Friday, February 17, 2012

Iran is in crisis – but it suits everyone to exaggerate its power

(Click on cartoon by Khalil Bendib to enlarge)

Many believe the west is overplaying the influence and nuclear potential that a divided, and increasingly reckless, Tehran wields

Ian Black
, Middle East editor, Friday 17 February 2012

"....Nor is all well in the region. True, Iran has been influential in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and is a big player in Afghanistan as well. But it now risks losing Syria, its only Arab ally and link to Hezbollah, its partner in Lebanon. "Iran's internal problems are far greater than they seem and beyond the region its external power is marginal," argues analyst Baqer Moin.

Emile Hokayem, of the Institute of Strategic Studies, sees only bombast, risk-taking and incompetence in recent Tehran's latest moves: "The Iranians may win something in terms of perception, but all in all they are on the losing side."

On paper, Iran's conventional military capabilities are no match for its enemies. But its forces are tough, battle-hardened and highly motivated: the naval arm of the Revolutionary Guard corps has experience in "assymetric warfare" using swarm tactics that combine small fast boats, missiles and mines that could play havoc in the strait of Hormuz.

"The fundamental problem is that Iran's friends and enemies both overestimate its power and influence," says Hokayem. "The west believes its own perceptions. Israel's officially endorsed existential concern about Iran makes Israelis feel more vulnerable and more nervous … than warranted, which is massively counterproductive. In Washington, the hawks exaggerate to create a sense of urgency. The Gulf states hype things, too. But if you look at the substance, Iran doesn't come across as a particularly powerful country. It's trying to find its place in the international system and it's failing. We need to rightsize the Iranian challenge.""

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