Peter Goodspeed: Iran’s threat to plunge Middle East into war may be to rally support at home (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) 02/22/12)
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Iran’s leaders may be trying to rally support at home by adopting a
belligerent stance towards critics of its nuclear program and
threatening to plunge the Middle East into war, some experts say.
Tensions in the Middle East rose steadily Tuesday as Iran threatened
to launch preemptive strikes against Israel and the West.
A day after it launched a massive military exercise to simulate
defending against attacks on key nuclear sites — and two days after
vowing to cut off oil sales to Britain and France in retaliation for
sanctions — the deputy head of Iran’s armed forces said that, if
threatened, Iran will launch preemptive assaults against its foes.
“Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger
Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act
without waiting for their actions,” Mohammed Hejazi the deputy head
of Iran’s armed forces told the Fars news agency.
His comments came as Iran is reeling from economic sanctions imposed
by Washington and the West and as talk of a potential Israeli
military strike against Iran has escalated.
Iran’s leaders see themselves as victims of an undeclared war being
waged by a coalition of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and
some European states, said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, a Middle East expert
at Syracuse University in New York state.
They are under threat from cyber attacks like the Stuxnet virus;
someone is killing their nuclear scientists and blowing up their
nuclear facilities; the United States and Europeans have ratcheted up
sanctions and are increasing contacts with Iranian opposition groups.
“Tehran’s leaders are trying to rally support by speaking tough to
the outside world,” Mr. Boroujerdi said. “They are trying to use
threats to enhance their position. By reading the riot act to their
nemesis, they are saying we too have aces up our sleeve and are
capable of acting.
“I think this is Iran’s way of saying, ‘Look out, we can reach out
and touch you.’”
Some elements within Iran’s ruling elite may think it is worthwhile
to provoke some sort of military response from Israel, simply to
solidify their own hold on power.
“I think there’s a legitimate concern that you have hardline actors
in Tehran who feel like the walls are closing around them
internationally and domestically there is this tremendous popular
disaffection. And one way to try to resuscitate revolutionary fervor
is to invite an attack, provoke some type of a military conflagration
for their own domestic expediency,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran
expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Earlier this month, Alireza Forghani, a former governor of Kish
Province and an ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, published
an essay on the Internet entitled. “Iran Must Attack Israel by 2014.”
The article echoes Israeli claims for the need to attack Iran’s
nuclear sites before Tehran enters a “zone of immunity” in which its
nuclear program can not be rolled back, claiming it would be possible
to “annihilate Israel” in just nine minutes through a series of
rocket and missile attacks centred on specific urban centres, nuclear
facilities and military targets.
The Iranian article appeared just a day after Ayatollah Khamenei
delivered a Feb. 3 speech in which he talked of the need to wipe out
the “cancerous growth” of Israel.
Iran has adopted an increasingly bellicose tone just days after it
was accused of sending teams of assassins after Israeli diplomatic
targets in India, Georgia and Thailand last week.
There has been a steady drumbeat of threats and counter-threats that
have seen Iran promise to block international oil shipments through
the Straits of Hormuz should oil sanctions cripple its own economy.
Iranian naval threats in the Strait of Hormuz have been matched by a
U.S. naval build-up, supplemented with warships from Britain and
France, in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has
also recently lost three surveillance drones over Iran and Iran
claims it broke up a U.S. spy ring and has condemned a U.S. citizen
“At times of crisis it is usually easier to control the domestic
situation and it is easier, they think, to make the public make
sacrifices,” said Ali Alfoneh, an expert on Iran’s Revolutionary
Guards at the American Enterprise Institute. “For example, during the
war with Iraq the Iranian public paid a very, very high price. But
the public was ready to do that because of the war.
“Here the regime is running a risk. They think it may be easy to
mobilize the public, even when there are many deep divisions within
Iran’s political elites. I’m not sure the public will go along.”
It is significant, he said, that Iran made its threat to launch
preemptive strikes against Israel just one day before Iran officially
starts the campaign period for parliamentary elections scheduled for
So far, Iran has settled for talking tough and attacking soft
targets, Mr. Alfoneh said.
“This is very important because if Iran would attack hard targets,
military targets in Israel, that could spin out of control. That
could bring about a war, which Iran is not interested in,” he said.
Right now, the United States appears to have launched an intense
diplomatic campaign to convince Israel to postpone any possible
attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
After spending a week meeting with officials in Israel, General
Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, returned
to Washington on the weekend and told reporters, “I don’t think it is
a wise thing at this moment for Israel to launch a military attack on
He said a strike “would be destabilizing” and “not prudent.”
U.S. National Defence Director Tom Donilon and U.S. National Director
of Intelligence James Clapper are expected to preach the same warning
all this week during visits to Israel in advance of a March 5 White
House meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
U.S. President Barack Obama. (© 2012 National Post, a division of
Postmedia Network Inc. 02/22/12)
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