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To this should be added Iran’s proxies and allies. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has amassed thousands of rockets and battlefield missiles targeting Israel. It also has a large force of trained guerrillas that can invade northern Israel and seize key areas to forestall an Israeli drive into Lebanon. Hamas can similarly strike from Gaza, as recent attacks with Grad missiles on Beersheba show. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), backed by Iran and Syria, carried out major exercises in Gaza in February, which showed its enhanced ability to wage guerrilla war. Syria, with chemical weapons, a nuclear program, armed forces nearly 300,000 strong, 5,000 tanks, 555 combat aircraft, and over 850 surface-to-surface missiles (soon to include the Russian-made Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missile) presents a serious threat to the Golan Heights, and can send large forces into southern Lebanon in support of Hezbollah.
The presence of large Shia populations in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and other Gulf states simplifies Iranian efforts to destabilize these countries, paving the way for overt Iranian action. Teheran’s tactical alliance with the Taliban means that Allied forces could see a western front open in Afghanistan, with greater pressure in Pakistan. Somali pirates, supported by Islamist groups, have expanded their activities into the Indian Ocean, increasing the threat to Western shipping in the event of general war.
In other regions, Iran has useful allies. North Korea, with its enormous conventional forces and WMD, presents a continuing danger, particularly through its growing ballistic missile capabilities. Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, engaged in a major military buildup, can threaten Colombia and the Caribbean Basin, while its alliance with Iran has seen a sizeable Hezbollah presence emerge in the Western Hemisphere. Most alarmingly, according to Germany’s Die Welt newspaper, Tehran and Caracas signed an agreement in November 2010 to establish an Iranian military base in Venezuela. Jointly manned, this will house Iranian ballistic missiles like the Shahab 3, in range of the U.S. Iran has reportedly given permission for the use of these weapons by Venezuela in case of an “emergency.” If such weapons are deployed, they would give Iran the ability to mount a military strike on American soil.
There is also the matter of mass terror attacks against the West. Hezbollah has long engaged in such actions, and al-Qaeda could be counted on to take advantage of a global conflict to do the same. Given both groups’ presence in North America and Western Europe (as well as in vital oil producers like Mexico and Nigeria), attacks on political, economic and military targets are likely.
David Walsh has a Ph.D from the London School of Economics and is the author of book, “The Military Balance in the Cold War: US Perceptions and Policy, 1976-85.”
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