In a blatant display of belligerence and outright provocation, and on the eve of President George W. Bush's trip to the region, the Tehran regime had five speed boats of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) harass three U.S. Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz over the weekend.
The Strait of Hormuz is the major waterway connecting the Gulf of Oman to the Persian Gulf and is vital to the free shipping there. The Pentagon described Tehran's actions as "careless, reckless and potentially hostile." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the move as "provocative and dangerous."
Tehran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini, who earlier in the day had refused to comment on this episode to inquiring reporters, tried to play down the encounter as "regular and natural issue." "That's something normal taking place every now and then,” Hosseini said.
Well, he was being honest. As far as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's IRGC-backed rogue regime is concerned, carrying out such provocative belligerent acts is quite “normal and natural,” as is the execution of more than a dozen Iranians last week and amputation of the hands and legs of five other last Sunday.
Tehran has been playing the Strait of Hormuz card for over two decades, repeatedly threatening the West with the closure of the waterway, hoping to exact concessions — or at least dissuade it from taking firm action — and intimidate the Persian Gulf countries.
In April 2006, former Supreme Commander of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, described the Strait of Hormuz as "the economic lifeline" of the West and said it could be used to "put pressure on Iran's enemies." He added, "The Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf are … the cornerstone of [Iran's] defense."
The timing of the incident is also significant, as it occurred only two days before President Bush's much anticipated trip to the Middle East and Persian Gulf to discuss, among other topics, how countries in the region could deal with Iran's regional hegemonic ambitions and its fast-advancing nuclear program.
No doubt, the main recipients of the political message of this episode were meant to be the Persian Gulf capitals. Tehran's provocation far from being a move by some rogue elements in the IRGC, as a few commentators suggested, was a calculated move to cast a shadow over President Bush's trip and remind his hosts that the clerical regime has the capacity to create confrontation in the Persian Gulf waters at will.
In light of the Ahmadinejad's hastily arranged trip to Oman for the annual conference of the Gulf Cooperation Council last month and ensuing humiliation for his regime as reflected in the closing statement of the conference, Tehran, through the speed boats episode, intended to negatively impact any agreement reached between Washington and the host capitals in the coming days.
Ahmadinejad, backed by the ayatollahs' Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is thus testing the political waters. He is trying to display a hollow show of muscle on the eve of President Bush's trip, even boosting the morale of the IRGC, and its allies in the region.
Meanwhile in Iraq, despite rumors about the possible ease in U.S.-Iran tensions, sources with proven past accuracy have confirmed to me that Tehran has in fact stepped up the manufacturing and transfer of the deadly roadside bombs — Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) — across the border; thus planning to step up violence in Iraq.
Tehran has remained in clear violation of two United Nations Security Council resolutions and has escalated the enrichment of uranium despite repeated calls by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UNSC resolutions 1737 and 1747 to halt enrichment.
The National Intelligence Estimate, released last month, clearly confirmed that Iran had concealed its nuclear weapons program until it was exposed by Iran's main opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in 2002, and that until 2003, the program was operating secretly. The NCRI sources unveiled in December 2007 that Tehran had reconstituted the weaponization program in 2004 at different secret sites and was rapidly mastering the technology to enrich uranium while assembling more centrifuge machines in its Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant.
In his Middle East trip, President Bush should use the opportunity to rally support for a firm and unified approach aimed at checking Tehran's regional ambitions and its nuclear program. Any indecisiveness on the part of Washington would be interpreted by Tehran as a sign of weakness and would further embolden the ayatollahs. Lack of leadership from Washington, could push the Middle East capitals, which similar to Washington do not seek a military solution, to self-destruct by opting to accommodate Tehran's expansionist belligerence. President Bush should focus his hosts' attention to what is happening on the other side of the Persian Gulf inside Iran where a vibrant resistance movement for democratic change has the key for a free and non-belligerent Iran and a tranquil and stable Persian Gulf and region.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.