Tehran puts on a show of strength
By Sami Moubayed
"Should it happen that a strong government finds it may with impunity destroy a
weak people, then the hour strikes for that weak people to appeal to the League
of Nations to give its judgment in all freedom. God and history will remember
- Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia
DAMASCUS - Haile Selassie delivered these words in an address to the league
while the fascist army of Italy's Benito Mussolini was invading Ethiopia in
1936. The Italian boycotted the session, and Italian journalists booed and
hissed as the emperor was making his speech - not in French although he was
fluent at it - but in Amharic.
TIME magazine labeled Haile Selassie man of the year, but the
league failed at doing more than imposing partial - and ineffective - sanctions
Reportedly, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is an admirer, or as some
would say, observer, of the ex-emperor, who ruled Ethiopia from as regent from
1916 to 1930, then as emperor from 1930 to 1974.
The emperor's autobiography, My Life and Ethiopia's Progress is one of
the books recently read by the Iranian president; so he must be aware of this
famous speech and, perhaps, would make a similar address today, if he were
invited to speak before the General Assembly of the United Nations, as risk of
war increases between his country and the United States, and Israel.
Probably, Ahmadinejad will not be given the chance to deliver such an address,
and even if he did, the UN - just like its predecessor - would be completely
incapable of helping him.
Psychological warfare is on the rise. This weekend, 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".
These may sound like big words - similar to those barked by Saddam Hussein and
his information minister Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf in 2003 - but they carry real
impact on the psychology of American troops. Iraq - with its weak army and
corrupted regime - was impossible to chew for the Americans. Nobody can imagine
how difficult a war would be against 65 million Iranians, with a well-trained,
well-armed military indoctrinated with Shi'ite Islam and a strong sense of
purpose against the "great Satan".
In addition to building the graves - which has actually started - the Iranians
have several actions they could resort to if war were declared between now and
the end of President George W Bush's tenure at the White House in January.
They can incite the Shi'ites of nations where there are US military bases;
Saudi Arabia (33%), Kuwait (36%), Bahrain (80%). They can incite the Kurds of
Turkey and create problems with the Shi'ites of Yemen. They can unleash hell in
Iraq through proxies like the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Supreme
Iraqi Islamic Council. The Shi'ites of these countries have strong bonds to
Iran and would listen and respond, if duty calls, and if the Americans or
Israel went to war against Tehran.
The Iranians can - and would - close the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway
separating the Arabian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman and the North Arabian Sea.
This would cause already rocketing oil prices to go through the roof, as
pointed out by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Mohammad Ali
The strait is the world's second-busiest international water route, channeling
25% of the world's oil supplies on a daily basis. Over 75% of Japan's oil, for
example, runs through Hormuz. According to Mustapha al-Sayyed, a Syrian oil
expert, "if the strait is closed, alternate routes [if available] would have to
be used, and this will result in a loss of more than 20 million barrels per day
in the international market." He added that he expected oil prices to reach "no
less than US$500 a barrel". Currently, the oil flow through the strait stands
at more than 17 million barrels per day. The chaos in world markets this would
cause does not need explaining.
Iran has also reportedly positioned some of its Shahab-3B missiles, with a
range of nearly 2,000 kilometers, and according to certain press reports, is
ready to fire at the Dimona reactor inside Israel.
The arrogant tone of the Iranians came after the New York Times ran a story
saying that over 100 Israeli warplanes had carried out major training exercises
over the eastern Mediterranean on June 12, in preparation for a war on Tehran.
As part of the exercise, they flew the distance needed to reach the Iranian
city of Natanz, where a nuclear facility is based.
One day after the Israeli provocation, Deputy Prime Minister Shaoul Mofaz was
quoted in an Israeli daily as saying his country would attack Iran if it did
not halt its nuclear program, which Iran maintains is for civilian purposes
only. Meanwhile, an ex-Mossad (Israeli intelligence) chief, Shatai Shavit, told
The Sunday Telegraph of London that the "worst-case scenario" was that Tehran
would develop nuclear weapons within a year, and, therefore, require Israel to
strike at Iran.
Making the situation all the more difficult is a groundbreaking report written
by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, saying that in 2007,
the US Congress approved a $400 million request, sent by Bush, for covert
operations in Iran, aimed at destabilizing the regime.
