I am glad to post a backgrounder article on the Iranian situation. It is a must read.
What to do with Tehran?
July 11, 2003 | Amir Taheri
Whichever way you look at it, Iran and the United States are engaged in what amounts to a mini-version of the Cold War in the Middle East. It all started almost a quarter of a century ago when the Khomeinist movement, backed by Soviet-sponsored Communists of various shades, overthrew the Shah's regime and established a totalitarian system with a religious vocabulary.
During that period Iranian agents seized and held over 100 American hostages, releasing them only after Tehran exacted concessions from Washington. Several hostages were murdered, including a US Marine colonel, hanged by the Hezballah in Beirut, and the CIA station chief in Lebanon who was transferred to Tehran and died under torture during interrogation.
In the same period Tehran organised terrorist attacks in which over 300 Americans, including 241 Marines were killed in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.
Iran's Khomeinist regime has also acted as the principal opponent of all US-backed peace initiatives in the region. In 1982 Iran founded the Lebanese branch of the Hezballah that, in time, emerged as the most active force against the " peace process" in the region.
Today, the Hezballah is one of the world's strongest unofficial armies and, equipped with some 10,000 medium-range Iranian-made Fajr IV missiles, is capable of attacking any target in Israel. It also enjoys high prestige in the region as the only Arab force that managed to drive Israel out of a chunk of occupied Arab territory.
For much of the 1980s Iran also tried to foment revolution in a number of Arab states with friendly ties to the US. Among those targeted were Kuwait, where a plot to kill the Emir was aborted at the last moment. Bahrain suffered years of violence promoted by Iranian agents while Saudi Arabia witnessed a number of terrorist attacks organised by groups linked to Tehran.
So intense was Iran's promotion of terrorism that several Arab countries, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with it for varying lengths of time.
In 1987 the Islamic Republic and the United States became directly engaged in military conflict. President Ronald Reagan dispatched the US Navy to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers against missile attacks by Iran. The Iranians, testing US resolve, continued to fire at the Kuwaiti tankers. The American riposte came hard and fast and led to the sinking of more than half of the Iranian Navy's combat fleet. The US navy also dismantled several Iranian offshore oil installations, inflicting an estimated $2 billion in damages.
For part of the 1990s Iran was the main source of support, including money and arms, for the military fundamentalist regime in the Sudan. Iranian mullahs also backed various terrorist groups operating against a number of Muslim countries, including Turkey.
With the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Iran emerges as the principal source of support for all radical Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the People's Front for the liberation of Palestine.
Today, Tehran is the only place where terrorists from all over the world can still meet and operate in the open. Every year, from 1 to 10 February, Tehran hosts a festival of radicalism in which terror groups, including the last remaining Marxist-Leninist ones, come together to exchange views and coordinate strategies. The Shining Path may have been defeated in Peru. But it still has a big office in one of Tehran's poshest streets. The main Colombian terror group FARC operates several front companies based in Tehran. At least 22 other terrorist groups maintain offices, and in some cases, such as the PKK, which fought a 15-year war against Turkey, even operational and logistical bases in various parts of Iran.
Tehran is the only capital where several of its major streets are named after convicted terrorists. The street where the British Embassy is located is named after Bobby Sands, an IRA leader of the 1970s. The street where the Egyptian Embassy, now empty, is situated is named after Khalid al-Islambouli, the man who killed President Anwar Sadat.
Iran's Khomeinist leaders are convinced that modern history will be a repeat of what happened in early the Islamic era. At that time the world was dominated by two " superpowers", the Persian Empire and Byzantium. Within three decades, however, both empires had been destroyed, almost all of their territories captured by Muslim armies.
According to Ali Khamenehi, Iran's " Supreme Guide", the late Ayatollah Khomeini, known to his followers as " The Imam", had the " divine mission of reviving Islam" and " putting it on its natural path of cleansing the whole world."
" The contemporary world has been dominated by perfidious empires: the Soviet Union and the United States," Khamenehi said in a celebrated speech in 1991. " Now, one of the two empires, the Communist one, has collapsed thanks to its defeat by the forces of Islam in Afghanistan. Our energies should now be directed at dismantling the other incarnation of perfidy which is the Great Satan, America."
Thus anti-Americanism and the dream of destroying the United States lie at the heart of the Khomeinist ideology. Without it, Khomeinism would lack a coherent discourse and could quickly lose its hard core of supporters who still believe that, one way or another, the whole of mankind would be converted to their brand of Islam.
The liberation of Afghanistan from the Taleban and of Iraq from Saddam Hussein, have added two new theatres to the cold war waged between Tehran and Washington.
In Afghanistan, Tehran has armed and continues to finance a number of armed groups with the aim of preventing Hamid Karzai, the pro-American interim president, from establishing a support base and gaining a durable hold on power.
