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Iran flaunts options on striking back at West
[April 27, 2006]

Iran flaunts options on striking back at West

(Dallas Morning News, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) LONDON _ As the prospect of military confrontation grows by the day, Iran is warning that it has many ways of making the West, and particularly the United States, suffer if it tries to interfere with the Islamic republic's nuclear-research program.

Iranian leaders have embarked on a diplomatic offensive across Asia and the Middle East to rally support for what it claims as its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Western nations are preparing action at the United Nations to punish Iran for what they say are efforts to build nuclear weapons.

Iranian officials have warned that the consequences of any action _ even a limited economic embargo _ could be severe. Tehran has paraded troops, issued photos of its submarine fleet and unveiled a new medium-range missile to underscore its military capabilities.

And with a network of well-entrenched operatives and sympathizers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and throughout the Persian Gulf, Iran has a long list of options to strike Western interests where it hurts, according to recent studies.

Those capabilities could help explain why the West is toning down hawkish rhetoric and being cautious in its response to Iran's announcement two weeks ago that it had crossed a crucial threshold in its uranium-enrichment program.

"The United States really is stuck in a very difficult position in dealing with Iran, given those parameters and our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Michael Greig, a political scientist at the University of North Texas.

"We often talk about Iran's ability to cut off energy supplies from the region. Iran is in a good position to cause us great harm, but I think we're actually in a reasonably good position to impose a significant amount of economic harm on Iran," he added.

The signals from Tehran regarding its ability to retaliate have been anything but subtle. In an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper last week, the spokesman of a Tehran-based group announced it was recruiting Iranians and other Muslims internationally to conduct suicide-bomb attacks.

Volunteers, who reportedly already number in the hundreds, are allowed to specify whether they prefer to carry out operations against Israel or "the occupiers of Islamic lands," an apparent reference to U.S. and other Western troops based in various Muslim countries.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, warned in a recent speech that Iran "has created a powerful army that can powerfully defend the political borders and the integrity of the Iranian nation and cut off the hand of any aggressor and place the sign of disgrace on their forehead."

A few days earlier, he stated, "Our answer to those who are angry about Iran achieving the full nuclear fuel cycle is just one phrase. We say: Be angry at us, and die of this anger."

His predecessor and political rival, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has appeared to close ranks with the president over the issue of confronting the West. "We wish to avoid any confrontation. But if it is imposed on us, we are prepared to face it," Rafsanjani said during a trip to Kuwait.

He also used the trip to underscore that even Kuwait, a staunch U.S. ally, would not dare support the West in any confrontation. "We are friends with the neighboring states, especially Kuwait," he said, and if the United States attacks Iran, "they will definitely not cooperate with the U.S.," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.


Anoushiravan Ehteshami, a British-Iranian professor of international affairs, said Iran's leaders are making clear that they can hit back at Western interests if pushed.

"Obviously, it's a very worrying trend, and it is emblematic of a much bigger problem of, first, not knowing what Iran is capable of doing and, secondly, fear of what we know Iran is capable of doing," he said.

"Suicide bombing is only one option. After all, it was Iran that set the pattern for this back in the `80s" in Lebanon, he added. "But they have a much wider palette of options available" today.

Shiite Muslim Iran remains the principle financial, military and political backer of Lebanon's most powerful Shiite guerrilla group and political party, Hezbollah, Ehteshami explained.

Tehran also enjoys ongoing close ties with Syria and the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Iran recently pledged to send $50 million in aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, defying an international aid cutoff to pressure Hamas into renouncing violence and accepting Israel's right to exist.

If pushed hard enough, Ehteshami said, "Iran can make its presence felt in Iraq" by boosting aid to Shiite militant groups that are currently confronting U.S. and British troops there.


In the new book "Tehran Rising," author Ilan Berman notes that the U.S. war on terrorism has inadvertently removed two of the major brakes on Iranian power in the region: Saddam Hussein's dictatorship in Iraq and the Islamist Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

Taking advantage of a peace dividend following the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Tehran has built up its military might to levels unequaled in the region, according to statistics compiled by Berman from various authoritative U.S. and British research institutes. With 540,000 troops, 1,655 tanks, six submarines, 29 naval combat vessels and more than 500 combat aircraft and helicopters, Iran's military is bigger than the combined forces of Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

"For their part, Iranian leaders have begun to wake up to a startling reality. Quite suddenly, their country has become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the war on terror," wrote Berman, a professor of global security at the National Defense University in Washington.

"By breaking up the old order in neighboring countries, the United States has given the Islamic Republic unimagined opportunities to influence the region." Even if Washington is only now waking up to that reality, he added, "None of this was lost on Iran's neighbors."


(c) 2006, The Dallas Morning News.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

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