Iran, its neighbors, and Mideast nuclear war

By Olivier Guitta, from The Middle East Times (Hat Tip: Counterterrorism Blog):

[…]

Iran’s main conduit in avoiding sanctions has been Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. There are historical reasons for this: since the beginning of the 20th century, Dubai and Iran have enjoyed close trade relations. Also, Dubai welcomed several waves of Iranian immigrants.
Not a week goes by without an Iranian minister or official visiting Dubai.

The 350,000 Iranians of Dubai compose the third largest community after the Indians and the Pakistanis. The large fortunes belong to families of Iranian origin. There are 8,200 Iranian companies today in Dubai compared to 6,500 in 2005.

Dubai has become Iran’s back-up base and Iranian companies that do business abroad prefer to be based in the emirate. More than 200 flights each week link Dubai to the main Iranian cities. The port ships merchandise of all kinds to Iran, from cars to electric machinery and food.

The official trade figure between the two countries is $6 billion annually, but the smuggling amounts to an estimated additional $1.2 billion a year. Out of that $1.2 billion figure about $250 million stems from U.S. goods, supposedly banned from entering Iran.

These goods are mostly transported by boat and are never controlled by U.S. warships patrolling the Gulf. Dubai authorities are very lax in enforcing any kind of trade ban and let this traffic thrive.

Dubai is not only a great trade hub for Iran but also a financial one. In recent years, Dubai has become the main place for Iranian capital. According to one economist, Dubai received 50 percent of the $20 billion that left Iran in the past 10 years. Dubai is literally the cash cow for Iran in the sense that it accepts billions of dollars of Iranian deposits in cash.

Recently a diplomat said regarding Dubai: “One can show up at a bank with $300 million in cash in a suitcase, the bank will accept the deposit without any problems.”

And this is common practice even after the United States put pressure on Dubai to give up this cash transaction business. Another worrisome trend is Iran’s ability to use investment funds domiciled in financial tax havens. There are rumors that Iran would like to open a huge $90 billion fund within the Dubai Financial International Center.

[…]

In fact, these banks that have no commercial interests in the United States are happy to do business with Iran by increasing their usual fees by 10 percent to 15 percent.
It just goes to show how difficult it is to impose worldwide sanctions on Iran.

Indeed there will always be firms or banks or governments for that matter that will see opportunities to do business with the Islamic republic. Since 2003, Iran signed for $20 billion worth of contracts with foreign companies.

Also a troubling statistic: from March 2007 to January 2008, non-oil exports have increased 13.8 percent. Also, China, Iran’s largest trading partner, is allegedly on the verge of opening a tax-free zone in the Gulf that will primarily serve Iranian clients. Interestingly, a number of U.S. companies are always present in trade shows organized in the tax-free zone of the Iranian island of Kish.

Even though it is creating small problems for Iran, the international community must now realize that the sanctions passed have had overall a negligent [sic] effect on Iran’s economy.
Unfortunately, the pressure applied to the mullah’s regime in Tehran is not having the desired effect. Tehran is far from giving up its “God-given right” to a military nuclear program and on the contrary, it actually seems even more emboldened to challenge the international community. In light of this, the odds of military action is growing by the day.

By Olivier Guitta, from The Middle East Times:

Israel has been providing intelligence and satellite images to the U.S. about a secret Syrian nuclear program for several months, according to media reports. Discussions between Israel and the United States took place last summer regarding a possible strike. But when Israel found the matter so pressing that when they realized the U.S. was not ready to act, on September 6 they attacked a Syrian nuclear site. Hence the question: what is Syria really up to or more to the point what is Iran up to?

[…]

Another proof of what transpired came from ranking Republicans on the House Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Peter Hoekstra, who were briefed on the Israeli strike and sworn to secrecy. They wrote an op-ed in the October 20 Wall Street Journal clearly underlining the seriousness of the situation regarding both the North Korean and Iranian involvement in the Syrian arms program.

Finally, the fact that the Bush administration (including President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and most notably Defense Secretary Robert Gates) has been ramping up the rhetoric and taking action against Iran (including the latest sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards) in the past week, might also be linked to what really happened in Syria.

The Syrian story is far from over: in fact, on October 23, Al Seyassah ran a story about potential new secret nuclear sites in Syria. According to Western sources cited by the paper, it is possible that Syria is developing other nuclear sites with the help of North Korea, Iran and Iraqi experts, the latter who fled their country at the start of the Iraq war in 2003. In fact, observation satellites have allegedly located in Syria at least two other sites similar to the one destroyed by Israel last month.

Iran’s handwriting is all over the wall from the chemical to the nuclear arms program in Syria. Indeed, in research conducted last year as part of an article published in Washington’s The Examiner, this reporter delved into Syrian’s [sic] secret nuclear program, making the point that Syria might actually be “Plan B” for Iran. By helping develop nuclear sites in Syria, strikes on Iran might turn out to be useless. This was a smart strategy until Israel bombed the Syrian nuclear site on September 6 and made the world notice.

By Olivier Guitta, from The Middle East Times:

What would be the most logical target Iran would strike in case of a U.S. or Israeli attack on its nuclear sites?

Qatar.

In fact, Iranian Revolutionary guards have already threatened to attack Qatari oil and gas facilities (hence crippling the world economy by creating an oil and gas shock) by sea and air by using suicide boats and air missiles.


