AS Western countries warn of a troublesome military buildup in
Iran, politicians here point to a new arms race in the Persian Gulf
that they say justifies a reasonable effort to defend themselves.
Following two devastating wars in the region - the eight-year
Iran-Iraq war initiated by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran and
the 1991 Gulf war in which a US-led coalition turned back Iraq's
invasion of Kuwait - Iranians say another threat is posed to them
by huge arms sales to Arab Gulf states from the United States,
Britain, and France.
"All along the '80s the international community armed Iraq to
the teeth, which led to the invasion of Kuwait," argues Mohammad
Hassan Mohazeb, managing editor of the Tehran morning daily Abrar,
which supports the government of President Hashemi Rafsanjani and
has run editorials defending Iran's determination to rebuild its
military. "After the 1991 Gulf war most Western leaders pledged to
reduce arms sales in a series of sensitive areas of the world,
including the Middle East.
"But the US military-industrial complex successfully pressured
the Bush administration to allow huge arms sales to several
countries of the Arabian peninsula," he adds, reflecting a view
held by many Iranians, particularly those in power. According to
the Arms Control Association (ACA), an independent watchdog agency
in Washington, the US has announced $32.3 billion in new arms
transfers to eight Arab Gulf countries since the Iraqi invasion of
Kuwait in August 1990.
Rearming after the war
In June 1989, 10 months after Iran and Iraq signed a cease-fire
ending eight years of war, Mr. Rafsanjani and former Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev signed a document in which Moscow
agreed "to cooperate with Iran in order to improve its ability to
Since then, Iran has purchased MIG-29 fighter aircraft, T-72
tanks, and, more recently, submarines from Moscow. Western
intelligence sources say a North Korean ship carrying Scud C
ballistic missiles reached the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas in
March 1992, eluding a US Navy search. China has sold ground-to-sea
Silkworm missiles to Iran.
Furthermore, Iran is developing its own military industry. At a
recent armament show in the United Arab Emirates, the Islamic
Republic displayed Iranian-made short-range ground-to-ground,
air-to-ground, and anti-tank missiles.
Western intelligence sources estimate Iranian military spending
at $2 billion per year, a figure Iran's minister of defense, Gen.
Akbar Torkan, confirmed in March 1990 in an interview with the
Tehran daily Kayhan.
But Iranian officials and Western commercial attaches say poor
economic conditions, including a currency shortage, may now force
Tehran to trim military expenditures. Indeed, Rafsanjani told a
press conference in January that Iran's military spending in the
fiscal year starting March 21, 1993, would total only $850 million.
In a show of concern about Iran's military buildup, the Bush
administration launched a diplomatic campaign last November to stop
Western nations and others from selling technology to Iran that
could be used for military purposes. European Community leaders
followed in December with a joint statement expressing "concern"
about Iran's military buildup.
Mr. Mohazeb, the editor, says this view fails to acknowledge the
long list of multimillion-dollar sales of heavy weaponry by the US,
France, and Britain to Gulf countries. He claims that according to
Iran's intelligence sources Saudi Arabia spent $25 billion in
weapons purchases between the end of the Gulf war and last
November. In one sale last September, he adds, the Saudi Kingdom
bought 72 US-made F-15 jets worth $9 billion. …