The Washington Times


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. 10-11.
     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 presidency.
     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 war begins.
     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 faction believes.
     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 chilling.
     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 exist.
     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.