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The Threat from Iran


CSC 1997


Subject Area - Topical Issues




TITLE: The Threat from Iran


AUTHOR: Mr. Charles G. Summers


THESIS: The military threat from Iran that has received so much attention from the Clinton administration is secondary to the political threat to vulnerable Gulf State monarchies that is posed by Persian nationalists and Islamic leaders in Iran.


DISCUSSION: Since the fall of the Shah in 1979 and the rise of the Islamic State of Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini, the US has been at odds with Tehran. The hostage crises of 1979-80 soured all Americans on the Islamic Revolution, and made it easy for our leaders to justify "containing" the radical threat. Since the end of its war with Iraq in 1988, an aggressive rearmament has been ongoing in Iran, which has recently become a major concern for Washington and its Gulf allies. With Iraq's defeat in 1991, Tehran is hoping to become the dominant military power in the region. However, Tehran faces many internal problems that may preclude that goal from being reached. The economy is suffering and a rearmament of such a scope would bankrupt the nation. Tehran may be looking to acquire nuclear weapons to attain the goal more economically. Iran has also been politically active in the region; rebuffed by her Arab neighbors, Iran has resorted to destabilizing the Gulf monarchies in order to have its voice heard in regional affairs. The nature of the political threat has changed since Khomeini's death in 1989; it is now based more on Persian nationalist fervor than the religious fervor that Americans continue to associate with Iran.


CONCLUSION: After the 1991 Gulf War, Iran has no illusions about its military capabilities vis-a-vis the West. Tehran realizes long term success in eliminating Western influence is through diplomatic measures. The subversive threat that Iran poses to its neighbors is significant. The Islamic Revolution is still a distinct rallying point for the disenfranchised throughout the region. The US must recognize that the Islamic Republic has changed since Khomeini. Iran's focus is much more nationalistic now, with less emphasis on the religious extremism which was so evident in the 1980's. The ultimate US goal is regional security, and Iran needs to be engaged. But for every American finger pointed at Iran, for every cancelled trade agreement, the radicals in the Iranian government are confirmed and the moderates lose credibility. Our policy must change.








Internal Concerns 10

Foreign Affairs 14

Iraq 15

Saudi Arabia and the GCC 16

Russia and Central 19

Turkey 20

Israel 22



Future Developments 30












The United States (US), as a great world power and a leading oil consumer, has vital interests in the Middle East. These interests were broadly defined in a recent National Security Strategy:

American strategic concerns...include promoting stability and the security of our friends, maintaining a free flow of oil, curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, discouraging destabilizing conventional arms sales, countering terrorism, and encouraging a peace process.. consonant with our commitment to Israel's security.(1)

Even the casual Middle East observer can see that Iran plays a role in each of these stated objectives. Because of its antagonistic relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (US allies), Iran is definitely not a promoter of US security. Iran's strategic position dominating the Strait of Hormuz places it in an ideal position to effect the oil routes from the Persian Gulf. Moreover, Iran's rearmament plans to re-equip from losses in the Iran-Iraq War are keying on acquisition of both weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and advanced conventional weapons. Iran is still linked to state sponsored terrorism and Islamic fundamentalist groups throughout the region, and its support of violent opponents of the Arab-Israeli peace process in Lebanon and Israel is well documented. Finally, Iran's desire to purchase long range ballistic missiles that can reach Israel impacts on the US commitment to that country's security, despite the geographical distance between the two nations.

At first glance, any attempt to understand the Islamic Republic of Iran seems possible. Americans have several preconceived ideas about Iran: fundamentalist, religious zealots; oil rich and wealthy; ethnic Persians in a homogeneous society; and above all, haters of all things Western. But this picture is very deceiving. While religion is certainly important to the average Iranian, much of the fervor associated with the 1979 revolution has dissipated, especially since Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989. Iran can be described as rich in oil and natural gas (proven reserves of over 100 billion barrels of oil, and more reserves of natural gas than anyone in the region) but it is not a wealthy country. In fact, its economy is a shambles. Ethnic Persians account for only 51% of the population. Finally, there is much about the West that Iranians admire; many current leaders were educated in the West and hope for rapproachment. If you delve into the question of, "Who is Iran?" the answers become impossible to ascertain. Inside Iran, foreign and domestic policy debates are often heated. Iran stands just as solidly on controversial issues facing its leadership as does the United States. Contradictions abound. Is Iran more motivated by religion or nationalism? Is it a military threat or the victim of its many regional competitors? Is the country truly an expansionist state, as charged by its detractors, or does it seek to maintain the "status quo?" (2) How Iran is portrayed on the international stage and how it perceives itself are two divergent pictures.

Internationally, it is generally agreed that the Islamic Republic has three primary goals. First, understandably, is maintaining regime security. This is not a given as it is with most democratic nations. Problems abound: Iran has within its borders several large ethnic minorities; its population has nearly doubled in the 17 years since the revolution; and the economy has not kept pace with population growth. In addition, inflation and unemployment both hover around 30% from year to year, while oil income/prices, upon which the country depends for hard currency, have been in a downward spiral since the mid-1980's. This situation has led to repeated budget shortfalls. Charges of corruption and mismanagement did not end with the Shah, and there have been large scale riots in Iranian cities because of the weak economy and government's inability to improve living conditions. The present regime is considered stable only because no serious alternative has emerged.

A second goal is Tehran's desire for regional dominance, which in the West is viewed with great suspicion given the anti-Western rhetoric that spews from the capital. From an Iranian perspective, the desire to play a major role in the region is quite understandable. Iran has a population of over 60 million people, almost twice that of Iraq, and three times that of Saudi Arabia. Iran's strategic position dominates the Persian Gulf and the key chokepoint, the Strait of Hormuz. Its combined oil and gas reserves are significant, and should ensure Iran's position at OPEC. To borrow a term from US history, Iran sees a major regional role for itself as its manifest destiny. That such a role is being denied to it, largely because of what it perceives as US policy, is reason for dissatisfaction.

Iran's third policy goal is the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The fear is that Iran would use these weapons to intimidate its neighbors, or even launch them against Israel. As Tehran embarks on the road to nuclear technology, Western analysts doubt the Iranian assertion that this technology is to be used peacefully for electric power generation. Iran has the second largest reserves of natural gas in the world, and natural gas is a much cheaper fuel when compared to nuclear power. In a country plagued by economic troubles, it is hard to believe that Iran's interest can be explained on these grounds alone. (3)

Meanwhile, Iran chooses to portray itself as a victim on the world stage. Iran was attacked in 1980 by Saddam Hussein, and endured chemical attacks on its cities, yet no one protested on Tehran's behalf. The Arab Gulf neighbors aided Iraq financially, bankrolling Saddam's war. The United States not only aided the Iraqis, but continued punishing Iran by refusing to sell badly needed spare parts for its US supplied military inventory. Today, Iraq continues to support an anti-Iranian group near the border with Iran. Moreover, this group periodically raids across the border to weaken the Islamic regime. Since 1993, President Clinton has advocated a "containment" policy toward Iran which includes pressuring US allies to limit trade, investment loans, and military sales to Tehran. In May 1995, Clinton issued an executive order barring all trade with Iran, and in 1996, Congressional calls for a 20 million dollar program to overthrow the regime made worldwide headlines.

