by Larry C Johnson and W. Patrick Lang
Republicans and democrats need to put aside partisan differences and take measure of the threat Iran poses to our national security. This threat goes beyond supplying explosives that are trickling into Iraq use against our troops. This threat involves more than a reactivated program to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran, if things continue to go its way, finds itself on the threshhold of controlling vast oil resources that stretch from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. No, I have not imbibed the neo-con Koolaid. And, no, I’m not agitating that we open up a new war front in addition to fighting Iraqi insurgents. But we must come to grip with the following facts and craft a robust foreign and national security policy to counter this emerging threat before we find ourselves literally and figuratively over a barrel (an oil barrel at that). You have to go back to 330 B.C. and the reign of Darius the III to find a time when Iran enjoyed defacto control of such a swath of territory. Unlike the ancient Persians, the current leaders of Iran believe they are fulfilling the call of God in bringing Islamic rule and justice to a world stained by infidels.
FACT 1: Iran is well on its way to achieving de facto control of significant portions of Iraq. Tehran is backing shia cleric, Ali Sistani (a Persian, not an Arab) and Muqtada al Sadr. The Iranians are funneling money and training to supporters inside Iraq. The Iraqi shia control the political process and comprise the majority of the security forces that are deployed and operating with any effect in Iraq. The Iranian leaders and their Iraqi shia counterparts privately must wonder at their good fortune and can only conclude that God (Allah) is really on their side. Where they failed to dislodge Saddam Hussein during a bloody 8 year war that left Iran with more than a million casualties (in fact, Iraq defeated Iran) the Iranian leaders now have their supporters and agents occupying key political positions in Iraq. Best of all, the United States, which had backed Saddam during the first Gulf War, did the dirty work and deposed the Baath party, the Sunni leadership, and Saddam. Iran did not sit by passively watching the change, they jumped into the fray and helped the Shia in Iraq seize the reins of power thru the ballot box.
FACT 2: Iran is in a dominant position in Lebanon. The murder earlier this year of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri has left Lebanon under the de facto military guard of Hezbollah. Iran remains the main benefactor, supporter, and advisor to Hezbollah. If you control the dominant force in Lebanon you are in a good position to control Lebanon itself. Although suspicion fell heavily on Syria for the assassination of Hariri, there is a strong circumstantial case pointing to Tehran’s hand in the affair. Hariri, a Sunni and Wahhabi with close ties to Saudi Arabia, was violently removed. While Syria’s position within Lebanon has been weakened, in part by the withdrawal of its Army from Lebanon, Iran’s position is stronger.
FACT 3: Iran is in a stronger position to reach out to and support Shia minorities in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Iran is an experienced hand in fomenting violence in Saudi Arabia, for example. The 1996 bombing of the US military housing complex in Dharan, Saudi Arabia was carried out in part with the logistical assistance of Iranian intelligence operatives. With the addition of a base of operations in Iraq, Iran can work more easily in cultivating supporters in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and develop cadre that can threaten those regimes. While the die is not cast and Iran’s victory not certain, things are certainly going Tehran’s way. Ironically the terrorist leader Zarqawi is a potential ally of ours in gearing up to battle the shia. Remember, it was Zarqawi who described the Shia as worse than infidels. Great! The only people he hates worse than us are the Shia.
There is no easy, painless solution to this threat. Confronting it will require rebuilding frayed relations with Saudi Arabia and Syria. It will also involve building a genuine international coalition, that enlists Russia, China, and Turkey. Despite a show of bravado on our part, the United States lacks the ground military force to intimidate the Iranians into backing down. An air campaign is a possibility but it would require commitment of enormous assets in a major effort and would only set the Iranian nuclear program back a few years. The road ahead will require a clever mix of diplomacy, covert operations, and economic sanctions. While we should prepare for the possibility that we may have to fight to defend the oil resources of Saudi Arabia from Iranian control we should not rely on the false assumption that we can fight our way out of this dilemma.