Monday, August 21, 2006

What Iranian Threat?

John R. Thomson, National Review Online:
Why would a professed theocracy consistently act in a revolutionary way? Just what is behind that country’s consistently anti-freedom, anti-American acts in the Middle East, in East Asia, and even in Latin America? And when is it well beyond time for the United States and its allies to take action against a founding member of the Axis of Evil? READ MORE

Consider Iran.

Iran orchestrated the Hezbollah-Israel war as its latest well-timed offensive act using the radical Shia organization it spawned almost 25 years ago. Commencing as it did on the day the United States and assorted European powers were scheduled to meet to determine their next step in the nuclear standoff with Tehran, the conflict pushed that issue off the front pages. Indeed, there has been scarcely any coverage whatsoever of the protracted and dangerous diplomatic crisis.

The leaders of Iran’s militant mullahcracy remain undeterred in their mendacious, obsessive, two-decade quest to develop nuclear energy and arms. Making things worse, Iran’s nuclear and guided-missile programs are technologically fueled by extensive exchange programs with North Korea’s out-of-control regime.

In Iraq, determined efforts to impede the building of a peaceful, democratic society have been fueled by the training thousands of Iraqi cutthroats in Iran, who are then sent back along with uncounted home-grown Revolutionary Guards to do everything possible to create chaos. The terrorist immigrants have been all too ably aided by renegade radical Muqtada Al-Sadr’s marauding Al Mahdi army.

And if that were not more than enough, Iran’s quarter-century campaign to establish radical beachheads in Latin America is coming into full bloom with the Castro-Chavez-Morales trio of revolutionary leaders in Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia.

Cuba was one of the first countries to recognize the revolutionary mullahs. Since then, Tehran’s technicians have learned how to jam U.S. broadcasts being sent into Iran during their prolonged visits to Castro’s sophisticated facility that jams America’s broadcasts on Radio and TV Marti. Over the years, high-level delegations from the two countries have exchanged numerous visits, and Iran has provided substantial support to Cuba’s perennially ailing economy, in part by being a major importer of Havana-manufactured medicines and biotechnology products.

Following Cuba’s February vote (with just two other countries, Venezuela and Syria), against the IAEA’s referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council, new agreements to fund hydraulic and energy projects were signed with Iran and are advancing, with major petrochemical and agriculture projects in advanced discussion. Look for some big announcements when Iranian radical-in-chief Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Havana in September for the quaintly outdated and thoroughly misnamed gathering of nations at the Non-Aligned Summit.

Hugo Chavez, Castro’s co-president (as least as long as Fidel is with us), has made close relations with Tehran one of his top foreign policy goals, and he has succeeded admirably. In less than eight years as Venezuela’s president, Chavez has visited Iran five times and done deals ranging from joint production of Ven-Iran tractors to major petroleum refining projects to establishing Tehran and Caracas as “sister cities.” The two countries have recently funded a $200 million effort to identify and support worthwhile trade and investment projects.

On the geopolitical front, Iran and Venezuela stand side-by-side when perceived threats arise from the “Great Satan” or the “Imperialist” nation (depending on who’s doing the perceiving).

Iran has moved quickly to ally itself with Evo Morales and his radical Bolivian government. Iran has moved quickly to support Hugo Chavez’s call for a tri-national energy alliance — focusing on Venezuela’s oil and Bolivia’s natural gas industries — that would provide the Andean country with the necessary expertise to nationalize its petroleum industry, fulfilling a major Morales campaign promise.

Besides these very successful efforts at close collaboration, Tehran has worked diligently on establishing relations with Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Uruguay and has recently opened a “temporary” diplomatic mission in Colombia.

Then there’s the little item of Hezbollah establishing itself firmly in the Tri-Border area where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. For more than 20 years Hezbollah has used the largely ungoverned zone for drug trafficking, money laundering, arms smuggling, and terrorist training, often working in close collaboration with a large Arab expatriate community, many of whom are Shia.

Drug trafficking and money laundering? Well, it seems the $100 million annual stipend that Tehran provides Hezbollah has proved insufficient for its ambitious needs over the years, and so it has become the largest refiner of opium into heroin in the world. Estimates are that in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah factories produce an estimated 60 to 70 percent of the final product which they proceed to sell at a prodigious profit. Much of these ill-gotten gains are funneled through the Tri-Border area. (Notwithstanding Israel’s dramatic recent raid of the Baalbek hospital, Hezbollah’s control of the beautiful Bekaa, where the magnificent Roman ruins are located, was clearly complete when I visited it in June 2005. Sadly, new U.N. resolution 1701 seals the area’s fate for the foreseeable future.)

Washington sources advise there is a spin going around that the White House chose to neutralize — in fact, favor — Hezbollah with its decision to support resolution 1701, in order to focus on settling Iraq and dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Yet it would seem that nothing would have done more to disabuse Iran’s leaders of their delusions of regional grandeur than rolling up Hezbollah; if so, there remains no excuse for not doing so.

What more must a relentlessly renegade nation do to get the law-abiding, peaceseeking rest of the world to take action? Have not the dedicated Iranian radical revolutionaries worked hard enough to get our attention? Are the mists so thick in Foggy Bottom that the State Department somehow cannot see what is going on and work with the Bush administration to bring this enormously dangerous national mischief to an end?

If the answers to the questions about Iran’s intentions have become painfully clear, then perhaps it’s about time that these last few questions are answered as well.

- John R. Thomson has worked as a businessman, diplomat, and journalist in the Middle East for four decades, having lived in Beirut, Cairo, and Riyadh.