No doubt Iranian policy goals run counter to US policy. This fact, in concert with the ill feelings the US has had since the 1979 Islamic revolution and subsequent hostage crisis, has led to Iran being identified as a state hostile to US interests. Robert Gates, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) in 1992, said,

Tehran is rebuilding its military strength not

only to redress the military imbalance with Iraq,

but also to increase its ability to influence and intimidate its Gulf neighbors,...Its clerical leadership has not abandoned the goal of one day leading the Islamic world and reversing the global dominance of Western culture and technology. (4)


Without a doubt, Iran is rebuilding its military infrastructure. The ultimate goal of that rearmament is debatable. This paper will examine the Islamic Republic's security perspectives, with an eye toward analyzing the cause of that military rearmament. Finally, it will examine the political threat that Iran poses to the region, a threat many believe has more dire consequences for the United States than the military threat that the Pentagon is so consumed with.




Perhaps because of its longevity as a nation, Iran's security perspective is especially affected by history. Iranian history spans an incredibly long period of 2,500 years. During this time Iran has risen to great heights of power and fell under foreign domination numerous times.

Iran traces its national origin to the rise of Cyrus the Great, the leader who unified Persia, established the Archaemenian dynasty (559-330B.C.), and conquered much of the then-known world. The Archaemenian dynasty fell to Alexander the Great's legions in 330 B.C. Since the fall of the Archaemenians, Iran has struggled to regain the glory of that distant age.

Beginning in 224 A.D. the Persian empire experienced a renaissance during the Sassanid dynasty. Under the brilliant leadership of Shahpur I, the Persian empire expanded and almost attained the glory of the Archaemenians. Sassanid rule was marked by a bitter struggle with the Roman and Byzantine empires in the West and constant pressure from the warlike nomads who inhabited the Central Asian steppes. These struggles eventually weakened the Sassanids and left Persia vulnerable to invasion once again.

In 637, Arab forces met and defeated a Sassanid army at the battle of Qaddasiya. By 642, the Arab conquest of Persia was complete. From 642 until 1500 Iran was ruled, more or less, by foreign conquerors. The Arabs (642-1055), Seljuk Turks (1055-1258), Mongols (1258-1385), and Timurids (1385-1500), in succession, occupied Iran. Some proved more brutal than others, but these conquests wrought tragedy and suffering upon the Persians.

Fifteen hundred marked the beginning of the second renaissance of the Persian Empire, and it is from this date that the history of the modern Iran begins. In order to solidify national unity against the Sunni Ottoman Empire and further justify the religious claim to the throne, the leaders declared the Shia sect to be the national religion, thus canonizing the relationship between Shia Islam and Iranian nationalism. The Saffavid dynasty reached its zenith under Shah 'Abbas (1572-1629)and prospered until the early portion of the eighteenth century, when it collapsed under an invasion by the Afghans.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Iran's geostrategic importance was delineated in terms of continuing struggles between Russia and western powers over influence and control of the region. Iran was thrust into the "Great Game"; the imperial struggle between Great Britain and Russia over control of South Asia.

After the World Wars, the "Great Game" continued as the Cold War, with the great powers continuing their efforts to limit their rival's access to Iran. Western interference was only slightly less intrusive than that of the Soviet Union. The United States and Britain are now known to have engineered the Shah's counter-coup of 1953, which ousted popular Prime Minister Mossadegh.

Since 1953, the Iranian people have endured a US cultural invasion under the Shah and the Islamic Revolution in 1979, which brought the current government to power. Four events since the late 1980's bear directly on Iranian policies and their security perspectives. First, Iran was soundly defeated in the eight year war with Iraq, which ended in 1988 with both sides agreeing to a cease-fire. Iran was attacked in 1980 by Saddam Hussein, who wanted to blunt the possibility of Islamic style governments being exported by the new Islamic Revolutionaries in Tehran. Iran paid a huge toll in personnel and equipment losses in that war. Moreover, Iran was the target of ballistic missile and chemical weapon attacks during the war.

Second, US Naval operations in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War made a great impression on the Iranians. Operation Praying Mantis and the escorting of reflagged Kuwaiti tankers, Operation Earnest Will in 1987-1988, wounded Iranian pride and abruptly ended the notion that the Iranian Navy was the strongest force in the Gulf. The dominance of the US Navy in what the Iranians consider their own backyard has been anathema to Tehran.

Third, Iran was content to watch its Iraqi enemies being defeated in Desert Storm in 1991. This event completely changed the balance of power in the Middle East, and has rejuvenated Iranian hopes of being a major regional player. Lastly, the demise of the Soviet Union was a watershed event for Iran. Fear of Soviet aggression led Iran to an alignment with the United States in the 1940's. With the dissolution of the USSR, a powerful threat was removed from the northern border.

Historically, then, Iran's xenophobic security perspective may be justified. It sees itself as being regionally isolated and marginalized because of its cultural, linguistic, and religious differences with its Arab neighbors. As the noted regional expert Graham Fuller remarked,


Persian culture betrays a profound schizophrenia, born alternatively of an innate sense of superiority stemming from a magnificent imperial past and rich culture, and a nagging sense of inferiority and even insecurity derived from Iran's experience of abject conquest and foreign domination. (5)

Further exacerbating Iran's xenophobia are its legitimate security problems. "New World Order" is a term tossed around Washington as if the end of the Cold War impacted only on the West. However, the end of the Cold War has had enormously important consequences for Iran as well, especially with the "creation" of new nations (former Soviet republics) to the north. The post-Cold War environment has improved neither Iran's security nor its international standing. Following is a brief description of Iran's most pressing security concerns.


Internal Concerns

Some of the internal problems facing Iran bear further discussion here. The economy is the primary problem, but ethnic minorities and the fading legitimacy of the ruling Islamists are additional issues that must be considered.

