| Ander Nieuws week 46 / nieuwe oorlog 2006 |
November 7, 2006
By Dilip Hiro
While Russia's opposition to any sanctions against Iran on its nuclear programme has stalemated diplomatic moves at the United Nations security council, the United States seems to be pressing ahead with its contingency military plans against Iran.
On October 30 the Pentagon led a five-day naval exercise, codenamed Leading Edge, in the Persian Gulf involving the participation of Britain, France, Italy, Australia - and Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet. There were observers from 19 other countries, including a few in the Gulf region. And this led the Pentagon to declare, falsely, that the naval manoeuvres involved 25 countries.
The Pentagon claimed that the military exercise was part of the three-year-old US Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) aimed at training the assorted naval forces to block the transport of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related equipment, and missiles. This was treated sceptically by most experts and analysts.
The aim of the naval manoeuvres, they surmise, was to find ways of unblocking the Straits of Hormuz should it be blocked by Iran as a reprisal for air strikes on its known and suspected nuclear facilities by America or Israel. A quarter of the world's oil output passes through the narrow Straits of Hormuz. That proportion rises to 40% when petroleum exported by tankers is considered.
Little wonder that Iran condemned the US-led Leading Edge naval exercise as "dangerous and suspicious", aimed at fomenting crisis on the eve of the mid-term US Congressional elections.
On November 2 Iran staged its 11-day-long military exercise, codenamed Exalted Prophet II, involving the ground, air and naval forces of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which is charged with protecting the country's land and marine borders.
IRGC commander-in-chief General Yahya Rahim Safavi said that the military manoeuvres were aimed at boosting Iran's defences against "possible threats from forces outside the region" - a thinly veiled reference to the United States and Israel. He added that the war games would be conducted in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, and 10 provinces of Iran, and that the members of the ideologically driven Baseej militia, will also participate in the war games.
Safavi announced that the IRGC's air force will fire "dozens of missiles, including Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles with cluster warheads". The Shahab-3 missiles, possessing a striking range of 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometres), are capable of hitting Israel as well as US military bases in the Gulf. The missile firings were followed by heliport operations in the strategic Straits of Hormuz.
In their exercises on land in the provinces along the coastlines and borders with the neighbouring countries, the IRGC's ground forces used a new generation of anti-helicopter, anti-armour and anti-personnel weapons.
The overall purpose is not only military but also political and diplomatic. The leaders of the Islamic republic of Iran wish to demonstrate to the Iranian public that the country's armed forces are vigilant and ready to retaliate against any military strikes on Iran by America or Israel. They also stress that these war games are not directed against the neighbouring states all of which are Muslim, except Armenia.
As it happens, this is the third time this year that the IRGC has conducted war games. In April it tested new missiles and high-speed underwater torpedoes, all of them developed and manufactured domestically.
That exercise was followed by another in August against the background of a UN security council resolution demanding that Iran should suspend its enrichment of uranium by the end of that month. Iran ignored the resolution.
Many analysts regarded the earlier war games by Iran as thinly disguised warnings that it was capable of severing the oil shipping lanes emanating from the petroleum-rich region that are crucial to the economies of the west.
The Pentagon's response in the form of its Leading Edge naval exercise raises the temperature.
It is salutary to recall that in the long-running Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, it was the US navy that intervened in that conflict by blowing up two Iranian oil rigs, and destroying or immobilizing two Iranian frigates and sinking an Iranian missile boat in April 1988. Tehran was in no state to retaliate against such an onslaught and agreed reluctantly to end the war four months later.
Now, however, going by the latest show of its homemade weaponry, Iran is better equipped to respond to a military assault.
Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
| Ander Nieuws week 46 / nieuwe oorlog 2006 |