Iran Relationship Changes

From the July 2004 Trumpet Print Edition

On June 21, Iran seized three British patrol boats in the Shatt al-Arab waterway for allegedly entering Iranian territory illegally. Although Tehran released the eight soldiers on board three days later, this was an overtly provocative incident—just one in a new pattern of aggressiveness being displayed by Iran.

Several months ago, Iran thought its future hold on Iraq was pretty much assured. As part of what the Trumpet has documented as being essentially a quid pro quo, Iran was to keep the Iraqi Shiite population under control following the U.S. invasion and, in return, the United States was to ensure that Iraq’s new government would be dominated by Iraq’s Shiites under the influence of Iran.

But all has not gone according to Iran’s plans. The deal has fallen through. The final straw for the U.S. was the Iranian-supported Iraqi cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s refusal to control radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s uprising in Najaf in April. Instead of relying on Iran’s influence over the Shiites to control unrest, the U.S. strategy changed to one of negotiation and collaboration with the various Iraqi factions themselves.

Iran miscalculated and, to a certain degree, has now lost its leverage in Iraq. By delaying Iraqi elections and instead appointing an interim government of its choosing (consisting of Sunnis and Kurds in addition to the underrepresented Shiites), the U.S. has marginalized the Shiites. Sadr, along with Ahmed Chalabi (whose Iranian connections proved to be stronger than his U.S. loyalty), has been sidelined in the new government.

Thus, Iran believes it has been double-crossed, and it is not happy. Backed into a corner, it is retaliating. “Iran is rebelling against being sidelined by the United States and is attempting to reassert itself as a regional player” (Stratfor, June 22). Iran’s seizure of the British boats in June was a deliberate attempt to incite a diplomatic crisis of sorts in order to remind the world it is still there. Iran still wants a Shiite-dominated Iraq and a more powerful position in the Middle East.

Apart from the British boat seizure, Iran has been displaying its renewed assertiveness in numerous other ways, including in its dealings with the International Atomic Energy Agency (iaea) over its nuclear program. When the iaea issued a statement on June 18 censuring Iran for its lack of cooperation with its investigation, Iran responded by criticizing Europe and threatening to restart (or carry on) its uranium enrichment program. Tehran recognizes that as long as the West doesn’t know the extent of its nuclear production capabilities, it can use this as leverage—a strategy not unlike North Korea’s.

Then there are Iran’s leaks over the last couple of months concerning its training of suicide squads in preparation for attacks on Western targets. Agence France Presse, citing an Iranian newspaper, reported that the leader of one particular Islamic movement, Mohammad Samadi, claimed he had signed up 2,000 martyrs. “Suicide operations are the best way to fight the oppressors …” he said (June 5). This is an indirect threat from Iran to the U.S. that it is prepared to mount a suicide bombing campaign of its own if it doesn’t get its way in Iraq.

Added to that is the possibility Iran may, as Stratfor speculates, be responsible for or at least involved in the surge of attacks on the southern Iraq oil pipeline that took place in June.

Meanwhile, Shiites within Iraq are working through official channels to maneuver themselves back into the game. Mehdi Army militia leader Sadr—supported by the Hizb al-Dawah, Iraq’s oldest Islamist Shiite political group, and Ayatollah al-Sistani—has joined the mainstream political process.

Iran, however, feels it can’t afford to wait. As manifested in its renewed aggressiveness, Iran is determined not to let this chance at domination of Iraq—and by extension the greater Middle East—slip away. Continue watching the lengths to which Iran will go as the lead nation of the prophesied “king of the south” (Daniel 11:40) to consolidate and strengthen its position in the Middle East.

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