In an era where power is defined more in financial and economic terms than in military prowess, Iran's economy is the most fundamental problem facing Tehran. Petrodollar income is down to one third of what it was before 1979. The oil industry's infrastructure has not been modernized in twenty years, and worst case scenarios project that Iran could be a net importer of oil if overhauls are not performed in the next five years. Iran is currently OPEC's second largest producer of oil.(6) Hard currency earnings are down and the population is exploding (34 to 64 million in 17 years). In addition, with the high rates of inflation and unemployment, and scarce money being diverted to pay for military hardware, the average Iranian is no better off now than he was under the Shah. Public disillusionment has been evident, with large scale riots occurring in major cities (Tehran, Shiraz, Qazvin, and Arak) since 1992.(7) Much of the blame for the economic stagnation is being laid at the feet of the United States, whose economic policies, trade restrictions, and pressure on the international community to limit interaction with Iran are viewed as an economic war against Iran. "The Great Satan" theme still plays well in Tehran, and gives comfort to the current leadership, who try to duck responsibility by blaming the US.

Iran is also well aware of the potential problems posed by its large ethnic populations. One of the reasons Tehran probably sees more problems than opportunities resulting from the dissolution of the Soviet Union is the fear of an irredentist movement spreading among its own ethnic minorities. Iran borders the "new" republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, and harbors Kurdish, Arab, and Baluch minorities in other boundary areas (25% of the population is Azeri, 10% Kurdish). In the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Tehran has to walk the tightrope in its policy development. It is afraid to support the Shia Azeris too heavily for fear of strengthening them too much and inciting calls for a "Greater Azerbaijan." Support for Christian Armenians must also be measured for fear of inciting Iran's own Azeri population. Tehran would also risk losing its claim of defending Islam (part of the justification for Iranian deployments to Bosnia).

Tehran has been especially concerned with the refugee flow that occurs when the fighting escalates. Besides the economic drain of supporting refugees, Tehran is also afraid of Azeri nationalists filtering into country. The plight of the Kurdish people has made world headlines since Desert Storm. While not as "separatist" as their Iraqi kinsmen, Iranian Kurds would be inclined to support the idea of a united Kurdistan; some Kurdish areas are already out of the government's control by night. Finally, the Baluchi's, who live in the southeastern area of the country, are renowned drug traffickers who hold the government in low regard.(8)

Another threat to the regime is the growing feeling that much of the population is souring on the basic tenets of the revolution. It is widely assumed in the West that the revolution was strictly a religious event; it was not. The religious leaders were the catalyst for the revolution, not the cause. In 1978, the disenchanted including the merchant class, the farmers, industrialists, and new urban dwellers all gathered in the mosques to vent their frustrations about the Shah's modernizations. The charismatic Khomeini took advantage of the situation and was soon the focal point for political, social, and religious dissent. Though many were uncomfortable with the direction in which Khomeini took the revolution (politicizing the clerics and turning Islam into a political ideology), he eventually personified the revolution, and no one dared oppose him.

Since Khomeini's death in 1989, Ayatollah Khamenei, Khomieni's successor, has struggled to prove his leadership credentials. Khamenei was not the "senior" Ayatollah at Khomieni's death, and was elevated to the position because of political connections, not because of his religious abilities. Charges of corruption and mismanagement are constantly levied against the government. Experts inside Iran estimate that the theocracy has the support of less than 5% of the population. (9) The ruling clerics ineptitude in managing the economy, increasing repressiveness, and blatant abuse of power are cited as reasons for dissatisfaction. (10) Many loyal supporters of the revolution believe the Islamic leadership has left them behind, and, though not yet organized, are searching for alternatives. Many senior clerics have been campaigning for "a return to the mosques." Abdolkarim Soroosh, a leading dissident, has said, "Religion is for the next life, not this one. The danger to Islam is that the revolution will give it a perpetual bad name." (11) The regime is not unaware of the mounting backlash, but President Rafsanjani has had his reformist agenda frustrated by hardliners and religious ideologues. A conservative seems poised to win the Presidential election this year.


Foreign Affairs

The end of the Cold War found Iran ill equipped to handle itself effectively. In the "new world order," an old antagonist, the United States, is the only remaining superpower. Traditionally weaker states like Iran have no other power to depend on for assistance and leverage. Neighboring Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Afghanistan are all in a state of disarray, and political fragmentation in any of these nations would not be in Iran's best interest. The situation in the south is not much better, given the encroachment of the US security umbrella after the Gulf War. Below is a description of Iran's security perspectives with the countries in the region.




Iraq remains Tehran's chief security concern. The Shatt Al-Arab river that separates the two countries represents more than just a border. It is also the physical boundary between two different cultures (Persian vs Arab), ideologies (Sharia law vs secular dictator), languages (Farsi vs Arab), and religions (Shia vs Sunni Islam). Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for two main reasons; first, to silence the revolutionaries' call for an Islamic uprising in Iraq, and second, because Saddam thought he could get away with an easy victory. He believed he could quickly overcome an Iranian military weakened by religious purges and loyalty questions. The first of Saddam's great miscalculations, the war dragged on for eight years. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 only confirmed Iran's suspicions of Iraq's aggressive tendencies. Distrust is a deep seeded historical fact, and it is extremely doubtful that an accommodation can ever be reached between the two nations.

Despite the devastating defeat at the hands of the US led coalition in 1991, Iraq still maintains a qualitative advantage over Iran militarily, though the gap is closing. In the critical areas of tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs), Iraq has a substantial lead. Other factors which are making Tehran nervous are continuing revelations about the breadth and depth of Iraq's WMD programs. After experiencing Iraqi chemical attacks during the Iran-Iraq War, it is less than reassuring to know the full extent of Baghdad's nuclear program. The support and protection Baghdad gives to the Mujahedin-e-Kalq, the anti-Iranian group that conducts cross border attacks into Iran, is yet another spur in any attempt to normalize relations.


Saudi Arabia and the GCC

Tehran and Riyadh both claim their first priorities are regional security and stability. Where they differ is on how stability should be provided. Recent events (Iran-Iraq war, the Islamic Revolution) have intensified sectarian, nationalist, and political rifts between the two states. Iran would like to establish a regional security alliance with only regional states participating. However, the Arab Gulf states, with active Shia minorities and aging monarchs, distrust Iran's motives and feel there can be no security without the United States. They realize that a "regional only" security arrangement could be dominated by Iran, given its population, size, and natural resource base. That is unacceptable to the Arab states.

