Iran ups the ante
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
Published April 2, 2007
Iran's leaders upped the ante in their face-off with the West when they
took 15 British sailors and marines hostage on March 23.
There can be no doubt Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters had been planning this sort of
thing for some time. One week before the kidnappings, Sobh-e Sadeq
weekly noted that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGG) has
"the ability to capture a nice bunch of blue-eyed blond-haired officers
and feed them to our fighting cocks."
At the time, the Revolutionary Guards
were seeking to "retaliate" for moves by multinational forces to crack
down on Iranian intelligence networks in Iraq, including the capture of
five Iranian intelligence operatives in Irbil on the night of Jan.
Sources in Iran tell me the IRGC
leadership realized going after U.S. forces would be too difficult,
given stepped-up protection measures the Americans put in place
recently. So they sought British targets as a substitute. "I wouldn't
be surprised if they captured American businessmen and tourists
visiting Iran, claiming they are spies" said opposition activist Sardar
Haddad. "They've done that before, and could do it again. When the
mullahs are in doubt, they take hostages."
Iran's actions are likely to stiffen
Western resolve, not weaken it. Calls to Britain on March 29 to
withdraw troops from Iraq in exchange for the kidnapped sailors and
marines appear to have backfired. Prime Minister Tony Blair announced
he will not bow to pressure. Has the Iranian leadership miscalculated,
as some analysts believe?
The short answer is: No. Mr. Ahmadinejad
and his supporters don't think as Westerners think. They aren't
analyzing costs vs. benefits or looking at their "bottom line." For
them, the only bottom line is perpetuating their regime.
They believe attacking Britain and
America will encourage their supporters, rally the faithful beyond Iran
and launch their worldwide jihad to "destroy America" and "wipe Israel
of the face of the Earth" -- two goals Mr. Ahmadinejad set for his
In the forthcoming issue of Newsmax
magazine, which will be on newsstands in early April, I run through a
detailed, blow-by-blow scenario of what a six-day military
confrontation with Iran could look like.
The spark that could ignite such a
confrontation could come from a number of different sources. It could
be a kidnapping such as this one. It could be an attack on a U.S.
warship by Iran, using its Russian and Chinese-supplied bottom-tethered
sea mines. Or it could be something completely different.
What's clear is that Mr. Ahmadinejad and
his faction want war. They believe war with the West is their ticket to
victory. And given that Democrats in Congress are intent on limiting
the president's ability to launch any kind of pre-emptive attack on
Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters will decide how and when this
Even if they lose large portions of their
country, or if their nuclear sites are destroyed, they believe they
will emerge victorious. Because in their eyes, this type of war with
the West will hasten the return of the Imam Mahdi, the savior figure of
the radical hojjatieh sect of Shia Islam in which the Ahmadinejad
But we mustn't make the mistake of some
in placing all our bets on Mr. Ahmadinejad. If somehow the U.S. were
able to wave a magic wand and get rid of him overnight, we would still
face a security and political establishment in Iran devoted to
confrontation with the West and destruction of Israel.
After all, it was Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani, the Islamic Republic's "moderate" former president, who
first evoked publicly a possible nuclear weapons exchange with Israel.
"The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would destroy Israel
completely, while [the same][ against [Iran] would only cause damages.
Such a scenario is not inconceivable," Mr. Rafsanjani said in a sermon
at Tehran University on Dec. 14, 2001. Decoded, that message is
Iran has no fear of an Israeli nuclear
attack, because Iran is vast, with deep underground bunkers for its
leadership and clandestine nuclear sites most likely not on anyone's
target list. Were the Israelis to attack, or to respond to an Iranian
nuclear attack, Iran will suffer great losses. But Israel will cease to
So these are stakes. A seemingly simple
hostage-taking could be how this begins. A series of mushroom clouds
could be how it ends.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is president of the
Middle East Data Project Inc. and author of "Countdown to Crisis: The
Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran." He also is executive director of
the Foundation for Democracy in Iran and was nominated for the 2006
Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran.