Rise of a Soon-to-Be Nuclear Power in the Middle East – Iran

There is no doubt that the UN ceasefire of August 14 caught Israel short of achieving the goals it set out for the Lebanon campaign.

Within days, this fact had rippled across the Middle East and touched off a drastic shift in the strategic balance – not only between Israel and the Arab world, but also between the United States and Iran, and Iran and its neighbors – including the Persian Gulf and the Indian subcontinent.

What Israeli achieved up until the truce consisted of, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military summing-up, destroying two of Hizballah’s 11 combat sectors in S. Lebanon – three were partially disabled and the remaining 6 suffered only light casualties and minor damage from air strikes.

Of Hizballah’s three rocket brigades, only the long-range one was completely destroyed, while the medium- and short-range brigades were only partly impaired.

Furthermore, Hizballah’s 4,000 highly-trained and well-armed fighters and their large rocket arsenal stood up to 30,000 Israeli troops, 800 tanks, an air force and a navy for 33 days.

They presented Iran’s Revolutionary Guards corps, which masterminded the war campaign, its most outstanding feat in 27 years, ever since their seizure in 1979 of the US embassy in Tehran, when they held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days.

Many of Iran’s top officials were peeved with Hizballah for jumping the gun on its plans to open a second front in Lebanon and for the loss of a vast investment in rockets and hardware. (See HOT POINTS)

Some also suspected Israel of staging a dress rehearsal for a projected US-Israeli operation against Iran’s nuclear facilities scheduled for late 2006 early 2007. But, since the ceasefire took hold, Iranian leaders have been busy drawing up a quick profit-and-loss balance sheet and ended up more than satisfied with the way the Lebanon war has panned out.


Tehran plans a celebratory military exercise


Even if the Americans and Israelis did try and use the conflict as a dress rehearsal, Tehran sees it as a failed performance and plans to celebrate in its own way.

Iran likes to link its military exercises and parades with major political or diplomatic events and provide them with religious motifs. Therefore, Wednesday, Aug. 16, a mere 48 hours after the Lebanese ceasefire went into effect, the acting general commander of the Iranian army, General Muhammed Reza Ashtyani, announced a big maneuver was impending in the coming days for 12 ground forces divisions.

There will be combined ground, sea and air practices, together with test-firings of new ordnance and weapons.

This display is designed as a reward for the Revolutionary Guards for their triumph over the United States and Israel in Lebanon and its positive side-effects. As DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported over the past month, the Hizballah high command conducted the war out of two centers, both manned by Iranian RC officers, in the basements of the Iranian embassies in Beirut and Damascus.

They presented Iran with its first military victory since the 1730-1740s, when the Persian Nair Shah drove the Russians out and quelled the Afghan revolt. While Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed the Hizballah “victory” over Israel as a “victory for Islam,” Tehran is also pleased with a feat that satisfies national pride as much as Islamic honor.

The Revolutionary Guards corps is more than pleased; it is cock-a-hoop, boasting that after besting the Israeli army it is ready to take on any Western military force.

(Articles in this issue will deal with the impact on Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates.)

In the short term, Iran’s biggest gain, in the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iran and military experts, is its conviction that the failure of Israel’s military backed by an American arms airlift of arms to decisively defeat Hizballah has removed an imminent threat hanging over Iran’s nuclear installations.

The Bush administration, in its last lap, is seen to be in deep distress at home, its troops in Iraq are unable to lift the country out of the flames of civil war (July saw the peak death toll of 3,438 dead, an average of 111 killed per day), and, even with the help of NATO and pro-western Arab nations (like Jordan), America cannot assemble an effective Iraqi army and security services capable of taking over and letting the US army go home.

Iranian Israel-watchers have not missed the process of disintegration and corrosion undermining Israel’s political and military leadership and the blow the IDF suffered to its pride and morale in the Lebanon campaign.

The Bush administration is perceived to have lost the initiative in the Middle East by backing weak leaders like Fouad Siniora in Beirut, Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, and Nouri Maliki in Baghdad. The region is therefore laid open to Tehran’s domination through the puissant Hizballah and the Shiite militias of Iraq, as well as the radical Palestinian organizations which Iran is arming for battling Israel.

These perceptions have combined to persuade Tehran that it is sitting pretty and that the prospect of a US and/or Israeli attack on its nuclear projects, while not impossible is remote.

The same applies to UN sanctions.

Tehran has taken aboard the incredible weakness and ineptness of the Security Council in bringing about a cessation of hostilities in Lebanon in more than a month. Its signal inability to get an effective multinational stabilization force off the ground and deployed ready to perform the world body’s will is another piece of good news for Tehran.


Iran‘s nuclear program is disencumbered of threats


In a single fateful month, therefore, these two major threats have been whisked away, disencumbering the regime in Tehran of military and economic deterrents and free to drive hard to achieve its goals of a nuclear weapon and a nuclear-capable missile stock ready to go within the next two to three years.

They fully expect the United States, the Arab and Muslim world and Israel to resign themselves to the rise of the new-old-new Middle East Persian power, armed with a nuclear bomb.

The Israeli army’s failure to grapple with rockets and missiles of Iranian manufacture flying against their tanks and their towns and villages has already pushed Iran up the ladder as a military power to be reckoned with. It means that the Americans have no answer to Iran’s rocket tactics when applied in local Middle East conflicts.

Eighty percent of the supplies reaching Hizballah, including ammunition and rockets, came from Iranian sources, brought in either from Iranian stockpiles maintained in Syria or by airlift via Syrian military airfields.

Iran’s achievements, the key strategic and military landmark in the Middle East since Israel’s 1967 victory over the combined Arab armies, could, in the opinion of DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts, be reversed by two developments:

1. An Israeli decision to regard the month-long campaign prior to the ceasefire as unfinished business and, within no more than two to three months, send its army back for a decisive round from which it will emerge as clear victor.

In the climate of doom and bitter recriminations in which Israel is sunk at the moment, it is hard to see Israel’s armed forces licking their wounds and collecting themselves to mount a daunting military campaign so soon. But this eventuality cannot be dismissed out of hand. The Israeli military has a track record of fast recoveries from setbacks and a proven ability to make up surprise maneuvers for retrieving lost situations. The coming weeks will show whether Israeli war leaders and the IDF have not lost that quality.

2. A Bush administration decision to write a postscript for the Lebanon war in view of the need to repair its damage present and future to American interests. This could come in the form of a direct strike against Iran, targeting its nuclear installations and Revolutionary Guards bases. However, at the present time, this option looks extremely remote.

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