May 20, 2005
Iran's military challengeBy Mehran Riazaty
The last week's lethal anti—American demonstrations in many countries across the Islamic world, with about 15 people killed during an protest in Afghanistan, serve as yet another reminder of the widespread Muslim hostility faced by the United States. Muslim clerics are masters of inspiring and manipulating Muslim people's emotion against West. Nowhere more so than in Iran.
Iran also maintains a substantial military establishment. A brief review of activities and statements concerning Iran's existing capacities is in order, especially given the looming threat of development of nuclear weapons for these forces.
Iran's Defense and Intelligence Capabilities
On May 7, Iran's Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani elaborated the strategic principles of Iran's Defense Ministry for the future:
1) Self—sufficiency in weapons production;
On May 15, Commander of the Navy Rear Admiral Abbas Mohtaj said Iran has developed advanced cannons and different types of missiles. He noted that the Iranian naval forces are present along the Sea of Oman, Persian Gulf and Hormuz Strait. He added 'The Navy supports national interests with its full might.'
The Navy commander explained that 'Unity—84' war—games were held in an area covering 12,000 square miles in the Sea of Oman and the open seas of the northern Indian Ocean. He went on to say that 'In this drill, the surface, undersea and aerial units of the Navy displayed their might and grandeur.'
Iran's army includes 350,000 active—duty soldiers and 220,000 conscripts. The elite Revolutionary Guards number 120,000, many of them draftees. The Navy and Air Force total 70,000 men. The armed forces have about 2,000 tanks, 300 combat aircraft, three submarines, hundreds of helicopters, and at least a dozen Russian—made Scud missile launchers of the type Hussein used against Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. Iran also has an undetermined number of Shahab missiles based on North Korean designs that have ranges of about 1,500 miles.
Iran's security forces include a number of intelligence agencies with extensive overseas experience and assets, specialists say. Iran's highly classified Quds forces, which answer directly to Iranian leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are believed to have operations in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Turkey, the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and North Africa, as well as Europe and North America.
On Monday, Iran said it will give the European Union a last chance to salvage a nuclear deal at talks on May 23 before it resumes nuclear activities.
On May 15, the Iranian Parliament [Majlis] approved a bill on access to peaceful nuclear technology. Of 205 votes, 188 were in favor of the bill. Over 50 MPs, who called for review of the second reading of the bill, argued that nuclear negotiations will apparently fail since Europe did not fulfill its commitments. They criticized the Europeans for showing no goodwill since they paid no heed to Iran's proposals, which have allowed all—out supervision by Europe and even regular IAEA inspections.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that Iran hopes to find a formula which would guarantee its rights in the next round of nuclear talks with Europe due to be held next week. In the meantime, Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy director for international affairs of the Iran Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO), said that Iranian officials are insisting on the resumption of nuclear activities because no more time must be lost and the country's experts cannot be kept waiting any longer.
The U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said that the U.N. Security Council might become deadlocked if the United States and Britain ask the powerful panel to penalize Iran over its nuclear program. He said China and Russia might veto any action to impose sanctions on Iran in light of their close ties with Tehran. On May 14, Italy said will oppose sending Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council and imposing sanction against Tehran.
Khatami and Sadr
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami asserted on May 15 that the presence of the US troops in the region constitutes a real threat to peace and security in the region. In the meantime, chairman of the Iran's Parliament, Ali Hadad Adel lashed out at the US military presence in the region and said that the goal of combating terrorism had turned into a US pretext to invade the countries of the region. It is interesting to know that Moqtada al Sadr also criticized the American—led occupation and called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Sadr said 'The Occupier is trying to make up a sectarian war between the Sunnis and Shiites.'
While Iran's capabilities are not even remotely comparable to those of the United States, they do represent a serious presence, under the command of an implacable foe. As Iran's nuclear ambitions come closer to realization, they cannot be ignored.
The information in this article is based on public sources, and is derived from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Mehr News Agency, Fars News Agency, and Tehran Times News Agency.
Mehran Riazaty formerly worked as a media analyst, specializing on Iran, for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.