Iran's Defense Minister,
Ali Shamkhani, is seen by certain experts as the Islamic Republic's true
Don Quixote. Brandishing his armada of short and medium ranged missiles,
he never misses a chance for saber rattling against Israel, the United States,
and the "world arrogant powers," poised, in his thoughts, to attack Iran
from all sides to tear it to parts. The 49 year old Revolutionary Guards'
commander-turned-Rear-Admiral is, however, a bit more than a mere big-mouthed
version of Cervantes' lovely hero.
He was the ruthless Revolutionary Guards' commander of his native province,
Khouzestan. Quickly, he became the second in command of the Guards' Corps,
commanding the infamous counter intelligence and security apparatus of the
feared army. At one time, he served as the minister of Revolutionary Guards,
and then as the commander in chief of the mullahs' navy, before ending as
the Minister of Defense. During his years in office, he has turned the Defense
and Armed Forces Logistics into a veritable producer of deadly weapons.
Only three days ago, his visit to an electronics center in the southern city
of Shiraz was broadcast on National Television, boasting a dozen new
weapons-related guidance and avionics systems ranging from sophisticated
night vision apparatus to state of the art radars. A few days back, he presented
the "Raad" missile, a short ranged guided missile capable of being launched
from fixed or floating launch pads with a 70 percent hit-probability for
the first and 100 percent probability for the second missile, at a range
of well over 350 kms. But he does not always stick to short ranged stuff.
The 1300 to 1500 km Shahab3 missile, an Iranian version of the North Korean
No-dong1, already distributed to combat units of the Revolutionary Guards
and capable of carrying an 800 kg conventional or NBC warhead, and the long
range Shahab4, a version of the North Korean SS4, whose existence is denied
by the regime but is confirmed to be under secret development, are just two
examples to cite. This latest version is designed to a range of more than
2000 kms and is capable of carrying a warhead weighing 1.5 tons. In the beginning
of January, he even boasted that the Islamic Republic would put its own satellite
into orbit with an Iranian-made launch system within 18 months.
Shamkhani is as able and cruel a politician as he is a weapons' guru. In an interview on January 14 with the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh,
he warned Israel not to think about carrying out its "menace" towards the
Iranian nuclear centers, the same way it acted on the Iraqi Ozirak in 1981.
He even threatened to use "new forms of military operations" against Israel
if it dared move against those centers.
"If Israel attacks Iran, we will respond in a way no Israeli politician has
ever dreamed about," he warned in another interview by the Qatari al-Jazeera
television. When he was asked if he was referring to nuclear weapons, Shamkhani
gave a negative reply, but added that "time would tell" the nature of Iran's
He very cleverly chose a Saudi paper, and a Qatari Television, to menace
Israel. If Israel is too far an enemy to reckon with, there are always closer
ones at hand. In fact, his flawless Arabic would have been much more clearly
heard and understood in the Gulf capitals than in Tel Aviv. Those Gulf States,
in the fundamentalist vision of the mullahs, are "ripe" fruits to fall one
after the other, to the mercy of their version of Islam, were it not for
the US presence in the Gulf.
As far as regional ambitions are concerned, Shamkhani seems more a man of
deeds than one of words. In fact, many countries have their stockpiles of
surface to surface missiles, but few have had as much field experience as
has Iran, and against live targets too. During their 1980-1988 war against
Saddam, the mullahs let the Kuwaitis have a taste of their then-primitive
Chinese-built Silkworm missiles. They have not stopped their field practice
in missile technology ever since. Exploiting the Iraqi isolation since 1991,
they have launched every now and then a few missiles into their western neighbor's
territory, citing the presence of opposition elements near their borders.
In April 2001, they launched not less than 70 short and medium range missiles
in a matter of hours against more than 7 targets along the 1200 km long Iran-Iraq
border, aiming to eliminate the bases of the opposition Mujaheedin Khalq
in Iraq. Although they were keen enough to tell the UN that they had acted
in "self defense," they were however reluctant to hide the true message of
those 70 Scud missiles: a few days later, Ali Larijani, Shamkhani's look-a-like
who is in charge of the mullahs' Radio and Television, told a crowd gathered
for Friday prayers in Tehran: "Those missiles were a warning to these small
countries around the Gulf not to play around with the Lion's tail."
Abedian is an Iranian engineer based in Germany, and a former lecturer at
Tehran University. He writes from time to time on Iranian issues and politics.