Saudi Arabia's de facto leadership of the Gulf states is a recent phenomena, coming about only after Iraq's defeat in Desert Storm. Its emerging influence has come, to a degree, at the expense of Iran. That Iran and Saudi Arabia are rivals is not a surprise. Both are huge producers of oil, and both carry a lot of political influence throughout the region. The regional economic power of Saudi Arabia, which is the leading producer of oil with twice the reserves of any other Gulf nation, is virtually unmatched. During the Iran-Iraq war, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait both sided with Iraq against the new Islamic regime, supporting Baghdad with cash, logistics, and intelligence. Riyadh was also accused by Tehran of waging economic warfare against Iran. By overproducing oil, the Saudi's caused the price to drop, which limited Iran's access to the hard currency it needed to fund its war effort. (12)

The defeat of Iraq in 1991 presented an opportunity for rapproachment between Iran and the GCC states; Iran's foreign minister visited many GCC capitals, and some progress was hoped for in improving relations. Iran, however, chose to push its agenda too forcefully, demanding not only diplomatic agreements but a leadership position in any post war security arrangement. Iran also began emphasizing the issue of ownership of Abu Musa, an island over which it had a joint ownership agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These actions did little to reassure the GCC states about Iranian intentions and desires for regional hegemony. Thus, Iran's desire to break out of its regional isolation has been frustrated, because the GCC feels more comfortable under the US security umbrella.

Iran and the GCC states are currently caught in a traditional arms race. Each points the finger at the other in trying to justify its actions while both also conveniently blame Iraq. The GCC states see Iranian rearmament as a direct threat to their survival; they are most concerned about Iran's WMD and nuclear programs. The Iranians, when confronted with questions about their military buildup, blame the destabilizing nature of the GCC purchases, as well as historical problems with other neighbors.

Iran sees the GCC as an anti-Iranian alliance and an attempt to isolate it. But Iran also recognizes that the GCC is not a solid alliance. There are many territorial disputes between the member nations, and internal unrest is spreading in several countries as the social welfare states are forced to cut back subsidies during tough economic times. Bahrain, with a Shia majority but a Sunni led government, has made several claims against Tehran, charging it with inciting its population. Saudi Arabia has, on a number of occasions, accused Iran of meddling in its internal affairs. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has yet to resolve a conflict over three disputed islands in the Strait of Hormuz (Abu Musa, Greater and Lesser Tunb) and is very concerned over the aggressiveness of Iranian actions.

Iran and the GCC are, at the strategic level, distrustful of one another. At the same time, the GCC states realize that Iran is a part of the region and cannot simply be ignored. Economic ties are being built and genuinely good trade relations exist between Oman, Qatar, and various emirates of the UAE.


Russia and Central Asia

The end of the Cold War and the ensuing "New World Order" has had a dramatic impact on Iran. Strategically, the dissolution of the Soviet Empire removed the greatest traditional threat to Iran's national security. But the benefits of that "Great Power" disintegration have been offset by disorder on the northern and western frontiers. It is ironic that in predominately Muslim Central Asia, Iran is confronted with a tough decision: support Islamic ideology or pursue a course to secure its national interests.

The danger to Iran's ethnic balance has been discussed in relation to the Azerbaijan and Armenia dispute. In Tajikistan's civil war, the Islamic opposition asked for Tehran's assistance. But Iran's response had to balance its concern for its ideological brother (Tajiks speak Farsi and are culturally-like Iranians) with a pragmatic decision not to antagonize Russia, which backed the communist led government. Tehran's priority in the north has concentrated on maintaining good relations with Moscow. Given the pressures on Iran from the West and the options in trade, acquisition of weapons, and access to nuclear energy offered by Moscow, it is clear that it is in Iran's broader strategic interest to follow this policy. This has, to a degree, limited its range of options in the region. Russians are historically paranoid in their security perspectives, and Tehran has been careful to limit its involvement in Russia's "backyard" out of deference to Moscow's concerns. There are also factions in the Russian government that refer to "the threat from the south" (meaning Islamic radicalism). Thus, Tehran has every incentive to keep Moscow from joining an anti-Iranian coalition.

The endless civil war in Afghanistan has burdened Iran with millions of refugees; until the dust settles, the Iranian province of Khorasan will remain hosts to those refugees, draining precious resources away from the government. At the same time, however, Iran enjoys a good relationship with Pakistan, and joint border security concerns about Baluchi drug trade have led to cooperation on several issues. The Iranian and Pakistani navies have also conducted joint exercises. But Tehran is concerned about developing too close a relationship with Pakistan for fear of alienating India, Pakistan's sworn enemy, a budding regional power, and a potentially important economic partner.



For most of this century, Iran and Turkey have had mutually respectful relations. In 1988, Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan formed an economic alliance known as the Economic Cooperation Council. Yet despite this veil of civility, there are several areas of contention between the two nations. Like most countries in the region, Turkey became suspicious of Iranian intentions in the revolutionary period of 1979; mutual interests since then have moderated viewpoints on both sides. Iran is likewise suspicious of Turkey because of its special relationship with Washington. Tehran is afraid that Turkey will become an instrument of US policy in the region (for example, by allowing combat aircraft to launch against Iran from Incirlik). The Iranians are also concerned about Turkish actions in northern Iraq against the Kurds. Turkey has launched cross border attacks into Iraq against Kurdish factions that are opposed to the government in Ankara, and Turkish support to "Provide Comfort" makes Tehran uneasy. Iran and Iraq are definite enemies, but Tehran believes Iraq's breakup into factions (Kurdish north, Sunni middle, Shia south) would not be in its best interest. Iran is also wary of Turkish influence spreading across the borders with Azerbaijan and the other "new republics". A key concern for Tehran was a treaty signed in 1996 between Turkey and Israel that allows the Israeli Air Force to fly and train in Turkish airspace. Iran is convinced that Israel wants to monitor Iran's nuclear infrastructure development.



For two countries separated by nearly 700 miles and two international boundaries, Iran and Israel share an incredibly hostile relationship. For Iran's case, the hostility revolves around three basic issues. First, Israel is the "regional lackey" of the US; everything that does not go Tehran's way in the region is seen as further evidence of a US/Israeli plot to deny Iran its rightful position. The second area of contention is the Middle East peace process; Iran has made no secret of its desire to wreck the "peace train." The Palestinian cause that Iran has championed is, from Tehran's view, a Muslim as opposed to an Arab cause. It is one of the few ways that Iran has any diplomatic influence in the region. If a final peace is arranged, it would further marginalize Iran regionally. The third basic issue is the nuclear question. Israel has nuclear weapons, and Iran wants them. Tehran remembers the Israeli attack on Iraq's infant nuclear program in the 1980's, and is afraid it might happen to them.

It is easy to see why Iran is paranoid about its security situation. Its threat perceptions are analogous to the many straws that broke the camel's back. Iran is not presently facing an overwhelming threat from any of its regional neighbors, but given the instability present in all those nations, Tehran feels its security situation is precarious at best.


