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THERE'S BEEN A WAR ALL ALONG
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
May 17, 2006


Although the "silly season" is still several weeks away, the media are already in a frenzy about a new war in the Middle East this time involving the Islamic Republic of Iran. A few American "investigative reporters", quoting the usual "sources speaking on condition of anonymity", even insist the war has already started with US "special forces" operating "deep inside Iran" since last summer.

Some think-tanks are already planning special seminars on "the consequences of the war" while hardly a day passes without one of the seemingly countless aspirants for the US presidency in 2008 putting out an op-ed on the subject. One "expert" who had fixed the date for an American invasion of Iran as June 2005 has just provided a new date: June 2006.

Well, let us say at the outset that there is not going to be a war involving Iran, and certainly not in June when all attention will be focused on the World Cup tournament in Germany. As for US Special Forces operating in Iran, as the New Yorker magazine reported, it is unlikely the Islamic Republic has not found any of them after nearly 14 months.

The Iran-US war is not going to start in June because, in fact, it started on November 4, 1979, when a group of "students" raided the American embassy compound in Tehran and took its diplomats hostage. By any standards, that was a clear causus belli. It did not lead to a straightforward war because the American side chose not to treat the embassy raid as an act of war.

Apart from a brief moment in which the Reagan administration tried to wage a low intensity war against the Islamic Republic, successive administrations in Washington have adopted President Jimmy Carter's policy of "patience and forbearance" vis-à-vis Tehran.

The Islamic Republic, however, consistently maintained its war posture vis-à-vis the US all along. In 1984 Mohammad Khatami, then Minister of Islamic Orientation, wrote that the Islamic Republic was waging war "against global arrogance led by the United States" on behalf of mankind as a whole.

In 1986 Hashemi Rafsanjani, then Speaker of the Islamic Majlis, went further: "We are at war with the US a war which must end with the victory of Islam over the Infidel led by America."

It is, of course, quite possible, that both Khatami and Rafsanjani were merely repeating their regime's mantra and did not really seek full-scale war against the United States.

But anyone familiar with the history of the past two decades would know that the Islamic Republic has whenever and wherever possible waged a low intensity war against the US since 1979.

All along, Iran was content with small and incremental successes against the US and was careful not to provoke a major confrontation that might force Washington to hit back with any degree of determination. The idea was to wear the US down with an endless campaign of small-scale violence and terror aimed against its citizens and allies.

The American policy of absorbing the small shocks administered by the Islamic Republic allowed Tehran to maintain its anti-US posture at minimal cost to itself. Nevertheless, the policy was not cost-free. Washington's refusal to recognise the Khomeinist regime as a legitimate member of the international community has cost Tehran dearly.

For almost three decades, Iran has been shut out of the global capital market and prevented from normal access to the fruits of scientific and technological progress. The Islamic Republic's persistent economic failure must, at least in part, be imputed to the American boycott.

Today, Iran is producing something like 3.8 million barrels of oil a day, a level it reached and surpassed in 1973. Worse still, it has become an importer of petroleum products.

Iran's gas industry is in even poorer shape. Projections made in 1977 saw it emerging as the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas by the year 2000. Iran owns the second largest deposits of natural gas in the world, after Russia, amounting to almost 20 per cent of the global reserves.

And, yet, it is importing natural gas from Turkmenistan to feed its only gas-turbined power station at Neka on the Caspian Sea.

Worse to come

If Iranian oil ministry officials are to be believed, there is much worse to come. Last month, the ministry unveiled invitations for investments worth more than $100 billion in Iran's oil and gas industries. Part of that investment is needed to prevent the total collapse of some of Iran's largest oilfields, including Bibi Hakimeh, Maroun and Ahvaz, which now produce 25-30 per cent less than in 1971.

Against that background, it would not be hard to see that the Islamic Republic has been the bigger loser in the low intensity war it has waged against the United States. The US is now four times richer, in constant dollars, than it was in 1979 when its embassy was raided. Iran, however, is almost 50 per cent poorer.

The Islamic Republic has succeeded in securing a foothold in Lebanon through the Hezbollah, and in the Palestinian territories through Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It also has allies in Iraq, Afghanistan and among the Shiite communities in the Gulf. Politically and diplomatically, however, the Islamic Republic today is more isolated than in 1979.

The US, on the other hand, has made a spectacular incursion in what could be regarded as Iran's geopolitical habitat in West and Central Asia, the Caspian Basin, Transcaucasia, and the Middle East. The US is now militarily present in all but two of Iran's 15 neighbouring countries.

In a sense the war that the Islamic Republic says it is waging against the US has hurt it more than its designated enemy. The recent rise in tension has helped put that issue at the centre of the debate inside the Islamic Republic.

This is why people like Rafsanjani and Khatami, who once took pride in describing themselves as "Jihadists" against the Americans, are now publicly critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's more militant anti-Americanism.

In other words the real problem is an Iranian one, not an Irano-American one. At some point, the Islamic Republic must decide whether it is in its own interest to review a policy that has produced nothing but disaster for it over the past three decades. Ahmadinejad may well turn out to be the man who pushed such a review into the agenda of the leadership in Tehran.

Iranian author and journalist Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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