Saturday, August 25, 2007


Iran Scrambles for SCO Participation to Invoke Mutual Defense Clause

There is growing evidence that the clerical leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran is pushing for early entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), in order to gain a measure of protection against possible military attack from the US or Israel.

US officials have attempted to underplay the mutual defense aspects of the SCO, but Russian and Chinese (PRC) officials have pointedly highlighted the mutual defense aspects of the organization, but equally pointedly, Russia has highlighted the fact that candidate member states do not qualify for the obligations of mutual defense support from other SCO states.

The reality that the SCO is shaping up as a mutual security pact — albeit one which specifically states that has no specific adversaries — is being ignored by the West.

The Growing Strategic Significance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

This report, by Iranian analyst Fariborz Saremi, based in Hamburg, Germany, highlights this particular aspect of Iran’s interest in the SCO.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia are cooperating more closely on Central Asian and the Middle Eastern issue than on any other region. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) provides the Russian Government the official means to acknowledge the legitimacy of the PRC’s interests in Central Asia, while Beijing in turn has installed institutions designed to promote its objectives in cooperation with the Russian Government.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was formally founded — after a period when it was known as the Shanghai Five grouping — in Shanghai on June 15, 2001, by six countries: the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Its member states cover an area of more than 30-million square kilometers, or about three-fifths of Eurasia, with a population of 1.455-billion, about a quarter of world’s total.

Though the declaration on the establishment of (SCO) contained a statement that “it is not an alliance against other states and regions and it adheres to the principles of openness”, many observers believe that one of the original purposes of the SCO is to serve as a counterbalance to NATO and the United States and in particular to avoid conflicts which would allow the United States to intervene in areas near both Russia and the PRC.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has made it clear that it is increasingly interested in joining the SCO and form a powerful axis with its twin pillars, as a counterweight to a US power.

Russia and the PRC have already signed military cooperation agreements with — and are the main suppliers of advanced weaponry to — Iran and Syria.

1 Russia plans to sell 250 advanced long-range Sukhoi Su-30 advanced combat aircraft to Iran in what would have been an unprecedented billion dollar deal. According to those reports, which have subsequently been questioned,

2 in addition to the fighters Tehran also planned to purchase a number of aerial fuel tankers that are compatible with the Sukhoi and capable of substantially extending its range.

[The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) may already have at least one Ilyushin Il-78 tanker in service.]

A major Sukhoi sale would grant Iran long-range offensive capabilities [and, indeed, its capabilities were already being extended by current and ongoing MiG deliveries]. Russia also recently supplied Iran with advanced anti-aircraft systems used to protect Iran’s nuclear installations. [The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, significantly, is more MiG-29-oriented than Sukhoi-oriented, although it does retain some Su-27 models, including some former Iraqi Air Force models.— Ed.]

The RPC, meanwhile, shares many important goals with Russia in the Middle East and Central Asia such as exploiting the region’s energy resources, and balancing influence. The two countries economic activities in this region thus far have been more complementary than competitive.

The Islamic Republic of Iran supports the PRC-Russian grand strategy. At the same time, the clerical leadership in Iran has proven determined to pursue an aggressive nuclear policy. In doing so it has consistently transgressed non-proliferation commitments.

It has lied to IAEA inspectors while secretly trying to enrich uranium and plutonium over the past 20 years. Thus it has failed to meet its NPT obligations. Russia’s nuclear marketing toward Iran has also raised concerns in the United States.

While Russia exports to Iran cold-water reactors which are of little use in the production of weapons-grade fuel, a civilian reactor of any kind can serve as cover for dabbling in weapons-related activities. Iran has used its Russian supplied reactor as an excuse to insist on developing its own means to enrich fuel for the plant, despite Russian offers to provide fuel, or even to enrich Iranian uranium on its soil.

Still, the international community has suspicions and has some evidence that Russia’s Federal Security Service had sent rocket scientists to Iran to help develop Iran’s medium range ballistic missiles, the
Shahab-3 and -4 (which, although developed largely from North Korean designs, are based on original Russian/Soviet Scud technology).

At least 20 Russian research institutes and companies have been under US boycott since 1999 for their alleged transfer of controlled missile and nuclear technology to rogue states such as Iran.