"Many outside observers argue that Iran's arms buildup (has) exceeded anything necessary for its defense needs."(13) Just like comments attributed to Plato about the shallowness of "modern young people," these words may have a familiar ring; however, they were voiced in 1978 about the Shah's military buildup. Iranian desires to be a regional power are not new, they are simply more ominous in the post-Shah era. The Iranian rearmament goal is aimed at enabling it to become the dominant regional power in the Persian Gulf. To accomplish this, Tehran must first counter the threat from Iraq. Besides its historical quest for regional power, the overriding framework upon which Iranian rearmament is built is the defeat Tehran suffered in the 1980-88 war with Iraq. While the war technically ended in a stalemate, (the cease-fire was mutually agreed to and no victor was formally established) Iran definitely emerged from the war in worse shape than Iraq. Iran suffered over 500,000 casualties, and lost over 50% of its tanks, and 40% of its APCs and artillery pieces. The most effective tactic available to Iran near the end of the war of attrition was the human wave assault. On the other hand, Iraq, funded by the Gulf states and supported by the West with weapons and technology, emerged with the largest army in the region and a huge inventory of modern weapons. A subset of the war, the War of the Cities, refers to the launching of Scud missiles at population centers of each country. Iran suffered more from this phase of the war than Iraq. By the end of the war, Iraqi warplanes were operating with virtual impunity over Iranian airspace because of the weakened condition of the Iranian Air and Air Defense Forces. The Iranian military effort was especially weakened by the US arms embargo imposed after the 1979 revolution. US-made equipment dominated the Iranian Air Force (IAF) inventory. Cut off from resupply and spare parts, IAF combat effectiveness plummeted by the end of the war.

Nevertheless, the acquisition of conventional equipment has been substantial since 1979. Iranian ground forces have contracted for or will receive 500 T-72 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) and a similar number of BMP-2 APCs, as well as Multiple Rocket Launchers (MRLs) and improved artillery from Russia and China. Despite these acquisitions, Iraq still commands a sizable advantage in numbers of MBT's and APC's; only in artillery does Iran approach equity. Aircraft inventories have also increased; however, after the embargo by Western suppliers, new purchases have included MiG-27/29/31's from Russia and F-7's from China. Iran also benefitted from Desert Storm by accepting over 130 combat aircraft that Saddam's pilots flew to Iran. Iran has incorporated those Su-24/25/27's, MiG-31's, and French F-1's into its training. Iran's air defense posture has also improved since the war, but is still not strong enough to cover all of its air space. Russian SA-5/6's are now in the inventory; however, it is important to note that 1970's technology US I-HAWK remains the backbone of Iran's surface to air missile threat. The Navy has improved substantially since the war; three KILO submarines have been purchased from Russia, land and ship based antiship missiles have been bought from China, and improved mines have been incorporated into the inventory.(14)

Despite all these improvements, Iran would be unable to launch a sustained ground offensive against its neighbors, and hard pressed to defend its borders from attack. The general weakness of most neighboring ground forces (Iraq being the exception) and Iran's great strategic depth offset its conventional shortfalls. All three services retain substantial percentages of aging Western equipment in the inventories (M-47/60 MBT, M113A1 APC, F-4/5/14 aircraft, 1960's era destroyers and LST's). It is evident that conventional force regeneration, especially ground and air forces, is critical to the Iranians. Despite the losses the Iraqis incurred in Desert Storm, they retain a qualitative and quantitative edge in force capability over the Iranians (with the exception of the Iranian Navy).

It should not be a surprise, either, that ballistic missiles and WMD are prominent on the Iranian shopping list. After being subjected to Iraqi Scud missile and chemical attacks, Tehran probably realizes that the only way to deter Iraqi attacks in the future is to be able to retaliate in kind. The Iranians are also aware of Saddam Hussein's desire for a nuclear and biological weapons capability. Having already experienced Baghdad's willingness to use WMD, Tehran feels it has no choice but to pursue a retaliatory capability. Iran has several reasons for wanting to acquire a nuclear capability. Foremost, a nuclear capability would boost the international stature of Iran, transforming it from a pariah state into a major regional power. The nuclear path to power may be Iran's only way to regional domination, given the high cost of conventional force regeneration in difficult economic times. Secondly, Iran sees itself surrounded by potential enemies already possessing a nuclear capability (Israel to the west, Russia and the former Soviet republics to the north, and India/Pakistan to the east). Iraq was closer to acquiring the bomb than expected, and will certainly begin pursuing that capability once sanctions are removed. The importance of having a strategic deterrence to deal with Iraq and the US motivates Tehran. Iran's defense minister was quoted as saying, "Can our air force...take on the Americans, or our navy take on the American navy? If we put all our country's budget into such a war we would have just burned our money. The way to go about dealing with such a threat requires a different solution entirely." (15) That "different solution" is the nuclear one.

Tehran, in fact, scoffs at reports of an arms buildup. (16) The Iranians claim that their arms purchases are substantially less than the 2 billion reported in the press. They also point to the fact that Saudi Arabia and the GCC nations are outspending them in defense outlays. But many experts point out more ominous warnings. "Iran's drive to become nuclear is not for defensive purposes, but a part of its effort to lead the Muslim world against the West," said Dr. Assad Homayoun. (17) Other experts contend that nations seldom "stockpile arms like this unless they intend to use them." (18) The historical precedent of the Cold War disproves that assertion. It is interesting to note that those most critical of Iran's rearmament often point out that the threat from Iraq is negligible, and that Iraq's military has been rendered impotent by Desert Storm and economic sanctions. But at the same time, those same nations are calling for increased Western presence in the Gulf to counter a Iraq.

The naval rearmament that has the United States and the GCC so concerned can be traced to the US operations late in the war. The Iranian Navy had been a high priority for the Shah in the early 1970's; he desired a blue water naval capability and the US sold him several older ships that enabled Iran to be the dominant navy in the Gulf. Later US attacks on oil platforms in retaliation for mining the Gulf, and the US escorting of Kuwaiti tankers (Earnest Will) in1987-88 were interpreted by Tehran as provocative acts. (19) With a 1,580 mile coastline, it is no surprise that Iran sees a need for a strong navy, and wants to force foreign powers from the Gulf. (20) Iraq really has no navy to threaten Iran, so this phase of their buildup is directly aimed at US forces operating in the Gulf, as well as GCC nations who are acquiring high technology naval systems from the West. The goal that Iran seems to be striving for is to control the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow gateway through which nearly one-third of the world's oil supplies flow. (21) Toward that end, Iran has purchased three Russian KILO class submarines, advanced shore based anti-ship cruise missiles from Russia and China, missile capable patrol boats, advanced naval mines, and advanced aircraft capable of interdicting naval forces.

Iran began its rearmament almost as soon as the war with Iraq was over. At that point, its armed forces were defeated and demoralized. Had the status-quo of 1989 held, Iran would have been facing a 20 year rebuilding period before parity could have been achieved vis-a-vis Iraq. But the status-quo did not hold. In the second of Saddam's great miscalculations, Iraq invaded Kuwait with its million man, heavily mechanized army and was thoroughly defeated at the hands of the US led coalition. Except for the fact that Desert Storm strengthened US influence among the Gulf States to an even higher degree, Tehran was certainly delighted to see the Iraqi war machine partially dismantled. Estimates now project that Iran may reach parity with Iraq's military by the end of the decade. The longer UN imposed economic sanctions are in place, the easier it will be for Iran to match and then surpass Iraqi military power.

