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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Iran: America's disastrous 'military option'

Herald Tribune:By Amin Saikal International Herald Tribune

CANBERRA Iran and the United States are now on a collision course. Despite warnings from America and Europe, who fear that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, Iran has resumed enriching uranium, with its new hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, insisting it has a right to do so under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for peaceful purposes.

President George W. Bush has reacted by declaring all options open, including military action, which has drawn a stiff rebuke not only from Tehran, but also from Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany, one of America's allies. Israel is also reported to have plans for targeting Iran's nuclear facilities. But the use of force against Iran could prove to be very costly for all sides. Iran has the capacity to respond in several nonmilitary and military ways in the event of a confrontation.

Iran could block the highly strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which the bulk of oil from the Gulf countries is exported to the outside world. Iran has a considerable military and naval power deployed to the north, with a preparedness to carry out commando actions to mine or sink a number of ships to block the strait.

The best way for the United States to keep the strait open would be to land troops on the Iranian side, which would mean a ground war - something that the Iranians would welcome, but America would want to avoid, especially in the light of its bitter experiences in Iraq.

Tehran can also flex its oil muscle. A substantial reduction or a complete halt in Iran's oil output about four million barrels a day would push up oil prices dramatically, with devastating economic and political consequences for the United States and its allies. Such a development would also be extremely harmful to Iran itself, but several Iranian policy makers have indicated in private that when it comes to the survival of the Islamic regime, no means will be spared.

Further, Tehran is capable of making life a lot more difficult for American forces and its allies in Iraq. Iran has so far acted with much restraint in Iraq, in the belief that the U.S. push for democracy will ultimately deliver political power to Iran's Shiite allies there. But in the event of an American or Israeli attack on Iran, all the gloves would come off.

Tehran could be expected not only to encourage its Iraqi allies to fight U.S. forces, but also to send thousands of commandos and suicide bombers to support them. It could also count on the support of many Shiite activist groups within its regional Islamic networks to target Americans and Israelis and their interests throughout the region. Given Iran's extensive cross-border ties with Afghanistan, it could even stir up trouble to undermine that country's fragile stability.

Tehran also has the capacity to take retaliatory military actions. It has a formidable military machine, equipped with both medium- and long-range Shihab missiles capable of carrying heavy payloads to hit American and Israeli targets as far as 2,000 kilometers away. While unable to match American firepower, Iranian forces could make up for this to some extent by their Islamist and nationalist fanaticism.

Given the costs of a confrontation, it is essential that Iran and its three European negotiating partners, Britain, France and Germany, work out a mutually acceptable agreement. Yet for this agreement to materialize, the parties involved may need to go beyond the nuclear issue to address the conditions that have led the Iranians to live in constant fear of the United States and Israel, and the latter two to become increasingly suspicious of Iran's nuclear intentions.

A viable resolution of the nuclear row depends very much on how the parties can come to terms with each other politically. If Washington recognized Tehran's Islamic regime, stopped constantly threatening Iran, and agreed to controls on weapons of mass destruction across the region - including Israel's - it would make considerable progress in dealing with the nuclear issue. But Washington has never wished Israel to become subject to the same constraints as the Arabs and Iranians.

(Amin Saikal is a professor of political science at the Australian National University in Canberra, where he directs the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies.)
CANBERRA Iran and the United States are now on a collision course. Despite warnings from America and Europe, who fear that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, Iran has resumed enriching uranium, with its new hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, insisting it has a right to do so under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for peaceful purposes.

President George W. Bush has reacted by declaring all options open, including military action, which has drawn a stiff rebuke not only from Tehran, but also from Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany, one of America's allies. Israel is also reported to have plans for targeting Iran's nuclear facilities. But the use of force against Iran could prove to be very costly for all sides. Iran has the capacity to respond in several nonmilitary and military ways in the event of a confrontation.

Iran could block the highly strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which the bulk of oil from the Gulf countries is exported to the outside world. Iran has a considerable military and naval power deployed to the north, with a preparedness to carry out commando actions to mine or sink a number of ships to block the strait.

The best way for the United States to keep the strait open would be to land troops on the Iranian side, which would mean a ground war - something that the Iranians would welcome, but America would want to avoid, especially in the light of its bitter experiences in Iraq.

Tehran can also flex its oil muscle. A substantial reduction or a complete halt in Iran's oil output about four million barrels a day would push up oil prices dramatically, with devastating economic and political consequences for the United States and its allies. Such a development would also be extremely harmful to Iran itself, but several Iranian policy makers have indicated in private that when it comes to the survival of the Islamic regime, no means will be spared.

Further, Tehran is capable of making life a lot more difficult for American forces and its allies in Iraq. Iran has so far acted with much restraint in Iraq, in the belief that the U.S. push for democracy will ultimately deliver political power to Iran's Shiite allies there. But in the event of an American or Israeli attack on Iran, all the gloves would come off.

