April 15, 2005
Iran's second frontBy Douglas Hanson and Dr. Mohamed Ibn Guadi
The US is executing a well—planned regional and global strategy in our war against Islamo—fascism, as indicated in recent reports. The geo—political thrusts and counter—thrusts in this conflict are being deftly managed by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and the other members of GW's national security team. The SecState's visit to Asia and the announcement that the US will sell F—16s to Pakistan and other military gear to India reveal a maneuver to counter Iran's latest gambit to maintain its status as the region's terror—master.
Looking at a map of the entire region, stretching from Israel on the Eastern Mediterranean to the Indian sub—continent, prior to 9—11, we would see a massive land area anchored on the flanks by two relatively prosperous democracies: Israel and India. The nations between these two countries were essentially a vast land barrier comprised of radical Islamo—fascist states. From this perspective, Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom take on even more significance beyond the obvious benefit of getting rid of two bloodthirsty dictatorships. By invading Afghanistan and Iraq, the US and the Coalition struck at the dual keystones of this massive barrier, and have started the process of tearing down the wall between the two democracies on the flanks of this volatile region.
Iran was not about to take the invasion of Iraq, a country on their Western Front, lying down. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) immediately went on the offensive and began infiltrating agents of influence into the newly liberated Iraq. Iranian—trained and —supported mercenaries twice took on the Coalition with operations centered in Najaf and Baghdad's Sadr City. Iran also embarked on a campaign of sabotage against Iraq's oil terminals south of the Al—Faw Peninsula in the Persian Gulf using the same tactics they used in the Tanker Wars of the 1980s. Ultimately, the so—called 'Shia' uprisings were defeated in September of 2004, and the oil terminals were secured with additional US and UK naval forces.
The US has also taken a more aggressive posture in the Persian Gulf, perhaps signaling future military action if the mullahs insist on continuing their nuclear weapons program. As if to emphasize our intentions, it was reported last month that the US is sending even more naval forces into the Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
It should be clear to the mullahs that the initiative on their Western Front has decisively shifted in favor of the Coalition. Iraq is steadily increasing the capabilities of its security forces, thereby enhancing its ability to protect its border with Iran. Also, the heavily reinforced Naval and Marine forces in the Gulf not only ensure a swift and deadly response to any Iranian attack on Gulf shipping, but provide the ability to initiate offensive action to seize key terrain in and around the Straits of Hormuz if necessary.
Faced with the failure of their not—so—covert operations in Iraq, and their inability to shut down Iraq's oil trade without suffering severe consequences, Iran's leaders are now implementing a course of action similar to one that Hitler adopted after the failure to win the Battle of Britain over 60 years ago: turn east and establish a Second Front.
Contrary to popular belief, Iran is not surrounded. They have one remaining open avenue to influence the outcome of our campaign in the Central Region. By turning east through Baluchistan and dangling the economic and energy carrots to the eastern democratic anchor in the region, India, and our nominal ally in the War of Terror, Pakistan, the mullahs hope to keep their regime intact, while suppressing the nascent democratic movement within their borders.
Rather than massed conventional armies, Iran's Second Front involves the revival of an expanded energy trade scheme coupled with politico—military pressure using the old stand—by of terror attacks. Simply put, India and Pakistan are energy consumers, and Iran will use its vast energy reserves to its geo—political advantage. Iran has the world's second largest natural gas reserves at an estimated 812 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), while India's and Pakistan's reserves amount to only 23 Tcf and 22 Tcf respectively. (A detailed discussion of South Asia's energy needs and the Iran—India Pipeline can be found here.)
The strategic import of all of these facts and figures is simple: India's growing economy has a daily natural gas requirement shortfall of almost 30 million cubic meters per day (mcmd). Pakistan is no better off, with its demand for natural gas increasing by about 50 percent in a few short years. Iran is also a consumer of natural gas, but its huge reserves puts it in a position to economically squeeze its neighbors to the east, and to potentially split off our two important allies in the War on Terror.
The major source of Iran's natural gas reserves is the South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf. The South Pars is the world's largest gas field with an estimated capacity of 436 Tcf. Control of the South Pars area is a shared arrangement between Iran and Qatar (Iran seems to be a fan of these joint control agreements, since it also had a similar joint occupation arrangement of the oil—rich island of Abu Musa with UAE, until Iran took complete control in 1992). Iran has wanted to build an Iran—India pipeline since 1993, and in 1995, Pakistan and Iran signed an initial agreement to build a pipeline from the on—shore South Pars terminal to Karachi, Pakistan. The extension of the pipeline from Pakistan to India was a logical next step given India's large energy requirements and Iran's need to expand its export markets.
But all of the assumed mutual economic and cultural benefits to be gained from this 'Peace Pipeline' project were based on a pre—911 construct. Referring to the map in the detailed pipeline report, it shows how the route of the pipeline and current world events place the entire project in jeopardy. The pipeline starts in Asaluyeh, Iran (only 150 miles southeast of the Bushehr nuclear power reactor) on the coast of the Persian Gulf close to South Pars gas fields. From there it goes to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas to Khuzdar, Pakistan, to Multan, Pakistan, and from Multan, the pipeline travels to Delhi, India.
Unfortunately for Iran, the pipeline must pass through Baluchistan, one of the most rugged and fearsome areas in the Central Region. Neither Iran nor Pakistan has any control over this area. Fiercely independent, some Baluchs have been in the employ of Saddam Hussein since the Iran—Iraq war. And, the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Khost and Kandahar in Afghanistan seem to indicate that terrorist forces are using Baluch territory for their base camps.