Iran does not seem to comprehend that the International Community cannot tolerate and will not permit a regime which funds International Terrorism and provides it moral, financial and logistical support, to be armed with nuclear weapons.

With its President having repeatedly announced that the state of Israel should be wiped off the world map has developed the Shahab- 3 and -4 missiles with ranges up to 2000 km and has purchased BM-25s from North Korea with a reach of 2500 km, enough to cover much of the Arab world as well as Israel and even Eastern and Central Europe.

The Islamic Republic has made its long-term plans quite apparent by buying six KH-55 cruise missiles — with some 2,975km range — from the Ukraine. Iran possess, with the KH-55, a cruise missile powerful enough to deliver a 200 kiloton nuclear weapon, or biological, chemical, or conventional payloads, over substantial distances, quite accurately.

See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, March 7, 2006: Iran Achieves Multi-Tiered Military Nuclear Readiness, Ignored by Washington.

Meanwhile, the clerical Administration of Iran is the most active state sponsor of terrorism, aiding and training both Sunni terrorism such as Ansar-al-Islam and Ansar-al-Sunna in Iraq, HAMAS in Palestine, Taliban in Afghanistan and factions of al-Qaida network around the globe. Iran has always maintained close relations with al-Qaida, even though the Shia Muslim state is known to have ideological and strategic differences with this network. Iran is trying to cultivate a new generation of al-Qaida leaders who will be prepared to work closely with Tehran when they eventually take control.

Iran, besides directly supporting the Shi’ite Mahdi Army and Badr Brigade in Iraq, manipulates Shi’ite communities in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia. According to the US State Depatment’s Patterns of Global Terrorism report of 2005, Iran remains “the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world”.

While this judgment mainly reflects Iran’s very active involvement in sponsorship of the terrorist groups which reject the Arab-Israeli peace process, the Islamic Republic maintains dormant but highly effective unorthodox capabilities in the Persian Gulf area.

Such capabilities were first demonstrated during the Iran-Iraq war, when Iran manipulated Shi’ite communities in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia in seeking to undermine or overthrow the northern Gulf Cooperation Council States.

For masterminding terrorist activity, the key executive bodies are the Persian Gulf affairs section of the intelligence Directorate of the IRGC and the al-Quds special operations wing. The Ministry of Intelligence & Security (VEVAK: Vezarat-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Keshvar) maintains foreign intelligence directorate of some 2,000 personnel, and is active in intelligence collecting and network building in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the remaining Persian Gulf states.

The Shi’ite Lebanese HizbAllah is under the direct control of the Islamic Republic of Iran. With the help of Iran, the Lebanese HizbAllah was established in 1982 by two members of the local Shi’ite political organization Amal.

With the consent of Syria, Khomeini also sent about 1,000 Revolutionary Guards to Baalbek, in the Beqaa Valley, to train the party’s members. HizbAllah has established close ties to all Palestinian radical groups such as HAMAS and Islamic Jihad, whose leaders often visit Tehran and receive orders.

The Lebanese HIzbAllah receives arms from Iran through Syria and enormous amount of financial support.

See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis,
June 30, 2007: Iran, Syria Make Strenuous Preparations for Combat-Readiness, Partly Reflecting Major Internal Leadership Schisms. This report highlights recent arms shipments from Iran into HizbAllah, via Damascus.

HizbAllah has also an international network and even in Germany has some 800 to 1,000 Muslim followers and supporters.

The strategy of the clerical leadership of Iran, the Revolutionary Guards and its operational al-Quds special operations wing is to weaken US-backed target states in the area. This strategy is also indirectly of benefit for the main sponsors of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in trying to increase their sphere of influence in this strategically important geopolitical region.

US-Iran negotiations will not solve the current security problems in Iraq and will not change the behavior of the Iranian clerics. The US foreign policy establishment looks at this as an issue between two nation states with differing agendas and so they look for common agendas.

However, the clerical leadership of Iran has deep ideological differences with the West, and particularly with the United States. Iranian secular opposition elements have indicated their belief that if the US Government was serious in its declared intention to solve the issues of terrorism and WMD while also opposing Iranian clerics, it should back the Iranian people in their determination to engineer “regime change”.