Iran's closest allies in Afghanistan are the Hazara Shiites who form a majority of the population in two provinces: Bamiyan and Maydanshahr in central Hindukush. With Iranian money and weapons, the Hazara now have the second most powerful indigenous military force in Afghanistan, second only to that of the Panjshiris led by "Marshall" Qassim Fahim. But Iran is also supporting the Pushtun extremist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who has concluded an alliance with the remnants of the Taleban and is mounting growing attacks against the Americans and their allies in southern Afghanistan. Iran has also concluded a number of accords with Ismail Khan, the " Emir" of Heart who controls six western provinces.
More interesting is the fact that Iran has allowed large the Taleban and the Al Qaeda terrorist groups to seek refuge in its territory. There is, of course, little love lost between Iran and the Sunni militants of the Taleban-Al Qaeda axis. But there is a shared interest: to prevent a pro-American regime to be established in Kabul.
Despite Tehran's denials, large numbers of Taleban and Al Qaeda militants and sympathisers are currently in Iran. According to our sources some Iranian border villages, including Pishin, Qasr Qand and Dost Muhammad now shelter hundreds of Taleban and Al Qaeda fighters and their families. More prominent Al Qaeda and Taleban figures openly live in the larger frontier cities of Khash, Zahedan and Zabol.
On a smaller scale the Islamic Republic is also engaged in a campaign against the US and its allies in other parts of the region, notably in Transcaucasia where, in coordination with Russia, it backs Armenia against Azerbaijan.
During the past six months Iran has arrested over 200 Arab Al Qaeda members and/or sympathisers and returned them over to their respective native countries. But those were individuals whose names were given to the Iranian authorities by their respective governments, notably Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
All others are allowed to stay, presumably because Iran believes they may one day become useful for its designs in Afghanistan or other Muslim countries.
The Islamic Republic is also engaged in what amounts to a low intensity war against the US presence in Iraq. There, Iran is joined by Syria that is trying to gain control of what is left of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party.
Iran has not put all its eggs in one basket in Iraq. It maintains much influence in the newly renamed High Council for the Liberation of Iraq, led by Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim al-Tabatabai. The group's military wing, the Badr (Full Moon) Brigade maintains close ties with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard in Tehran. But Iran also finances several other smaller Shiite groups, including a breakaway faction of the Al-Daawah (The Call) Party. In the northern part of Iraq, Tehran finances and largely controls the Kurdish branch of the Hezb Allah plus a number of tribal networks. The current Iranian strategy is aimed at preventing the US from securing a support base for an eventual pro-American administration in Baghdad. Tehran pursues that strategy through a mixture of threat, bribery and actual violence against those tempted to tilt towards Washington.
One thing is certain: The Khomeinist regime regards itself as a regional "superpower" and is determined to do all it can to prevent the Bush administration from imposing its new " political architecture" on the Middle East.
" The idea that the United States could impose its wishes on the Middle East and marginalise our revolution is based on a dangerous illusion," says Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister and now senior advisor to Khamenehi.
Now involved in the Middle East more deeply than ever, the US has no choice but review its attitude towards Iran.
What could the US do?
Ignoring Iran is not possible. The Khomeinist leadership pursues an active anti-American policy at various levels. It is determined to opposed and, when possible, frustrate US policies on a wide range of issues in the Middle East, Transcaucasia, the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Basin and Central Asia.
At the same time the Khomeinist regime has embarked on a programme of massive military build up. With help from North Korea, It has already developed a wide range of missiles, based on Soviet and Chinese models, and has the industrial potential to produce large quantities of chemical and biological weapons. There is now little doubt that the Islamic Republic is also working on a military nuclear programme that is expected to reach production stage by 2005.
If ignoring Iran is not possible, containing it is not a realistic option either. After Russia, Iran is the one country in the world with the largest number of neighbours. It is thus directly important in the affairs of numerous nations in some of the unstable parts of the globe.
So what are the other options?
A version of détente as practised between the US and the USSR from the 1970s onwards could, of course, be an option for dealing with the Islamic Republic.
The Khomeinist regime has shown that it understands the language of power. Whenever its survival has been in jeopardy it has backed down without any qualms. It has shown that , unlike Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime in Iraq, it is not suicidal.
But détente could strengthen the Khomeinist regime at a time that is facing the most serious challenge to its rule at home. Détente could prolong the Khomeinist regime's historical lifespan just as it did in the case of the Soviet Union. Given legitimacy and access to world capital markets and US technology, the Khomeinist regime may last several more decades during which the new "political architecture" of the Middle East, as envisaged by President Bush would have to be left on the backburner.
If détente is ruled out, military confrontation may emerge as an option. But Iran is certainly not a pushover as Afghanistan and Iraq. The Khomeinist regime has a stronger popular base than did Saddam or the Taleban. Iran is also better armed and could , if provoked, inflict serious damage on some of the United States closest allies in the region.
In a military showdown with the US, the Khomeinist regime will be ultimately defeated. But such a showdown could lead to a disintegration of Iran, triggering decades of conflict and crises with repercussions that are not easy to foresee.
