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TEHRAN'S TARGETS
LEBANON FIGHTING A 'MESSAGE' FROM IRAN
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
May 23, 2007

May 23, 2007 -- KUNDUZ, northern Afghanistan: A series of suicide attacks against civilians and NATO forces break the calm the city has enjoyed since 2002.

Tripoli, northern Lebanon: A little-known terrorist group called Fatah al-Islam (Victory of Islam) attacks the Lebanese army from a Palestinian refugee camp, breaking the peace that the city has enjoyed since 1990.

Mandali, eastern Iraq: Terrorists dressed in military uniforms go on a rampage, killing dozens of civilians, blowing up a few buildings and ending the peace that the city had enjoyed since May 2003.

Jask Peninsula, the Gulf of Oman: Small, unidentified boats harass a unit of Task Force 150, the 21-nation flotilla charged with a U.N. mission of stopping arms-smuggling into the Gulf region.

Gaza: Unknown gunmen break a cease-fire accord worked out by Saudi Arabia between Hamas and Fatah, triggering what looks like a burgeoning Palestinian civil war. At the same time, Islamic Jihad, which was not a party to the Mecca accord, resumes rocket attacks against Israel.

What's interesting about all these incidents is that none involved the usual suspects.

Start with Kunduz, the only Pushtun-majority city in northern Afghanistan. The attacks it has seen in recent days did not come from the Taliban, which has never had a real base of support there. The culprit was Hizb Islami, a Pushtun radical group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. And where does Hekmatyar operate from? He has been protected, armed and financed by Tehran since 1992.

What about Mandali? This Shiite-majority city has enjoyed the reputation of being the calmest place in Iraq since liberation. It's virtually impossible for al Qaeda or any other Sunni terror outfit to enter it without being spotted immediately. So how did a terror unit manage to come, kill and flee? Well, Mandali is close to the border with Iran, and it was in that direction that the terrorists escaped after their murderous operation.

As for Tripoli, the stronghold of Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community, it's unlikely that the terror group could find a genuine base within the local population. Fatah al-Islam, a recent actor on the Leb- anese scene, consists almost exclusively of non-Lebanese Arab fighters.

So how did these men get into Lebanon? Well, Lebanon has two neighbors: Israel and Syria. It's not hard to imagine how these guys got to Tripoli. And is it possible that someone in Damascus would want to push Lebanon toward a new civil war without coordinating with Syria's principal ally, the Islamic Republic in Tehran?

What about the game of cat-and-mouse played by small, armed boats against the patrol boats of the U.S.-led multinational force in the Gulf of Oman?

Well, only two navies operate in that in that part of the waterway close to the Strait of Hormuz - those of of the United States and of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Wouldn't it be logical to assume that the intimidating boats operate from the Iranian coast and seek shelter there after each provocative maneuver?

The fighting in Gaza is also shrouded by mystery. It's clear that the Hamas government led by Ismail Haniyah didn't want it. But it's equally clear that Hamas' "Supreme Guide" Khalid Mishaal, who lives in Damascus and listens to Tehran, believes that a big showdown is coming between the U.S.-led "Infidel" forces and the Iranian-led "forces of Islamic revolution," and that his movement must put itself on the right side. As for Islamic Jihad, everyone knows that it was created with Iranian money in the mid-1980s and has always been Tehran's principal Palestinian client.

All this, of course, may sound like circumstantial evidence. But a careful reading of recent statements made by the Khomeinist leadership in Tehran would show that the Islamic Republic and its regional allies, including Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Hizb Islami and a dozen lesser-known radical outfits, have decided to pass on a message. The message has three themes:

* Radical Islam in the region is not controlled solely by al Qaeda and its allied groups and that the Khomeinist movement and its clients remain as potent as ever.

* The U.S.-led efforts to build a regional alliance against Tehran will provoke Khomeinist counter-attacks across the Middle East.

* Tehran regards the forthcoming negotiations with Washington as the diplomatic side of its broader campaign to destroy the Bush Doctrine and drive the United States out of the Middle East.

Strategists in Tehran appear convinced that an American retreat will take place within the next two years at most. They are also determined not to allow the United States to shape a regional alliance capable of protecting a new balance of power.

This will create a vacuum in much of the region - notably Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Tehran cannot allow rival radical groups, especially al Qaeda and the Taliban, to fill that vacuum. It is, therefore, trying to place its allies and clients in strategic positions from which to claim power in Kabul, Baghdad and Beirut, among other places.

Early signs show that a long, hot summer of conflict, perhaps even full-scale war, is ahead of us in the Middle East. The perception that the United States is divided and weak has encouraged the most radical elements throughout the region, including Tehran and Damascus.

With what was left of the so-called realists and pragmatists on the defensive everywhere, the radical agenda is unchallenged. As Ali Khamenei, the "Supreme Guide" of the Khomeinist movement, said last week, Tehran can deploy suicide-martyrdom groups, a weapon "many times stronger than the atomic bombs used in Hiroshima."

Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri is based in Europe.

 

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