The "C" change in world public opinion, which is now clearly against the Iran clerics, is, according to opposition elements inside and outside Iran, ready to be harnessed by the US and EU governments to create a basis for secular democracy in Iran.

Iranian history has shown how decisive International support for any emerging national leader is. Iran society by tradition is hierarchical/vertical and looks to strong leaders to guide it through crisis and trauma. Such leaders require, however international backing to cement their legitimacy.

The international community has not, in the past, supported any Iranian opposition leaders and yet, ironically, gave safe-haven and tacit support to exiled “Ayatollah” Ruhollah Khomeini to return to Iran, when secular revolts toppled the Shah in 1979, to assume power.


Fariborz Saremi is a Graduate of Schiller International University in Heidelberg, Germany; Boston University’s overseas Program in Heidelberg; and the University of Houston-Texas, in the US. He majored in International Relations, specializing in the Principles of Political-Military Strategy, Foreign and Security Policy and Terrorism. He was a member of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy from 1996 to 2000.

For the past 28 years, since the age of 13, he has been an activist in various Iranian nationalist movements and since 1994 he has been an active member of Azadegan Foundation.

He is the author of numerous articles on Iran and the Middle East and a commentator on TV and Radio (German ARD/NDR TV, Voice of America/Persian Service, Radio Israel) regarding issues involving the Middle East and Northern Tier.
1. See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis,
June 30, 2007: Iran, Syria Make Strenuous Preparations for Combat-Readiness, Partly Reflecting Major Internal Leadership Schisms. This report noted:

Syria reportedly took delivery in June 2007 of five MiG-31E advanced combat aircraft, and may have already begun accepting delivery of further MiG-29 variants — reportedly MiG-29M/M2s — for possible on-shipment to the IRIAF. The IIRAF already had some 25 Mikoyan MiG-29 and 15 two-seat MiG-29UB Fulcrum fighters in its inventory.

The Syrian Air Force (Al Quwwat al Jawwiya al Arabiya as Souriya) had appr. 42 MiG-29A Fulcrum fighters, 14 MiG-29SMT Fulcrum air defense and air superiority aircraft, and six Mikoyan MiG-29UB Fulcrum operational trainers in its inventory.

The MiG-31 is a development of the MiG-25 series, and it is reported that the MiG-29M/M2 is, in fact, similar in its subsystems and capabilities to the model being offered as the MiG-35 for the Indian Air Force. It is probable that Russia took back some of Syria’s older MiG-25 Foxbat high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft as trade-ins for the MiG-31Es.

The MiG-31E is the export version of basic MiG-31 prototype (“903”), which was first noted in 1997; it has simplified systems over the MiG-35, with no active jammer, downgraded IFF, as well as downgraded radar and DASS.

The Syrian Air Force has less than 15 Mikoyan MiG-25PD Foxbat air defense aircraft in its inventory; eight Mikoyan MiG-25RB reconnaissance; and two MiG-25RU Foxbat operational trainers.

It is possible that Tehran and Damascus have been awaiting delivery of the advanced models of the MiG-25 and MiG-29 series before declaring readiness for a major, coordinated upsurge in confrontation with the US and Israel. Certainly, Syrian and Iranian aircrew and technicians have been undergoing training in Russia on the new systems.

2. The Israeli DEBKA Reports of July 27, 2007, noted: “Tehran and the Russian Rosoboronexport arms group are about to sign a mammoth arms deal running into tens of billions of dollars for the sale to Tehran of 250 Su-30MKM warplanes and 20 Il-78 MKI fuel tankers.” On August 2, 2007, however, Russian officials denied the report, and Iran’s official Fars news agency noted: “Deputy Director for the Russian Center for Analysis and Technologies Konstantin Makiyenko said the news was a ‘pure lie’ adding that it was impossible to buy 250 warplanes with one billion dollars.”

GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs sources also were sceptical of the report’s accuracy, given the output capabilities of the Russian aerospace industry at this time, as well as the stated value of $1-billion for the contract, an amount which would be substantially insufficient.

The value of such an order would be at least $3-billion. However, it was true that Iran was buying additional combat aircraft from Russia, as noted by earlier GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs reports.

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