Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iran's Alarming Military Buildup Transfixes Wary Gulf Neighbors

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iran's Alarming Military Buildup Transfixes Wary Gulf Neighbors

Article excerpt

Iran's Alarming Military Buildup Transfixes Wary Gulf Neighbors

A columnist should never become preoccupied with a single issue, lest he seem to be crying wolf. In recent columns this writer has described the rapid buildup of Iran's armaments and the "yard sale" in which Soviet equipment has poured into many Third World countries, including Iran. With the West now engaged in Operation Southern Watch against Iraq, another column in the Washington Report on Iran must seem obsessive.

The problem, however, is that whoever is ordering arms in Tehran is far more obsessive than those writing about this alarming trend. Something fundamental is happening, and nobody's watching except the Gulf Arab states, mesmerized with alarm, and the few Western observers who still watch Iran.

European defense publications claim that Iran has received not only the MiG-29s, the two or more submarines, and the other attack and bombing military aircraft which have been reported previously in this column, but a vast additional inventory of military hardware. This includes 12 to 24 Tupolev Tu-26 Backfire bombers; MiG-29s, MiG-27s and MiG-31s; two or more A-50 (Il-76 variant) Mainstay ex-Soviet versions of the U.S. Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS); more submarines; and, most importantly, large numbers of Russian, Ukrainian, or other ex-Soviet advisers who are now on the world market seeking new high-paying jobs.

This "laundry list," paid for with petroleum earnings, is reminiscent of an earlier era. Before his fall, the Shah of Iran was seeking to acquire U.S. AWACS as well as missiles, major combat aircraft, and other sophisticated weapons. He also had the world's largest fleet of hovercraft, strongly suggesting he had designs on Iraq's southern marshes. The U.S. sold him the weapons anyway, under the convenient and highly profitable Nixon/Kissinger doctrine that Iran was one of the "twin pillars of the Gulf." (The fact that the other "pillar," Saudi Arabia, could have been overrun in a minute by the rapidly arming first pillar never seemed to undermine the "twin pillars" rationale.)

On the basis of population alone, Iran is, and must be, the biggest and most important power in the Gulf. But for the biggest country to have the military power to enforce its will on all of its smaller neighbors simultaneously is not something which encourages regional stability. Middle East specialists not under Israel's influence today deplore the over-arming of Iran by the Nixon administration as contributing to revolutionary Iran's adventurism. Iran needed strong defenses against the U.S.S.R., as did Saudi Arabia and other friends in the region. But the Nixon/Kissinger "give Iran everything but nuclear weapons" policy was excessive. Supporters of arming Saudi Arabia or other Arab states have never argued for the kind of blank check given the Shah. The Shah was in line to get the AWACS when he fell. Now in the Middle East, only Saudi Arabia has the AWACS, and its version cannot read what is happening to its northwest, in Israel.

It looks as i lran is seeking the military capability to control the Gulf.

Iraq created its own little "AWACS," which it called the Adnan (after Saddam's brother-in-law/cousin/foster brother Adnan Khairullah, who died in a helicopter "accident" which many think was deliberate). …

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