The veteran US journalist has a track record when it comes to breaking big news
on how to deal with Iran and the so-called Shi'itification of the Arab world.
Last year, he gave an interview to CNN International, saying that Saudi Arabia
and the Americans were funding Sunni fundamental groups in Lebanon to stand up
In March 2007, he wrote an essay called "The Redirection" claiming the US was
once again funding and arming Sunni fundamentalists - just as it did with
al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1980s - to stand up to the Shi'ites in the Arab
world. It also said that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was involved
in destabilizing Iran from within by supporting ethnic and religious groups
that were at odds end with the country's majority Shi'ite population.
The architects of this policy, responsible for "the redirection", are US Vice
President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams and
former ambassador and current Saudi National Security Adviser, Prince Bandar
bin Sultan. Hersh said, "It's not that we don't want the Salafis to throw
bombs, it's who they throw them at - Hezbollah, Muqtada al-Sadr and the
Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran."
Many dismissed these words as part of Hersh's imagination, but this time, in
June, he adds evidence to his words, proving that if a war was not in the
horizon for Iran, something serious is being prepared by the Americans.
Interestingly, his new article is called "Preparing the Battlefield".
Reportedly, the $400 million is to be spent by the CIA and the Joint Special
Operations Command (JSOC) on arming terrorist groups like the Mujahideen Khalq
(MEK), supporting minority groups such as the Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, Azeris and
Balochi. That is, the 40% non-Persian citizens of Iran are being singled out to
break the regime from within.
Vali Nasr, an Iranian professor at Tufts University in the US, notes, "Just
because Lebanon, Iraq and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that
Iran is suffering from the same issue." He added, "Iran is an old country, like
France and Germany, and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The US is
overestimating ethnic tension in Iran." Nasr notes that the groups being
groomed by the Americans are either weak, or, at best, marginal, adding, "You
can always find some activist groups that will go and kill a policeman, but
working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the
One of the groups sleeping with the CIA, for example, comprises Sunni
fundamentalists, known as Balochis, who produced Ramzi Yousef, one of the key
players in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, and Khalid
Sheikh Mohammad, an organizer of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Another group
is Jundullah, a Salafi organization, while a third is the MEK, which has been
on the US State Department's list of A-class terrorists for over 10 years.
The Americans realize, however, these groups are not too strong, nor are they
capable of bringing down a strong regime like the one in Tehran. Any strike on
Iran that does not bring down the regime will only make it stronger. But at
least, and if their activities are accompanied by Israeli strikes on nuclear
sites in Natanz and Asfahan, then this might pressure Grand Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei to abandon his country's nuclear program.
Hersh acknowledges how disastrous any new Persian adventure would be, and
recounts a conversation between a Democratic senator friend of his, and US
Defense Secretary William Gates. The latter, realizing the horrors and
seriousness of such a threat, said that if the US bombed Iran, "We will create
generations of jihadis, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here
But despite all of what is being said and done, neither the United States nor
Israel can wake up tomorrow and fire missiles into Asfahan or Tehran. They need
Strange as it may sound, the Americans are actually pressuring Iran into doing
things and saying things that might give Israel or the US all the reason it
needs to go for a full-scale offensive, by December.
One is the closure of the Strait of Hormuz. Naturally, this closure would
happen - and serve as a very effective yet double-edged sword - around 24 to 48
hours before any strike takes place.
In 1967, Gamal Abdul-Nasser did a similar thing with the Strait of Tiran,
closing it to any shipment bound for Israel, thus blockading the Israeli port
of Eilat at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel considered the
closure to be illegal.
In the UN General Assembly immediately after the war, many nations argued that
even if international law gave Israel the right of passage, Israel was not
entitled to attack Egypt to assert it because the closure was not an "armed
attack" as defined by article 51 of the UN charter.
Similarly, international law professor John Quigley argued that Israel would
only be entitled to use such force as would be necessary to secure its right of
passage. Nasser did not see it coming. He thought that by these kinds of
actions, he would scare off the Israelis in 1967. What started out as a minor
border incident in April 1967 led to a full war that led to the loss of the
Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank.
Nasser did not see it coming in 1967. Saddam did not see it coming in 2003.
Leaders usually develop a blind spot when in the seat of power and it seems
that Iran as well, does not see it coming - or has realized, a little too late.