Tehran could be expected not only to encourage its Iraqi allies to fight U.S. forces, but also to send thousands of commandos and suicide bombers to support them. It could also count on the support of many Shiite activist groups within its regional Islamic networks to target Americans and Israelis and their interests throughout the region. Given Iran's extensive cross-border ties with Afghanistan, it could even stir up trouble to undermine that country's fragile stability.

Tehran also has the capacity to take retaliatory military actions. It has a formidable military machine, equipped with both medium- and long-range Shihab missiles capable of carrying heavy payloads to hit American and Israeli targets as far as 2,000 kilometers away. While unable to match American firepower, Iranian forces could make up for this to some extent by their Islamist and nationalist fanaticism.

Given the costs of a confrontation, it is essential that Iran and its three European negotiating partners, Britain, France and Germany, work out a mutually acceptable agreement. Yet for this agreement to materialize, the parties involved may need to go beyond the nuclear issue to address the conditions that have led the Iranians to live in constant fear of the United States and Israel, and the latter two to become increasingly suspicious of Iran's nuclear intentions.

A viable resolution of the nuclear row depends very much on how the parties can come to terms with each other politically. If Washington recognized Tehran's Islamic regime, stopped constantly threatening Iran, and agreed to controls on weapons of mass destruction across the region - including Israel's - it would make considerable progress in dealing with the nuclear issue. But Washington has never wished Israel to become subject to the same constraints as the Arabs and Iranians.

(Amin Saikal is a professor of political science at the Australian National University in Canberra, where he directs the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies.)
CANBERRA Iran and the United States are now on a collision course. Despite warnings from America and Europe, who fear that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, Iran has resumed enriching uranium, with its new hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, insisting it has a right to do so under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for peaceful purposes.

President George W. Bush has reacted by declaring all options open, including military action, which has drawn a stiff rebuke not only from Tehran, but also from Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany, one of America's allies. Israel is also reported to have plans for targeting Iran's nuclear facilities. But the use of force against Iran could prove to be very costly for all sides. Iran has the capacity to respond in several nonmilitary and military ways in the event of a confrontation.

Iran could block the highly strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which the bulk of oil from the Gulf countries is exported to the outside world. Iran has a considerable military and naval power deployed to the north, with a preparedness to carry out commando actions to mine or sink a number of ships to block the strait.

The best way for the United States to keep the strait open would be to land troops on the Iranian side, which would mean a ground war - something that the Iranians would welcome, but America would want to avoid, especially in the light of its bitter experiences in Iraq.

Tehran can also flex its oil muscle. A substantial reduction or a complete halt in Iran's oil output about four million barrels a day would push up oil prices dramatically, with devastating economic and political consequences for the United States and its allies. Such a development would also be extremely harmful to Iran itself, but several Iranian policy makers have indicated in private that when it comes to the survival of the Islamic regime, no means will be spared.

Further, Tehran is capable of making life a lot more difficult for American forces and its allies in Iraq. Iran has so far acted with much restraint in Iraq, in the belief that the U.S. push for democracy will ultimately deliver political power to Iran's Shiite allies there. But in the event of an American or Israeli attack on Iran, all the gloves would come off.

Tehran could be expected not only to encourage its Iraqi allies to fight U.S. forces, but also to send thousands of commandos and suicide bombers to support them. It could also count on the support of many Shiite activist groups within its regional Islamic networks to target Americans and Israelis and their interests throughout the region. Given Iran's extensive cross-border ties with Afghanistan, it could even stir up trouble to undermine that country's fragile stability.

Tehran also has the capacity to take retaliatory military actions. It has a formidable military machine, equipped with both medium- and long-range Shihab missiles capable of carrying heavy payloads to hit American and Israeli targets as far as 2,000 kilometers away. While unable to match American firepower, Iranian forces could make up for this to some extent by their Islamist and nationalist fanaticism.

Given the costs of a confrontation, it is essential that Iran and its three European negotiating partners, Britain, France and Germany, work out a mutually acceptable agreement. Yet for this agreement to materialize, the parties involved may need to go beyond the nuclear issue to address the conditions that have led the Iranians to live in constant fear of the United States and Israel, and the latter two to become increasingly suspicious of Iran's nuclear intentions.

A viable resolution of the nuclear row depends very much on how the parties can come to terms with each other politically. If Washington recognized Tehran's Islamic regime, stopped constantly threatening Iran, and agreed to controls on weapons of mass destruction across the region - including Israel's - it would make considerable progress in dealing with the nuclear issue. But Washington has never wished Israel to become subject to the same constraints as the Arabs and Iranians.

(Amin Saikal is a professor of political science at the Australian National University in Canberra, where he directs the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies.)

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