For Iran, it’s a no-brainer: Qatar hosts the largest U.S. base in the Middle East (8,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed there) and is also viewed by some as being friendly with Israel.

First and foremost, Qatar has been heavily using the diplomatic weapon. Its strategy is to befriend everyone: from Israel to Hamas, from Syria to France.

Even though Qatar’s deputy foreign minister Mohamed al-Ruhaimi firmly believes that “speaking to everyone allows us to have a dynamic and independent policy,” it is a recipe for disaster. For instance, Qatar has not been terror-free: in fact, in March 2005, a suicide bomber (most likely linked or inspired by al-Qaida) killed one Briton and wounded 12 people in Doha in an attack at a theater frequented by Westerners.

[…]


Finally another potential source of conflict is the sharing of the enormous offshore gas reserve of the North Field (the largest natural gas reserve in the world with 25 trillion cubic meters) between the two nations, which is bound to ignite major tension, in particular as the Iranian economy worsens.

But Qatar has also a few fail-safe measures: one of them is obviously the U.S. military presence in the country. Another one is a military treaty with France obligating the latter to intervene militarily to defend the tiny Gulf state. France would be treaty bound to send troops to the region to retaliate against Iran. Recently, Qatari diplomats have been reminding France of its commitments.

Last but not least, since March 2006 Qatari refineries and vital oil installations have been protected by batteries of Patriot missiles.

An Iranian attack on Qatar might literally plunge the world into a new global war. Gulf and Western countries are taking this scenario seriously. That is why military activity in the Gulf has been increasing tremendously in the past few months. According to British sources, the stock of weapons, missiles, and combat planes in the six neighboring countries to Iran is now three times what it was at the onset of the Iraq war in 2003. The skies are getting darker once more in the Middle East.

Writing on a hypothetical Iranian-Israeli nuclear war (Hat Tip: The Middle East Times), Anthony Cordesman — Former Director of Intelligence Assessment for the Secretary of Defense — writes that 16,000,000 to 28,000,000 Iranians would be killed in the first 21 days, and that Iranian recovery is “not possible in [the] normal sense of the term”. In an Israeli war with Syria, he writes, Syrian recovery would not be possible, either. If true, this is excellent news.

From The New York Sun:

WASHINGTON — An attack on the U.S. 5th Fleet, exploding Saudi oil refineries, and a Hezbollah operation against a soft target in the Americas, Asia, or Europe. These are scenarios America’s intelligence analysts are now poring over as Israel signals its preparedness to deal with Iran‘s race for the A-bomb.

The disclosure Friday in the New York Times of Israel’s aerial training mission earlier this month over the Greek Mediterranean prompted America’s intelligence chiefs to task analysts with developing contingency plans — or what one called “nightmare scenarios” — if the Israelis were to send their F-15s and F-16s to Iran’s known nuclear enrichment facilities. While the training exercise was known at the time to American intelligence, the fact that Israel and America chose to make the mission public escalated the already high tensions between Tehran and Jerusalem.

While Europe, America, and other allies increase economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran, Israel is privately making it clear that it seeks to prevent Iran from even testing a nuclear device, as North Korea did in 2006. Most Western intelligence agencies agree that Iran’s enrichment tests at Natanz have increased the odds of Iran mastering the technology necessary to create a test explosion.

In February, the director of national intelligence, Admiral John Michael McConnell, told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that Iran could be between six and 12 months away from mastering the technology needed for a nuclear device but not a warhead or bomb. Later in that hearing, he conceded that weapons analysts differ on the matter, providing a range of dates for nuclear fuel cycle mastery between 2010 and 2015, and adding that America’s knowledge of the matter was incomplete.

[…]

Possible scenarios include:


A terrorist attack on the Saudi oil port of Ras Tanura, an export point for oil bound for Asia. Saudi and American officials have in the past disrupted Al Qaeda plots on the facility, such as an attack on the Abqaiq oil processing plant near Dammam, Saudi Arabia, that killed two guards.

A naval assault on the U.S. 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf. Iran still has warships equipped with Russian-designed Shkval torpedoes that it could fire at American vessels. Another possible attack would be suicide boat sorties similar to the one that bombed the USS Cole.

The commencement of a new round in the war between Hezbollah and Israel, with Hezbollah firing its Shihab missiles into Haifa and possibly the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv.

Hezbollah or Iranian intelligence terrorist operations on soft targets, such as shopping malls and community centers, in third countries and possibly even America.

A renewed effort to stir an uprising in Iraq through Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army or the special groups controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

In the past, Admiral McConnell has testified that Hezbollah has operatives in America. The network from Hezbollah was first disclosed in a series of federal prosecutions against the group’s illicit fund raising. In some cases, individuals who were primarily raising money for the organization were found to have trained with the organization at the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.


A former senior counterterrorism official for both Presidents Clinton and Bush, Roger Cressey, said yesterday that it might not be in Hezbollah’s interest to do Iran’s retaliatory bidding. “As much as Iran is Hezbollah’s state patron, it is unclear whether Hezbollah would take operations at the behest of Iran inside the United States,” he said. “That is not necessarily in Hezbollah’s state interest right now.”

A more likely scenario, Mr. Cressey said, would involve Hezbollah operatives attempting to terrorize softer targets in South America, Europe, or East Asia.
“There are other targets they could hit,” he said. “You can’t discount those scenarios.”

Hezbollah is active in America. It must not be underestimated. Our porous borders have left us open to attack by Hezbollah and other anti-American forces.

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