The demise of the Soviet Union has been a very important event for Iran, opening several opportunities with regard to rearmament. Probably the most important aspect for the rearmament plan is the availability of Soviet equipment now on auction from Russia and former Warsaw Pact nations. Contracts for new and used equipment (T-72 and BMP's) have been negotiated, and deliveries have begun. Without much fanfare, Iran has assumed a leadership role in the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), a ten nation consortium based on the European Community, which includes former Soviet republics. Iranian ethnic and linguistic ties with Central Asia makes Tehran an important member in the burgeoning trade relationship. Those suspicious of Iran's motivations believe Iran is after more than just trade. Reports of "oil for weapons" deals point out that Tehran may be more interested in weapon stockpiles in the former Soviet republics than in any potential trade relationship.

Estimates on the outlays Tehran has been making in its armed forces modernization range from 2-10 billion a year. This is a tremendous amount of hard currency to expend in an economy as troubled as Iran's. With falling oil prices, prospects for the economy improving are slim. Economic shortcomings will certainly impact on Tehran's ability to fund its rearmament plans.


Future Developments

There can be no doubt that Iran is pursuing a very large rearmament program. But the question that must be asked is, "Towards what end?" Is it strictly a defensive program, as Tehran claims? Or is it offensive, with the ultimate goal being domination of the entire Middle East region, to include Israel?

Iranian rearmament must be viewed as a two track plan; track one is defensive, track two is offensive. Defensively, conventional force regeneration, especially ground and air, is critical to the Iranians. It appears that conventional forces are being rebuilt with the Iraqi threat in mind. Modern ground force equipment is being purchased, but not in sufficient numbers to threaten the Gulf Region. Total estimates of T-72 purchases over the next five years will allow the Iranians to counter the Iraqi threat, but not overwhelm it. The same statement could be made for air force modernization. Also, in many of the contract negotiations for equipment (T-72's), Iran is attempting to purchase production facilities. Some see this as another example of Iranian desire to dominate; if Tehran can manufacture its own equipment, it can produce unlimited numbers of that commodity. In reality, Tehran remembers being cut off from spare parts by the US following the Islamic revolution, and wants to ensure that it is not put in that position again. The only way Iran can avoid a possible embargo situation with Russia is to own a share of the production responsibility. The leadership must be able to ensure some measure of military preparedness and credibility given the neighborhood in which Iran lives. Iraq is a threat and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future, no matter what fate eventually befalls Saddam Hussein.

The second track of the rearmament, the programs for WMD development and naval rearmament, offer Tehran offensive options. Given the Iraqi use of chemical weapons and ballistic missiles against Iran, probably the highest priority in the Iranian rearmament plan is on weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile development. The Iranians see these systems as critical to deter the use of such systems against them by Iraq. Such reasoning is understandable; the deterrence factor is what the Cold War was built upon. While WMD gives the Iranians the option of striking its Gulf neighbors or Israel, the present reality is that Tehran views acquisition of these systems as necessary vis-a-vis Iraq. Tehran is unlikely to challenge the GCC states overtly with WMD if it would lead to Western intervention. The argument can even be made that possession of nuclear weapons would relieve Tehran of the need to maintain such a large conventional force. That was the same rational used by the US at the height of the Cold War.

The Iranians are pursuing a naval modernization that cannot be justified by an existing Iraqi threat. However, viewed historically, it is merely a continuation of long held Iranian ambitions. This is not something new to the Islamic government of Iran. The KILO submarines, anti-ship cruise missiles, and missile patrol boats the Iranians are purchasing indicate an intent to dominate the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Many see this force buildup as a dangerous development for the United States. While a rearmed and reequipped Iran could be a threat to US forces and interests, Iranian rearmament is regionally motivated, and is less an attempt to threaten the United States than to establish itself as the regional power in the Gulf. Tehran, dissatisfied with being excluded from security arrangements in the Gulf, is trying to assert its rightful position vis-a-vis the other Gulf States. Iran would also like a larger role in the OPEC consortium than presently allowed. The Iranians would like to decrease the influence the United States enjoys as a result of Desert Storm. However, Tehran realizes there is little to be done about the power equation in the short term. The balance of power in the Gulf is a long term problem, better addressed by nonmilitary means. After the awesome display of US military power in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Tehran is well aware that 3 diesel submarines, several dozen small missile boats, and a squadron of Su-24 Fencer aircraft is not going to deter a US presence. Those convinced that Tehran wants the capability to close the Strait of Hormuz forget that Iran's economic lifeline is dependent on the Strait being open. Closing it would only damage an already vulnerable Iranian economy.

Overall, Iran's conventional military capabilities are limited, and today's capability is only half of what it was prior to the revolution. It will take much more money than Tehran can afford to turn Iran into a major regional power; its military procurement budget's are much smaller than its Gulf neighbors. Iraq remains more powerful on the ground, and Saudi Arabia is much more capable in the air. Iran is doing the best it can by redressing its most pressing shortfalls through selective modernization of its forces, but the regional military balance has been shifting away from Iran since the revolution. It is ironic that the clerics who replaced the Shah are now revitalizing many of the Shah's military programs. WMD and pursuit of a nuclear capability are seen by Tehran as viable shortcuts to the type of regional power the clerics believe Iran is entitled to.


Thus far, it has been emphasized that Iran has a xenophobic security perspective, but one that, given its history, culture, and current situation, is understandable. It has also been proposed that Iran's rearmament, with the exception of its WMD programs, is focused on regional threats (Iraq, its northern borders, and the GCC, not the US), and that the construction of a large conventional force to threaten the entire region, or the US, is not economically feasible.

It is generally accepted throughout the region that Iran has been more of an ideological and subversive menace to its neighbors than a military threat. Unfortunately, this is not understood in the US. It is only since the end of the Cold War that Iran's military has received so much attention. Iran's subversive threat has been borne out of its isolation by regional and world powers. Spurned by the world, Tehran has been unable to exert any influence in most of the areas it deems most important to its national security.

