Brigadier General Ali Fahdavi, a senior general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), issued a warning this week that “if necessary” the IRGC’s Baseej forces were ready to carry out suicide operations in the Gulf, amid rising tensions with the United States.
Citing the spirit of Hossein Fahimi, a brainwashed 13-year-old Iranian child who carried out the first suicide operation during the Iraq vs. Iran war, Fahdavi said Fahimi’s spirit of martyrdom is “prevailing now throughout the Revolutionary Guards.”
The Baseej, which is Iran’s equivalent of people’s militia forces, falls under the command of the IRGC. Conservative estimates put the number of its members at one million. During the Iraq vs Iran war, tens of thousands of Baseej members, many of whom were young kids from poor families living in the countryside, were brainwashed to walk over mines. Others were told to wrap grenades around themselves and throw themselves under tanks like Fahimi did. His story was told over and over again in Iranian schools and children’s TV programs as a way of encouraging others to follow his path; one which Iranian clerics promised would end in heaven.
Fahdavi’s threat has a number of goals. First and foremost, Iran is becoming concerned about the growing chances of intensified sanctions placed against it – as well as the threat of war.
The United Sates is seen as the leading element in such efforts. This can be seen by increasing number of reports appearing in the Iranian press (Farsi link) about US preparations for both eventualities. By threatening to unleash waves of suicide attacks, Iran’s hope is that the US public would be reminded of their country’s inability to stop such operations, such as the deadly attack against the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 which killed 242 marines, thus turning public opinion against attacking Iran.
Another goal of this threat is to place pressure on big business in the US. The Iranian government is aware of current US economic problems, such as the ones affecting the credit market and high oil prices. Its hope is that by threatening to strike at oil supplies in the Persian Gulf, the US industrial conglomerates would place pressure on the US government not to attack Iran, or even to place economic sanctions, as it could exacerbate the country’s economic problems and energy supplies.(Farsi link)
What is important to note is that this threat from Tehran bears all the hallmarks of Ahmadinejad’s increasing influence inside the Iranian government.
Iran has threatened US shipping in the Persian Gulf before, however recently it toned down such threats. This was due to a number of reasons. One of them was the increasing concern, and in some cases protests, from its rich Persian Gulf neighbours, whose economy would be disrupted by such attacks. These countries (particularly Saudi Arabia) feel intimated by Tehran’s muscle flexing and increasing influence in the region.
The other factor was Ali Larijani’s position as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator. He was very influential in efforts not to antagonize the international community, especially Iran’s Arab neighbours. His thinking was based on the logic that the more Iran makes enemies, the easier it will be for the US to build a coalition against Iran at the UN.
Now, Larijani’s resignation and subsequent replacement with Saeed Jalili, a conservative politician and Ahmadinejad ally, shows that Iran is back on the war path, if only verbally for now.
The ultra-conservatives, headed by Ahmadinejad, do not make empty threats. Many of them would welcome war against the US, as it could boost their political fortunes inside Iran. Therefore Iran’s promises to unleash suicide attacks in the Persian Gulf if they feel they are pushed far enough should be taken very seriously.
Meir Javedanfar is the co-author of “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.” He runs Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (Meepas)