September 9, 2004
Iran Missiles Graver Security Threat Than ‘Spy’
The building tempest surrounding Israel, the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and allegations of spying shouldn't obscure the real problem at the root of it all: Iran's WMDs.
The most urgent question is this: Will Iran attack Israel if its nuclear sites are attacked by the latter or the United States?
Iranian military commanders have been outspoken on the issue in recent weeks: Yadollah Javani, head of the Revolutionary Guards political bureau, said that the "entire Zionist territory" was currently within range of Iran's missiles. Guards commander Gen. Rahim Safavi warned that Iran will crush Israel if it was "mad enough to attack Iran's national interests." Bagher Zolghadr, second in command of the Guards, said that if Israel dared attack nuclear centers in Iran, the army would not hesitate to demolish the Dimona nuclear reactor, along with Israel's nuclear arsenal.
Iran's Defense Minister, Ali Shamkhani, 49-year-old Guards commander-turned-rear admiral, announced two weeks ago yet another successful test of the country's Shahab-3 missile, capable of carrying an 800 kilogram conventional or NBC (nuclear, biological or chemical) warhead 1,200 kilometers away.
Shamkhani said: "The Israelis are trying hard to improve the capacity of their missiles, so are we."
Some experts say Iran tested the Shahab-4, a missile believed to be based on the Russian SS-4 or the North Korean Nodong-2, the existence of which is denied by the regime but is confirmed to be under secret development. The missile is thought to have a range of more than 2,000 kilometers and is capable of carrying a warhead possibly weighing more than 1.5 tons.
Naturally, the test raised concerns in Washington. Although some experts hinted that it amounted to more of a political statement than a real display of new capabilities, Israel was quick to announce it was going to test again its Arrow anti-missile system.
But regional developments say Israel has to wait for its turn to be "dealt with."
The anti Israeli flare-up came at a time when in Iraq, the Shiite Medhi Army led by firebrand pro-Iran cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was entrenched in the holy mosque of Ali in Najaf, the country's sacred Shiite capital. Worried not to hurt religious sentiments, Iraqi and U.S. government forces were trying to smoke them out, with little success. They had to wait for Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani's interference to end the duel. Other Shiite cities were also engulfed in unrest.
A senior Iraqi government official played videotapes for reporters showing seized boxes of weapons intended for Mehdi Army. Iraqi minister Wael Abdel Latif, said the weapons came from Iran. Scores of Iranians were arrested among the Mahdi Army's fighters, according to press reports.
Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the United States of "shamelessly" massacring the Shiite population in Najaf, in spite of its preaching democratic values. Other top religious leaders in the country followed suit. If their remarks served as spiritual and political ammunition for those fighting U.S. and other forces in and around Najaf's holy shrines, then the military commanders' remarks would be more than simple saber-rattling. Those entrenched die-hards encircled by the world's most powerful army, and others scattered all over Iraq, would certainly do with some military backup as well.
Shamkhani told the al-Jazeera satellite television network on Aug. 18: "America is not the only one present in the region. We are also present, from Khost to Kandahar in Afghanistan; we are present in the Gulf and we can be present in Iraq."
He very cleverly chose al-Jazeera for the lengthy interview. In fact, his flawless Arabic is much more clearly heard and understood in Najaf and Baghdad than in Tel Aviv.
The next day, Abdolrahman Rashed, former editor in chief of the prestigious Arab daily Asharqalawsat, wrote in London: "Iran's missiles might be aimed at Israel, but let us not forget that Iran has never, even by mistake, had any clash with Israel. The only possible probability is that their objective lies among their neighbors. And then there is Iraq. "
At least one such example occurred in April 18, 2001, when Iran launched more than 70 Scud-3 missiles in a matter of hours against more than seven targets in southern and eastern Iraq, aiming to eliminate bases of the Iranian opposition Mujahidin Khalq Organization in Iraq.
Unlike Saddam Hussein, the clerics ruling Iran are excellent strategists. They think that now is their chance to aim their adversary's Achilles' heel, which they call the "Iraqi quagmire." In this battle, anti-Israeli rhetoric is a weapon second to none.
But, unlike Rashed's conclusion, they certainly would not stay there. It certainly has to be "Iraq first," but there would certainly be others next. Let us not forget their famous mobilizing motto during their eight-year war with Saddam Hussein: "The road to Jerusalem passes through Karbala."
Iran's clerics think much the same way today.
Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.