Iran participates in OPEC, but the Arab Gulf producers set oil policies and quotas, often at the expense of Iranian interests. Iran has called for the formation of a regional security establishment, but is shut out by GCC concerns over Iranian motives and by the US/Western powers. Iran also supports radical Islamic and nationalist groups throughout the Middle East. Some, like Hizballah, work closely with Iran, while others act independently and receive economic and military support. Hizballah reportedly receives up to60 million dollars a year in support, and along with Hamas is Iran's primary agent in derailing the Israeli peace process.(22) Moreover, the Bahraini government insists that Tehran is responsible for unrest in that country. The Shia majority population has been rioting sporadically since 1992 for greater participation in the Sunni led government; last year, Bahrain arrested 40 dissidents and extracted confessions from several of the leaders that they had been trained in Iran. In Saudi Arabia, there are several groups now openly calling into question the legitimacy of the monarchy. As in Bahrain, Riyadh is convinced that Tehran is sponsoring these Shia groups that operate in its oil rich Eastern Province. Iran's subversive tactics are active in Egypt, Algeria, Kuwait, Turkey, the Balkans, and Sudan.

Iran has been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1979. The first year the US State Department kept statistics on terrorism (1987), Iran was implicated in 45 separate incidents. (23) That number had fallen to 6 in 1994; many speculate that Tehran's overt support for terrorism is declining as it attempts to normalize its international and bilateral relationships. The current leadership in Iran is often portrayed as an obstacle to better relations with its Gulf neighbors. Since the days of Ayatollah Khomeini, the exporting of radical Islamic ideology has kept Iran isolated. But President Rafsanjani has moved Iran away from the strident rhetoric and hostility towards the West. The changes have been subtle, but there have been some; however, these changes have not been as far reaching as Rafsanjani would have liked. In 1992, Iran lifted a ban on the import of Western goods, permitting virtually unrestricted imports. Support for the fanatical Hizballah in Lebanon has also been scaled back. Tehran's participation in the ECO is seen as a reflection of a desire to play a more productive role regionally. With eight of its twenty-one cabinet ministers Western educated, it is possible that a moderating leadership will be able to bring Tehran back into the world community. Rafsanjani apparently sees cooperation with the West in Iran's long term interest, but he has been frustrated by conservatives who believe he is going too far, too fast, in brokering ties with the West. However, if the tone of the leadership were to change, it would be good news for the West and the GCC nations.

When words like objectives, goals, and intentions, are used, they imply that the Iranian leadership is speaking with one voice. Iranian policy implies one decision maker choosing amongst a few alternatives; it ignores the every day power struggle in Tehran. Because we do not have a window into the inner workings of the Iranian government, it is difficult to understand the power sharing and struggles between President Rafsanjani and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. But it is evident that there is a split between the government and the mullahs on many policy issues. Throw into that equation the parliament, or Majlis, and Iranian politics can be just as confusing as the US political scene. While Iran is not a territorially expansionist state, it has historically been a state with hegemonic ambitions. That has not and will not change.

That Iran represents a serious political threat to the region is obvious. Shut out of meaningful participation in traditional interstate forums, and shunned by its neighbors, Tehran is determined to have an impact in the region in whatever way it can. The question that must be asked is, "What is the true nature of the political threat?" Most Americans believe that current Iranian (military and foreign) policies are fueled by the radical Islamic clerics in Tehran who are interested in the export of their revolution. In Congressional testimony in February 1997, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency stated that, "Iran's primary long range goal is to establish itself as the pan-Islamic leader throughout the Middle East region and beyond." (24)

In the immediate post revolution years, Iran spread its Islamic message with proselytizing zeal. However, this zeal has long since evaporated. It started to diminish at the end of the Iran-Iraq war, and continued its downward spiral with Khomeini's death and the ascent to power by Rafsanjani. Iran has been bent on regional domination throughout its history. The Shah, with the help of the United States, was pursuing that goal until the 1979 revolution. What is new about these policies is that the tone is decidedly anti-Western. However, the nature of the threat from Iran has changed, and it is important that the US recognizes that change. It is no longer the religious threat that dominates its policies, but a more traditional threat based on Persian nationalism.

Part of the reason that Iran has shifted away from its previous focus of "exporting the revolution" may be because of its overwhelming failure to accomplish the task. Iran's Shia brand of Islam is shared by only 15% of the world's Muslims. Sunni Muslims tend to be more respectful of state authority, and Sunni's are generally distrustful of all things Shia. (25) In addition, historical prejudices that divide Persians and Arabs have played a role in limiting the appeal of Iran's revolution. The corruption and economic mismanagement that are so widespread in Islamic Iran are not widely admired across the Muslim world. Rather than a source of emulation, Iran's ruling clerics are roundly criticized in the Middle East. Finally, Shia revolts have been put down in Saudi Arabia in 1979, Bahrain in 1981, and Iraq in 1991.

It has also been feared that the new republics to Iran's north are fertile ground for further export of the Islamic revolution, but Tehran has not moved aggressively into Central Asia. It has already been noted how carefully Tehran is treading in the area to avoid raising the ire of the Russians; if Tehran were still being run by a group of reckless ideologues, is there any doubt that many attempts to overthrow those regimes would have been exposed? Instead, Iran is making the hard choices: when confronted with a decision to do the right thing religiously or from a more nationalistic real politik perspective, the nationalists usually win. Examples that stand out include recent decisions in the Azeri/Armenian dispute, and Tehran's staying out of Russia's way in Tajikistan.

Tehran's policies can be just as self-serving and inconsistent as any US policy. Iran can be friendly with secular authoritarians from Syria, but at the same time be very critical of similar regimes in Egypt and Algeria. Moreover, Iran maintains excellent relationships with monarchical Oman, UAE, and Qatar, while it routinely denounces the monarchy in Saudi Arabia. If Iran were only concerned with the religious credentials of another state, how could it criticize the Saudis, one of the most devout Islamic states? The answer is that while religion does play a role in Iran's foreign policy formulations, it takes a back seat to Tehran's new focus-- Iranian nationalism. Iran's rivalry with Saudi Arabia points out the purely nationalistic goals that are now the primary goals of the Islamic Republic.

In many respects, Iran would not stand to benefit from an expansion of the Iranian revolution. In fact, it would lose the leverage it now holds as the most legitimate Islamic republic. Tehran uses this leverage selectively, pointing out the Islamic illegitimacy of any nation that it fears or wants to influence. Also, because of the Shia-Sunni split, any new Islamic Revolutionary state would probably not ally itself with Tehran, and would eventually compete with Tehran for influence. As the power and zeal of the revolution cool, ideology has become less important than national strategy and security. Like the Soviet Union before it, Iran can no longer afford its religious ideology.

