectarian and tribal conflicts in Iraq; since, it is itself very vulnerable on these matters.

With respect to the United States, public opinion is rapidly changing course not only inside but outside U.S. as well. Most recent survey show that an average of 60 percent in the 33 nations agreed that the March 2003 invasion of Iraq had increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks around the world. Indeed, the new situation is quite alarming for the American strategy in the Middle East, and many U.S. traditional friends are under severe pressure to do away with the horrible hurdle.

It has now become quite evident that American military planners failed to anticipate or prepare for any serious resistance and insurgency after the downfall of Saddam Hussein and perhaps less so after his miserable capture and trial.

Still now the intelligence about the identity of peoples who commit suicide attacks is very vague and unreliable. Even Iraqi officials have little understanding of the relative strength of Iraqi nationals and foreigners including Al-Qaeda, among fighters and the probable connections between the two groups. Iraqi officials have always put the blame on “extremist groups from abroad that merely objected to the presence of Americans and other foreign troops in Iraq.” It was also claimed that these groups are out to set “a sense of permanent violence to intimidate people and turn them against the government.”

Despite the fact that attacks on the Shiite shrine have triggered widespread violence in Iraq, it appears that those who wanted to foment an all-out civil war with the evil objective to topple the fragile government are not being much successful. An optimistic assessment leads one to believe that the majority of Iraqis now have every reason to be willing to avoid bloodshed and benefit from the potential democratic environment created at a very high price. Yet, they too seem to think that terrorism in Iraq is now a direct consequence of American and foreign presence, and thus would prefer to see their gradual withdrawal from their lands. Eventually, a quick solution to the crisis would be the replacement of U.N. Peace-keeping forces, composed of major elements of the existing coalition and other states, to take charge of security and order in war-torn Iraq.