Pakistan has also had their problems with this 'Wild West' province. The BBC reported that Pakistani forces had clashed with Baluch tribesmen who are demanding greater political autonomy and are demanding a greater share of revenue from the province's natural gas reserves. Not only that, since Baluchistan spans the entire Iran—Pakistan border area, pipeline construction workers and equipment must be secured from tribal warlords and terrorists in an area that can be arguably called 'Terrorist Central.'
In one the most delicious ironies in the War on Terror, Iran, one of the Axis of Evil nations and the world's premier sponsor of terrorism, may be done in by an entity of Saddam's own creation. Since the fall of Iraq and Afghanistan, and because Pakistan is cooperating with the Coalition, the terrorists have been forced to fall back on this area to establish their version of a 'national redoubt.' Unfortunately for Iran, the pipeline that they so dearly want to build in order to bribe our democratic friends in India will have very long odds of succeeding going through Baluchistan.
Nevertheless, the US has mounted an effective counter to Iran's move to the east. During her visit to India, Secretary Rice referred to the pipeline deal when she stated,
"'Our views concerning Iran are very well known and we have communicated to the Indian government our concerns about gas pipeline cooperation between Iran and India,' Rice told a news conference in New Delhi. 'We need to look at the broader question of how India meets its energy needs in the next decade.' "
The sale of the F—16s to Pakistan is said to have angered some Indian leaders. But this sale must not be viewed in isolation, since this is only the beginning of a comprehensive strategy to defend against Iran's Second Front. The Australian reports that the US is embarking upon a wide—ranging plan to help India become a major power in the 21st century. The US will boost India's military capabilities with sales of fighter aircraft, anti—missile defense systems, and the latest digitized command and control gear. And most notably, the US and India will cooperate on economic and energy initiatives.
Without the co—operation of both India and Pakistan, the pipeline project would obviously go nowhere, and the delicate nuclear balance between Pakistan and India would have to be constantly monitored by the US. In a sense, the role of peacemaker would have fallen to Iran, since the pipeline would cross both Indian and Pakistani territory. No Iranian pipeline would mean no regional investments, which in turn would stifle mutual economic benefits that would likely lead to further instability in the area. GW is not about to accede the role of 'peacemaker' to an Axis of Evil nation.
Of course, Russia lurks in the background, since it is rebuilding the German—made nuclear reactor at Bushehr in Iran. Putin is now confronted with a cruel dilemma. If he supports the US in pressuring the mullahs to give up their nuclear quest, he and his cronies are not only likely to lose juicy contracts, but also yield to China a considerable lever of influence in the region. In the final years of the Clinton presidency, the "Iranian question" became one of our most important foreign policy challenges. Of course, his national security team adopted the standard approach of the time — punt. Russia's Iranian problem is that they don't have Bill Clinton to kick around anymore, whereas GW did not hesitate in placing Iran on the Axis of Evil list, which effectively painted a big bulls—eye on Tehran, and labeled any support of the regime as deserving of diplomatic, economic, or military action.
Iran is in a pickle. Its Western Front effort has gone nowhere and is under increasing pressure from the military forces of the US and the Coalition in the Persian Gulf and Iraq. The mullahs' attempt to bribe India and Pakistan with the promise of cheap energy and a 'jobs program' to construct the pipeline will come to naught. Also, the largest terrorist stronghold in the Central Region will see to it that maximum pain will be inflicted on any attempt to run the pipeline through Baluchistan.
There are very few options left to the Islamic Republic, none of which are very satisfactory from the mullah's point of view. First, it can do a complete about face, and establish a formal relationship again with the United States. This would entail giving up its nuclear projects, completely halting its intervention in Shia areas of Iraq, and its stopping its political and economic support of terror groups in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah. This option seems implausible, considering the decades of enormous investment by the mullahs in their theocratic political and economic power structure.
A second possibility is that Iran continues to play the current cat and the mouse game, by employing the tried and true tactics of delay and deception in order to save time and to avoid the risk of American overt and covert intervention. This option also involves continuing to play the "European—3" (Great Britain, France and Germany) against the US while simultaneously threatening attacks against shipping in the Persian Gulf , or hinting at accelerated production of nuclear weapons material and delivery systems. The mullahs realize, however, that this second option can only last so long with GW in command of beefed up military forces in the Central Region.
Sources indicate that a third option is frequently discussed in the inner circles of Iranian leadership: that of secret negotiations with the United States, including agreements on oil. The losers in this deal would certainly be the Iranian people. Not only would the rich natural resources of the country be plundered for the likely benefit of the insiders and cronies ruling Iran, but the mullahs would have even a freer hand to continue their political repression. Despite the desire of Western energy companies to exploit the huge oil and natural gas reserves in Iran, the administration will not embark on a course of action that would fall short of establishing a democracy in Iran. President Bush understands that any short—term gain would surely come back and haunt us in the future with a revitalized terror campaign built with Western capital.
The ideological nature of the Islamic Republic prevents Iran from adopting a realistic national policy to avoid its coming economic decline, or a possible military operation by the world's only remaining super—power. And, if the mullahs attempt to play the E—3 card to counter the US, it will hurt more than help their situation.
The people of Iran are watching, and are increasingly restive and belligerent towards the terrorist regime. The mullahs need to realize that their demise will, in fact, be sooner rather than later.
Douglas Hanson is the American Thinker's military affairs correspondent.
Dr. Mohamed Ibn Guadi is an Islamologist at Strasbourg University and a researcher in Semitic Philology. He was a policy analyst for the Iran Free Press, and is currently preparing a book on Islam and the West.