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More than Don Quixote
by Nooredin Abedian
05 February 2004

Iran's Defense Minister, Ali Shamkhani, is a bit more than a mere big-mouthed version of Cervantes' lovely hero.

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 response.

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."

Nooredin 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

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