Opinion | Columnists

Don't underestimate Iran

If Hezbollah could fire 4,000 missiles on Israel and then re-arm itself in a matter of months, to reach an arsenal of over 30,000 rockets, then this tells volumes about how powerful its patrons in Tehran are

  • By Sami Moubayed, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:09 July 8, 2008
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News

One theory says that until the very last moment on March 20, 2003, Saddam Hussain thought he had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs); plenty of them. That is what his corrupted circle had been telling him for years, and this explains why he never fully comprehended the dangers of war with the United States. Perhaps he reasoned that the Americans were bluffing, and would never dare invade Iraq. At curtain fall, Saddam probably told one of his men to go down and "press the button" only to realise that he had no WMDs, and that Iraq -and his regime - were on the verge of disaster. "Sorry Mr. President, but we were lying!"

That scenario - 80 per cent fiction, 20 per cent reality - is dangerously close to being repeated in 2008. This time, standing in Saddam's shoes would be the Israelis.

The writing has been on the wall for several months and suddenly snowballed into grave fear that war between Iran and the United States - or Iran and Israel - was in the immediate horizon. Last week, a Pentagon official said that a war between Iran and Israel was going to take place before the end of 2008.

ABC News quoted an unnamed US official saying that Iran's nuclear programme was nearing "red lines" that would trigger an Israeli attack, echoing what Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaol Mofaz said a few weeks earlier. Ex-US Ambassador John Bolton set the war date for November, while sources at CIA say that it is going to be a war between the United States and Iran - with or without Israeli participation.

Senior US officers Admiral William Fallon resigned from Centcom last March after talk surfaced in Washington that he was the only thing standing between the Bush White House and war on Iran. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker that the US Congress had allocated $400 million to destabilise Iran from within, supporting terrorist groups such as Mujahideen-e-Khalek, and ethnic minorities such as Iranian Kurds. Congress is going to debate on a naval blockade of Iran while some are even speaking of an "October Surprise" - another 9-11 that would give the Americans justification to go to war on Iran, give John McCain a facelift for his tough stance on terrorism, and drown whatever chances Barack Obama had of becoming the master of the White House.

Reportedly, Israel is planning a massive blitz on Iranian cities such as Asfahan and Natanz, to hit 3,100 targets (many believed to be nuclear sites) in addition to military positions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Iran has promised to respond by hitting the Dimona Reactor in Israel, and shut down the Strait of Hormuz (which transports no less than 25 per cent of the world's oil), bringing the price of oil to a staggering $500 per barrel. A Russian foreign ministry official commented, "All this is very dangerous. If force is used it will be catastrophic for the whole Middle East."

The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen added that war on Iran "would be extremely stressful on us" while Mohammad Al Baradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that the war would turn the region "into a fireball". Showing just how insignificant these comments are, the US military went ahead constructing four advanced bases, equipped with remote controlled missile launch pads, near the Iran-Iraq border. Additionally, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held a meeting with Colonel Aviam Sela, architect of the 1981 surprise Israeli air strike against the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor, seeking advice on how to carry out a similar attack on Iran.

Last week, a senior Iranian general, Mir Faisal Bagherzadeh, said his country was digging 320,000 graves for American soldiers scheduled to fight in Iran. "In implementation of the Geneva Conventions, the necessary measures are being taken to provide for the burial of enemy soldiers. We have plans to dig 15,000 to 20,000 graves for each of the border provinces, or a total of 320,000," he said, pointing out that some of them would be mass graves, if necessary. This was "to reduce the suffering of the families of the fallen in any attack against, and prevent the repetition of the long and bitter experience of the Vietnam War".

More pain

It is too early to predict who would inflict more pain on the other - Israel or Iran - if war were to erupt in what remains of 2008. What we do know is that neither Israel nor the US have accurate information about Iran's arsenal. One reason is that the Americans have not had an embassy in Tehran since 1979. That is a major mistake given that the best way - throughout history - of gathering information about another country has been through diplomatic exchange.

Ambassadors are formal spies, and even during the apex of the Cold War, the US did not shut down its embassy in Moscow. For years they relied on faulty intelligence reports about Iran's strength, provided by Saddam Hussain, Saudi Arabia and Iranians in the US. Clearly from Hezbollah's performance in 2006, the Americans knew very little how powerful Iran actually was since nobody expected the Islamic republic's proxies in Lebanon to hold out for more than one month, against the military might of the Israeli Defence Forces. That is very different from 2003, when the Americans knew exactly how weak the Iraqi Army was, and how corrupted its infrastructure.

If a small military group could fire 4,000 missiles on Israel (out of its arsenal of 13,000), reaching as far as Haifa "and beyond Haifa" and then re-arm itself in a matter of months, to reach an arsenal of over 30,000 rockets, then this tells volumes about how powerful its patrons in Tehran are. Also, you don't walk around Iran and see big signs pointing to Iran's nuclear sites, as the case with Osirak, or with Yasser Arafat's posts in South Lebanon in 1982. They are hidden under layers of concrete and steel, protected by men with arms - and indoctrination.

In Islam, for example, polygamy is tolerated - whereas in the top military command of Iran, it is not. Long ago, the Grand Ayatollah outlawed it, knowing that pillow talk can lead a senior commander to tell things to his wife. It is one thing when talking to one woman - it is a military catastrophe when he tells the same secret to four women.

Among Shiites, pleasure marriages are tolerated. In the top military command of Iran, it is not. Both these stories - among other things - show just how serious the Iranians are about their military secrets, and how un-penetrated they are by spies and informers.

Saddam's commanders lied to him about their WMDs? Perhaps. They also probably said too much to their wives - or mistresses - during their pillow talk.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.



Your comments


To be honest, Hazbollah does not have any modern weapons. So attacking Israel will be an act of suicide to them.
Alex
Dubai,UAE
Posted: July 08, 2008, 14:24

Interesting view on the issue.
Amir
Dubai,U.A.E.
Posted: July 08, 2008, 12:36

The British government will, regrettably, not act to stop an Israeli attack on Iran because it places a misguided and misplaced importance on the importation of Israeli-cut diamonds and Israeli manufactured cluster bombs, plus the export of British arms by UK-based, Israeli companies. To put this in perspective, an unwarranted and illegal attack on Iran will bring immediate reprisals and deaths around the world. It will certainly either cut or severely restrict the passage of oil exports from the Gulf with the likely consequence of the price of petrol being doubled in Europe. All this because Israel is desperate to retain its hegemony in the Middle East. The British government has a categorical duty to stop such an attack by Israel - a secret nuclear state that has grown far too powerful, to the detriment of both Europe and the Middle East.
COLIN
London,UK
Posted: July 08, 2008, 12:04

Israel, the US, and the West are not after Iran's alleged WMD or Nuclear capability, but to delete their Islamic identity, that's why Iran is stubborn, not to yield.
Ansar
Ramnad,INDIA
Posted: July 08, 2008, 11:23

As their previous mistake has been done by the head of government of the earth for nothing, they should understand what their real value in history is
Reajul
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: July 08, 2008, 01:53

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