Stability in the Persian Gulf is a paramount concern of the US. Moreover, stability without a substantial military commitment by US forces cannot be attained without an engaged Iran. The Gulf States have tried to exclude Iran from a role in the region, but they can only do so with US military support. We live in an era of dwindling resources, and continuous presence and deployments are becoming increasingly expensive. It is time to initiate some type of dialogue with Tehran. It is difficult to negotiate with religious zealots; they are not usually willing to "meet halfway" or compromise their beliefs. In the past, this has generally been our rationale for not negotiating with the Iranians. But we must recognize that the tenor of the threat from Tehran has changed. We are very experienced in negotiating with "nationalist" states. Close examination of Iran's foreign policy over the past 5 years reveals that nationalist concerns take precedence when they conflict with religious issues. Progress will be slow, because there remain in Tehran many powerful religious leaders who are opposed to any rapproachment. Nevertheless, the effort must be made.




While Iranian intentions remain undecipherable, it seems clear that the scope of Iran's rearmament is regionally oriented. Since the days of the Shah, Iran has not changed its overall strategic goals of dominating the Gulf littoral. In the near term, arms modernization and the buildup are the direct result of the Iraqi threat. While the naval rearmament is of concern to the US, it seems mainly aimed at securing Iran's position in the Persian Gulf while securing its economic lifeline. Iran has a right to be a major player in the region. Its population, large oil reserves, and geostrategic position in the Gulf puts it in an influential position. Tehran should also have a fair voice in OPEC. In addition, Iran needs a strong military; Iraq will certainly rearm as soon as UN sanctions are lifted, and the GCC states are spending more on modernizing and re-equipping their armed forces than the Iranians are. No one can dispute the Iranian need for a strong military or dismiss its desire for a voice in the Gulf. However, as long as the Iranian clerics remain in control, the GCC states will remain concerned for their safety. If the tone of the Iranian regime were to change with the emergence of the moderates, tensions in the Gulf would decrease.

After witnessing Saddam's disastrous defeat, Iran has no illusions about its military capabilities vis-a-vis the West. The coalition was able to do in 100 hours what Iran could not do in eight years. Tehran, in attempting to eliminate Western influences from the Gulf, realizes that its only hope for long term success is through diplomatic measures. Economically, Tehran is in a difficult situation. Iran cannot afford to purchase the weapon systems necessary for a potential regional conflict. The type and amount of equipment needed to compete militarily with the West is simply not available. Thus, Tehran hopes that acquisition of a WMD/nuclear capability will enable it to bargain with its enemies on a more even footing.

The subversive threat that Iran poses to its neighbors is significant. The Islamic Revolution, as broken down as it appears, is still a distinct rallying point for the disenfranchised throughout the region. As state subsidies are forced down because of economic problems within the Gulf monarchies, the populations might begin to stir. Iran stands ready to serve as the spark which ignites the internal rebellions.

The US must recognize that the Islamic Republic has changed since Khomeini. Its focus is much more nationalistic now, with less emphasis on the religious extremism which was so evident in the 1980's. The ultimate US goal is regional security, and Iran needs to be engaged. But for every American finger pointed at Iran, for every cancelled trade agreement, the radicals in the Iranian government are confirmed and the moderates lose credibility. It is the radicals who are pursuing the adventurist policies that imperil our regional allies. With such an aggressive foreign policy, peace is unlikely.

The threat from Iran, then, comes from two extreme fringes of the spectrum; their potential acquisition of nuclear weapons and the terrorist/subversive threat to US regional allies. A nuclear armed Iran would certainly raise the stakes in any potential conflict. It would also make guaranteeing US regional allies security an impossible task, and elevate Iran's regional standing immeasurably. A more immediate threat, however, comes from the subversive actions sponsored by the Iranians. Denied a forum to express its views and influence policy, Iran has embarked on these campaigns to exert some regional influence. The nature of the subversive threat has changed over the years from a purely religious type to one based on Persian nationalism. Washington should try to open a dialogue with moderates in the Iranian government. While negotiations with religious fanatics is counter-productive, even limited dialogue with moderate Iranian nationalists may accomplish something. The US must realize that its current allies in the Gulf are susceptible to the kind of political maneuverings being carried out by the radical Iranians. Anything the US can do to lesson their susceptibility is in its own best interest.




(1) Edward B. Atkeson, A Military Assessment of the Middle East, 1991-1996. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 1992, p. 1.


(2) Gary Sick, "Iran: The Adolescent Revolution," Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 49, No. 2, Summer 1995, p. 1.


(3) Michael Eisenstadt, Iran's Military Buildup? Threat and Consequences, (Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1995) p. 13.


(4) R. Jeffery Smith, "Gates Warns of Iranian Arms Drive," The Washington Post, March 28, 1992, p. 1A.


(5) Graham E. Fuller, The Center of the Universe: The Geopolitics of Iran, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991) p. 8.


(6) Robin Wright, "Dateline Tehran: A Revolution Implodes," Foreign Policy, No. 103, Summer 1996, p. 2.


(7) Ibid., p. 3.


(8) Unknown, "Friends and Foes," The Economist, January, 1997, p. 2.


(9) Ahmad Ghoreishi and Dariush Zahedi, "Prospects for Regime Change in Iran," Middle East Policy, Vol. V, No. 1, January 1997, p. 86.


(10) Ibid., p. 86.


(11) Milton Viorst, "The Limits of the Revolution," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 6, November 1995, p. 3.


(12) Shireen Hunter, "Iran and the Arab World," Iran at the Crossroads, ed., Miron Rezun, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990) p. 106.


(13) Richard Nyrop, (ed.) Iran, A Country Study, Foreign Area Studies, The American University, 1978, p. 389.


(14) Philip Ritcheson, "Iranian Military Resurgence," Armed Forces & Society, Vol. 21, No. 4, Summer 1995, p. 2.


(15) Michael Eisenstadt, Iran's Military Buildup? Threat and Consequences, (Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1995) p. 12.


(16) Bob Adams, "Experts Wary of Iran's Arms, Militancy," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 10, 1993, p. 1C.


(17) Assad Homayoun, "Iran, Caucasia and Central Asia: The Contest for Influence," Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, June 1992, p. 9.


(18) Charles Mitchell, "Your Guide to the New World Disorder," Detroit Free Press, January 10, 1993, p. 1F.


(19) Atkeson, p. 82.


(20) Ed Blanche, "Concern Grows as Iran Flexes Naval Muscles," Houston Post, March 27, 1994, p. A13.


(21) Ibid., p. A13.


(22) Michael Eisenstadt, Iran's Military Buildup? Threat and Consequences, (Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1995) p. 38.


(23) Ibid., p. 35.

(24) Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, February 5, 1997.


(25) William Rugh, "The Foreign Policy of the United Arab Emirates," Middle East Journal, Vol. 50, No. 1, Winter 1996, p. 2.














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Blanche, Ed, Concern Grows as Iran Flexes Naval Muscles, Houston Post, March 27, 1994.


Chubin, Shahram, Iran's National Security Policy: Capabilities, Intentions, and Impact, Washington, D.C.: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1994.


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