Sunday, October 02, 2005

Imperialistic Mullarchy: A New Iron Curtain Descends Upon the Middle East

John Hall, Richmond Times:
One of the great ironies of the Iraq war was that Iraq's next-door neighbor, Iran, emerged as a big regional winner, at least temporarily. Its oil wealth has also made it a world economic power as prices soar.

So now, Iran is starting to shove people around. This week, it served notice to Britain, France, and Germany -- the biggest European states -- that it might cut off their oil and gas.

Their offense: trying to brake Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Europeans had just voted for an International Atomic Energy Agency resolution requiring Iran to fulfill its legal obligations and submit to inspections of its secret nuclear bomb production facilities.

The Iranians also threatened India with unspecified economic retaliation for joining in the resolution requiring Iran to be reported to the UN Security Council by an unspecified date if it continued refusing to comply. In jeopardy is a $20 billion agreement India signed in January to import 5 million tons of liquefied natural gas from Iran over the next 25 years.

ALL THESE countries have some degree of economic dependence on Iran.

The Iranians' uncompromising diplomatic performance at the New Dehli meeting was consistent with their mooning of America at the UN earlier in the month. President Bush chose not to press for a Security Council showdown on the Iranian nuclear issue, preferring to wait until Russia and China join with other permanent members in a united front. He may have to wait, in the words of the late ambassador Adlai Stevenson, "until hell freezes over."

The Iranians think they are in the driver's seat with plenty of reason. Their next-door enemy, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, has now been eliminated and replaced by allies -- fellow Shiite Muslims. Iran's strategic rival, the United States, has a large army occupying Iraq, but is so bogged down with the insurgency that Iran doesn't regard it as a credible threat anymore.

"For their part, Iranian leaders have begun to wake up to a startling reality," writes Ilan Berman in a new book Tehran Rising. "Quite suddenly, their country has become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the war on terror."

Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, said Iran ironically owes this status partly to the coalition assembled by the United States. By eliminating Saddam Hussein's regime as Tehran's most immediate adversary, it cemented "Iran's dominant regional standing." Defeating the Taliban to the east in Afghanistan eliminated "a competitor for Muslim hearts and minds," says Berman.

IN THIS tightly written book, Berman documents a steady and well-financed campaign by Iran since the U.S. invasion of Iraq to bankroll anti-American militias and smuggle terrorists and criminals into Iraq. Iranians have fomented political unrest among young people, provided arms to insurgents, and organized extensive Hezbollah and Hamas networks, he said.

"What drives these efforts?" Berman asks. "It is certainly not the desire to create a true Islamic Republic of Iraq."

The Iranians certainly have been active -- and successful -- behind the scenes on that score. The new democratic government in Iraq, largely controlled by political parties with roots in Iran and Shiite religious fervor, has recently won a $1 billion pledge of aid from Tehran, with more certain to come. When American forces leave, there is no doubt that Iran will have heavy influence in Baghdad.

Berman argues that Iran's motivation is to be the dominant power in the Gulf and surrounding region, with influence extending to Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Turkey. It wants to have a "new, more aggressive military profile" against the United States, the "foreign irritant" in the region against whom it is now arming with purchases from Russia and China with its greatly escalating petro-wealth.

The more sinister element is ideology and religious hatred.

IN MAY, 2004, Hassan Abbassi, a leading adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, announced:

"We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization and for the uprooting of the Americans and the English. The global infidel front is a front against Allah and the Muslims, and we must make use of everything we have at hand to strike at this front by means of our suicide operations or by means of our missiles. There are 29 sensitive sites in the U.S. and in the West. We have already spied on these sites and we know how we are going to attack them." READ MORE

Berman said he thinks Abbassi's words ought to be taken seriously.

John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service.