Iran Flexes Its Muscles: Iran Has a Grand Plan to Become One of the Most Influential Countries in the Region. Was the Arrest of 15 British Forces Personnel in Disputed Waters during March Part of This Scheme?

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THE CAPTURE OF 15 British Royal Navy and Royal Marines by Iran's Pasdaran revolutionary guards in March, their humiliating display on Iranian TV and their release two weeks later by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was a significant step in the Islamic Republic's ambitious plans to emerge as a regional powerhouse.

With its long-term strategy of imposing its hegemony on the Middle East--especially Iraq where it has vital interests--Tehran's plans are complicated by an internal political struggle between different factions. Some 28 years after Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini's Islamic revolution, the republic is still struggling to transport itself from adolescent rebellion to mature statehood.

Iran's national psyche hovers between conflicting identities: ancient Persian nationhood (to which British Prime Minister Tony Blair appealed during the first week of the crisis, saying: "We have no quarrel with the people of Iran who have a proud ancient history") and its craving for a place at the helm of global radical Islam.

Iran's Pasdaran, which sparked off the confrontation, an army of 120,000, organised into 23 brigades drawn from all branches of armed forces, was formed by Ayatollah Khomeini and his close circle of radical clergy who doubted the professional army's commitment to their brand of radical Islamism. The Pasdaran became an instrument to export the Shi'a Islamic revolution, playing an historic role in awakening the Muslim World's Sunni extremists' dream of recreating a medieval Islamist rule in modern times and introducing the concept of Shehada--'martyrdom seeking'.

During the war with Iraq, Ayatollah Khomeini sent thousands of young men recruited by Pasdaran--to clear minefields. Their deaths inspired Hizbullah suicide bombers in Lebanon and in turn introduced the concept to Sunni Palestinian Hamas, Al Qaeda and Iraq's sectarian killers.

A professional army calculates the risks of military actions and hence the Iranian army has been reluctant to engage coalition forces in Iraq or the Gulf directly. But the

Pasdaran are motivated by ideological zeal, putting a higher value on propaganda rather than citing a strategic objective as an aim of their action.

Not surprising then that Iran's neighbours are nervous at the prospect of the Pasdaran getting their hands on nuclear weapons.

The country's long-term regional strategy is best demonstrated in Southern Iraq, whose territorial waters and disputed Shat Al Arab waterway have become a violent arena of conflict, mainly managed by Iran via its proxy militia.

No sooner than the release of the British Navy hostages was announced last month than the pro-Iran Shi'a militia attacked a British army unit in Basra, killing four soldiers and injuring several more. The explosive used in the attack was devised and supplied by Iran. Stopping the smuggling of such weapons to Southern Iraq is a task overseen by the British navy patrols that the Pasdaran sought to humiliate when they ambushed two boats operating from HMS Cornwall in Iraqi waters and took the personnel hostage.

The action was meticulously planned and the Pasdaran were, untypically, equipped with video cameras to record the humbling of the British, with the Iranian colours fluttering above the Royal Navy's white ensign.

Capturing the 15 British hostages was done with ease; the sailors and Royal Marines had no defence equipment and carried only light arms--no match for those aimed at them by the Pasdaran, who surprised the Brits as they descended ropes from an Indian cargo ship carrying motorcars some 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters. It was a routine operation conducted several times daily, covered by UNSC resolution 1423 to protect Iraq's borders and territorial waters as well as protecting an Iraqi oil terminal platform.

Observers agree that the main aim of the Pasdaran action was to send a message of strength to neighbouring Arab nations, who take serious notice of displays of military power. …