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Monday, November 23, 2009     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Taking a deep breath and looking at Iran geostrategically

By Dr. Assad Homayoun

Iran is already a nuclear power, and, with present leadership, is indeed a threat to the peace in the region and international equilibrium. I think first and foremost Iran needs freedom, economic reform and a responsible secular democratic government to put an end to theocratic rule and to take the country out of isolation so that Iran could assume its rightful place in the region. If a responsible secular government decides that Iran needs to develop its defense capability or even become nuclear, then so be it. To understand Iran's geostrategic position in the region, we need to take a careful look at the map and location of Iran and its importance in the international chessboard.   

We know that the surface of the earth is approximately 197 million square miles, 70 percent of which is covered by water, and another 5.5 million square miles represented by icebound Antarctica. There are 52 million square miles of land for nearly 200 nations and entities with a total population of over 6 billion. Iran geographically is a large country of 1,648,195 square kilometers. It ranks 17th among these countries, and possesses a unique geostrategic situation with a population of approximately 73 million, with a long history, strong intellectual, cultural tradition, nationalism, and bountiful natural resources , especially vast resources of oil and natural gas. It has 12 present of the world's proven reserves of petroleum and also has the world's second largest reserves of natural gas. Iran is located in a critical area between two zones of energy, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, which contains 70 percent of world's known energy reserves and 60 percent of its natural gas. It has a 1570-miles coastline on the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman, with command of the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Iran rightly sees itself as an important regional power and indeed is the center of gravitation and the linchpin state in the greater Middle East from Pamir to the Mediterranean Sea.

Iran has borders with 15 countries without a single strategic friend along its long borders. It has been subjected many times to invasions of Russia and Great Britain in 19th and 20th centuries and dismembered several times. For example, under the treaty of Gulistan in 1814, Iran was forced to cede not only Georgia, but also 8 other provinces, and under the treaty of Turkemanchi, in 1828, Iran was forced to hand over additional Iranian territory to Russia. In 1907, Britain and Russia signed an agreement that divided Iran into zones of influence, but this agreement failed its objectives due to activities of Iranian nationalists and other reasons. During the World War I and especially World War II, Iran was occupied, and the Soviet Union in 1945 openly and directly instigated separatists in Iran. The Red Army supported Azari and Kurdish republics in Iran, but Soviet activities were frustrated by U.S. President Harry Truman. Iraq invaded Iran in 1990s, using chemical and biological weapons and killing over 400,000 and maimed close to one million.

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Iran is indeed an important force that can contribute immensely to peace and stability or to the destabilization of the region. Unfortunately, the clerical administration has chosen the latter. Iran therefore in both Eurasia and the global chessboard is a very important player and its defense and national security are critical in the global context. Given the fact that Iran is located at the crossroad of Eurasia, and subject to many attacks in the past with 5 nuclear powers in the immediate vicinity, we must understand Iran's defense needs and its right to develop defensive capabilities to ensure the security of the state against internal disintegration and external aggression.

Here the issue is responsibility of a government. The Islamic republic is irrational and supports international terrorist groups. It not only denies the Holocaust, but is openly and repeatedly seeking the destruction of the state of Israel. That is why the international community cannot tolerate such a radical regime with nuclear weapons. If Iran has a responsible government, and it can reasonably be assumed that Iranian leadership will remain moderate and rational, then I believe the U.S. and even Israel could live with a nuclear Iran. Now that Iran has crossed the Rubicon and is almost nuclear, the question arises, what policy should the west adopt to prevent a possible catastrophe.

A nuclear Iran under the leadership of a Jihadist theocratic regime will bring more harm than good to Iran, it will catapult the entire region to war and may even cause a nuclear war. The Islamic Republic is not going to be rational and will not change its course of action under pressure of international community. The clerical regime is pressure proof. It is not going to change its behavior and its policy. Neither negotiations, sanctions nor war will be useful, for the following reasons.

