- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The mullahs’ desire to be the world’s newest atomic power is only the most visible manifestation of its decades-old plan to isolate Saudi Arabia and to pressure the United States to reduce its presence in Southwest Asia. In fact, Iran has been implementing a long-term operation to secure choke points in the strategic waterways in the Central Region; developing nuclear weapons is simply the icing on the cake.

Sometimes, Third World diplomatic spats and minor conflicts seem insignificant, especially if they are not placed in the proper strategic context. In Austin Bay’s commentary of Jan. 6 in The Washington Times, “Mullah’s quest and fears,” he says that in the 1990s, Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) “quarreled” over islands in the Persian Gulf, and he referred to this fracas as “lightweight sparring.” I respectfully disagree with this view, because this “quarrel” was one of the opening maneuvers by Iran to seize areas that would allow the mullahs to slow or stop shipments of a large portion of the world’s oil supply.

One of the islands in this dispute between the UAE and Iran is Abu Musa. In March of 1992, Iran started its gambit to effectively shut down the Straits of Hormuz by seizing this strategic island. Abu Musa is located in the Persian Gulf about halfway between Iran and the UAE, and is positioned at the narrow mouth of the straits. If the right weaponry were to be deployed there, Iran could potentially seal off the straits.

After gaining control of the island, this is precisely what Iran did. The mullahs moved in additional troops and began construction of improved defensive positions and emplacements for Chinese-made HY-2 Silkworm anti-ship missiles. Iranian engineers also started to expand the airfield, and began a large-scale upgrade of the port facilities. In October 1994, when Iraq was conducting one of its “saber rattling” exercises against Kuwait, Iran increased its troop strength on Abu Musa. When the crisis was over, the additional troops remained.

In 1995, troop strength increased from 700 to 4,000, many of them being Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers. Abu Musa’s defenses ultimately included SA-6 surface-to-air missiles, 155-millimeter artillery, Silkworm and Seersucker anti-ship missiles, and a U.S.-made Hawk anti-aircraft missile battery. Reports also indicated that Iran had deployed the highly capable C-801 anti-ship missile system, which has a range of 22 miles, and the advanced C-802 anti-ship missiles with a 60-mile range. As if this weren’t enough armaments and troops to defend an island a few square miles in area, in March 1995, during a week-long trip to the Gulf, then-Secretary of Defense William Perry dropped the bombshell when he stated in a press conference that Iran’s buildup on the island involved chemical weapons.

The Horn of Africa was another strategic chokepoint that coupled, with the seizure of Abu Musa, would complete the double envelopment of the Arabian Peninsula. In the early 1990s, Iran’s agents quickly allied themselves with Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid in the failed state of Somalia, and provided materiel, training and intelligence support. By the time of President Clinton’s inauguration in January 1993, military observers said that Gen. Aidid’s tactics in the urban guerrilla war with the United States and United Nations were a direct lift from their Iranian mentors. Our withdrawal from Somalia after the “Blackhawk Down” ambush not only solidified the mullahs’ hold in the Horn, but years later U.S. and Western troops were forced to use the former French colony of Djibouti as a base for global war on terror operations.

In the wake of our victory in Operation Desert Storm, the national security establishment tended to look down on our adversaries in the Central Region, confident that they had been put in their place and would play nice. Nor did we seem to care that our allies in the Cold War were deep into dealing with both Saddam and the mullahs to prop up their failing socialist economies.

The too-severe drawdown in the 1990s limited our military options, so we largely ignored Iranian maneuvers or tried the nearly useless tactics of sanctions, diplomatic threats and containment. The United States placed stability over security at all costs; eventually failing to achieve either one.

It was realism carried to the extreme. The bill for our slack responses and strategic retreats of the past is now coming due, but it’s not as if we didn’t see it coming.

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent for the American Thinker.