Possibly the most effective option would be a mixture of political, diplomatic and economic pressure backed by the threat of military force. The Khomeinist regime, currently split between hardliners and moderates, is also facing a growing popular opposition movement. That movement is still in gestation, its core ideology and eventual leadership still unclear. But there is evidence that the anti-Khomeinist movement harbours some democratic sentiments and is generally well disposed towards the US.
Many analysts believe that the historic countdown against the Khomeinist regime has started. Some foresee its demise within the next year or so. I am not so sure. One thing, however, is certain, the Khomeinist regime has become "overthrowable". It has lost a good part of its revolutionary and religious legitimacy, is rejected by many from within its traditional support base, and, weakened by corruption and mismanagement, lacks the moral authority to crackdown against its opponents.
Thus the US should consider supporting the Iranian opposition movement and encouraging its latent democratic aspirations. But regime change in Tehran should not be perceived as an American project. It should remain an Iranian enterprise backed by the US and other democratic powers.
Amir Taheri is an Iranian journalist and author of 10 books on the Middle East and Islam. He's available through www.benadorassociates.com.
©2003 Amir Taheri http://www.townhall.com/columnists/GuestColumns/Taheri20030711.shtml
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This is a comment posted by Reza1400 at www.daneshjoo.org.
It shows a Persian perspective on Arabs and Islam. I found it really interesting.
I agree that we must not hate Arabs. However, one must keep in mind that Arabs are not a race, so it can not be called racism when measures are taken against them.
Indeed, they are the pillagers of Persian culture and have tried for 1400 years to wipe it out and replace it with their simple-minded, dictatorial, barbaric doctrine. But, it is in true irony that Iranian Culture has prevailed as it always has throughout its history, taken the plight of invaders, twisted it and customized it to its own moral and cultural standards - which have been far beyond Arab comprehension - and tamed the world around with it.
More Iranians died in the invasion of 1980 than Iraqis and that is a fact. Many rapes were committed by Iraqis, so even if they were forced to fight, they truly revelled in destroying the sanctity of women where they could.
Someone here mentioned that they have similar goals to Iranians in seeking a democratic and secular way of life. That is a grave misunderstanding of the Arab world. Many citizens of Saudi Arabia would get very defensive if you speak of democracy; and act as if you are attacking Islam. They simply are not comfortable with it. Indeed, it is the Egyptian people who are pressuring the government toward further islamification. It is the female students at the American University in Cairo who insist on the hijab dresscode. And maybe that is because of the incapability of Arab men to control their urges in public.
If the Arab world is full of dictators, it is because the Arab people create them and need them. The people of Iran, only after ten years into the reign of the Islamic Republic began building extensive underground opposition and resistance to the regime and this day they are prevailing. Under the extremely strict limitations imposed upon our students, they have blossomed to the maximum potentials they could achieve, and in many cases achieved much more than those on the outside. Our nation is a mine of knowledge and cultivation of thought.
After almost three decades of rule under Saddam Hussein, and after the coalition takeover, we have yet to hear of an effective Iraqi resistance. This is not to say that many Iraqis are not genuinely nice people, as many Muslims are. But, that there is an Islamic Barricade placed upon them, which has political and social ramifications where tolerance is concerned. And this barricade is all the security that they have. Without it, they are simple and complete barbarians for they do not feel at ease with accepting anything new.
Observing the Arab world, no major contribution to the modern world can be associated with them, except from Christian Arabs, such as Khalil Gibran, the famous poet. The Arab world itself came into existence after the emergence of Islam during the Arabization of the ancient hordes i.e. Babylonians, Egyptians, Europeans, European concubines( many of whom are the ancestors of blue-eyed and blond-haired people we see in Lebanon, Jordan etc..).
Therefore, Arabs are not a race. They are merely a concept. It is a concept with which, I do not agree, for it has destroyed many an ancient civilization including the great Egyptian Empire, which Egyptians do not pay homage to and instead have chosen Islam for national identity and declared themselves as Arabs.
It is a concept whose elements must be wiped out of Iranian culture in order for an harmonic and prosperous future for Iran. A future regime must adamantly promote a revitalization of ancient Persian culture and that will remain as the only cure for the plague, which has ravaged our nation for centuries.
Read this last night. Eye opening,extremely informative. Should be required reading on college campuses,(and high schools) so the students here understand what the U.S. is really up against, and get "the big picture".
If we don't make Iran and it's neighbors in the Middle East our focus,(while keeping an eye on N.Korea & China), we'd better get real good at being isolationists, and spending all our military budget on defending our boarders and constructing an impenetrable defensive shield (SDI?, Star Wars?), so that we can sit back, watch T.V, collect our social security checks, and drive our SUV's, without the rude interruption from an attack by one of these "merry" bands of terrorists.
Every year, from 1 to 10 February, Tehran hosts a festival of radicalism in which terror groups, including the last remaining Marxist-Leninist ones, come together to exchange views and coordinate strategies.
Sounds like a target rich enviroment to me. Be a real shame if a bomb "accidently" fell on them..yup a real shame.