1) Negotiations and diplomatic engagement experienced a miscarriage long ago. An apocalyptic regime that believes in dissimulation (taghieh) and for foreign policy decisions consults with the Quran (estekhareh) is not going be a partner for peace. It is not a normal and rational regime. Iran's strategy is to buy time. If Tehran's regime engages itself to negotiation, it will be a means of deception to buy time to reach its strategic aim. As Sun Tzu put it, when an emissary of a state comes to the negotiation table and at the same time continues preparation, then be sure it will advance.

2) Sanction will not be effective. Russia and China will not agree with strong action because they both have economic and strategic interests in Iran, and even if they cooperate with the West for effective sanctions, it will not bring the Islamic regime to its knees.

3) Neither war nor a military strike by Israel or the U.S., which some quarters are advocating, will be effective. A military strike will not solve the problem and on the contrary will be detrimental to the interests of the U.S. in the region. It will bring more incalculable harm to Israel than good, and will catapult the entire region into chaos and even may cause nuclear war. In the event of a military strike against Iran, the Islamic Republic most probably will attack U.S. interests in the region. It will fire missiles at Tell Aviv and proxy wars from Hamas and Hezbollah will be waged against Israel. Most importantly, Iran will attack UAE and especially Saudi oil fields and refinery installations with intercontinental ballistic Shehab-3 missiles in its disposal. It could take at least 5 million barrels of Saudi oil a day out of the international market, thereby potentially increasing oil prices to up to 10 dollar per gallon. It would thus be unwise for the Saudi government to instigate war against Iran. Iran may also attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz. We should not forget that the theocratic government of Tehran is the most irrational and ruthless regime that has ever appeared in the Middle East. With the unfinished situation in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, rise of Taliban in Pakistan and tension in Arab-Israeli front, it would be the height of folly for the U.S. to open a new front in the region. War is easy to start, very expensive to continue, and most difficult to end.

The wisest policy is a fourth option, that in the past I have discussed several times. It would result in a change of the weak and mostly unpopular regime, but only with support of the People. The best strategy is to avoid power and maneuver around it. It means supporting the brave Iranian people who during the past 5 months have proven to be ready to overthrow the regime that they abhor. Iranians want a radical change and the removal of the Islamic regime from the pinnacle of power. They do not believe in reform of the regime, as former allies of the regime seek. The Islamic Republic with its domestic and foreign policy has created two important enemies: the people of Iran and the U.S. and Israel. A military strike and aggression against Iran may cause the people to unite in support of the regime that they hate. However, supporting the people will galvanize and give new energy to people who proved in the streets of Tehran and the biggest cities of Iran that are ready to rise and topple the regime.

I think the unsuccessful strategy that President Bush intended to follow may be finally adopted and implemented by President Obama. Mr. Obama extended his hands of friendship toward Tehran, but the Islamic Republic did not reciprocate and deceitfully dodged and buying time. I strongly believe that the best way of solving the problem is changing the regime by sound strategy and not by confrontation. As Sun Tzu stated, the acme of statesmanship is to succeed without war. President Obama needs to understand the emergence of this awesome social and political force that is fighting for freedom and liberty. The U.S. should not underestimate this force that started an insurrection against the tyrannical regime of the clerics. A week ago, hojatoleslam Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejehei, former ministry of intelligence and presently Attorney General, said the Islamic regime is vulnerable only from inside. With support of this great force of brave Iranians who attracted world attention and are ready to pay any price for their freedom, President Obama can make history and immensely improve the U.S.'s position in the region. A free and democratic Iran can again be an ally of the United States. It will also be most useful in containing international terrorism and promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The foundation of the Islamic regime is shaky. The element of fear is gone. People are openly challenging, and disrupting the rule of, Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The leadership is divided and it has created a political vacuum. It is time for the Obama Administration to tilt openly and enthusiastically towards the people and offer its unwavering support to them. With better and effective use of VOA, the U.S. can expose the corruption and inefficiency of the clerical leadership. It could also highlight the violation of human rights, ruthlessness of the regime and its harsh suppressions, and torture and killing of innocent people. Finally, it could help formation of a competent national government in exile that can reflect the ideas and will of the people of Iran and lead them to gain their freedom. This would be the best way of solving the most pressing international crisis and turn Iran from enemy to friend, and a force of peace and moderation in this volcanic region.

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