The Mullahs' Denial

Iran can’t disguise its growing menace.

When Israel alleged that high grade weaponry seized from a cargo ship off its coast was of Iranian origin, it elicit a quick denial from the Islamic Republic. It was but the latest in a series of denials issued by Iran over its involvement in a wide range of subterfuge -- refutations that can’t disguise its growing menace.

The weapons were discovered on the cargo ship Victoria, a German-owned and French-operated vessel. The ship had departed from the Syrian port of Latakia, stopping briefly in the Turkish port of Mercin, before sailing toward Egypt where it was seized by IDF forces 200 miles off the Israeli Mediterranean coast. The weapons were believed to be destined for Gaza for use by Hamas and other terrorist groups.

Although Egypt and Turkey were not believed to be involved in the smuggling operation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was confident where blame should be assigned: “The only certain thing is the source of the weaponry was Iran, and there was a Syrian relay station as well. This is the main axis that provides the forces of terror in Lebanon and Gaza.”

The weapons, the manuals of which were in Farsi, included land-to-sea missiles, mortars and rockets. According to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the armaments were ones that Gaza militants do not currently possess: “We suspect, or think, that among the weaponry are the beginnings of an advanced system that could affect our freedom of operations along the Gaza coast.”

The allegations were quickly dismissed by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, who warned: “Don’t trust Israeli media news. There is no such thing. We do not confirm it in any way.” The denial fits the usual pattern of Iranian deception.

The international community has long-accused Iran of trying to acquire nuclear weapons, while Iran has consistently and strenuously denied the charges. On February 27, new allegations by the IAEA charged that Iran “is developing a nuclear payload for its missile program,” but Iran offered another excuse.

According to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s nuclear program was not only peaceful in nature but compliant as well: “The important point is that the full detailed report regarding all our nuclear activities shows full supervision by the IAEA and no deviation to prohibited ends.”

Then, in early March -- amidst reports that Iran was training, arming and funding Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents -- NATO forces in Afghanistan discovered a large weapons cache that British foreign secretary William Hague said “no doubt… came from Iran.”

Ramin Mehmanparast was again trotted out to assuage concerns by laying blame at the feet of a hostile media. He yawned, “Releasing fabricated news about Iran's arming of extremist groups in Afghanistan or other countries has become a boring repeated issue.”

Iran has also been hiding internal trouble with its resurgent Green Movement, which has seen the arrest of its two most important opposition leaders--Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi. Yet Iranian officials have been unable to admit opposition protests have even taken place.

Specifically, Iranian opposition websites, including Sahmnews, said at least 79 people were arrested at a demonstration on March 15. Yet, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told the Fars news agency: “A limited number of people, influenced by anti-revolutionary groups, were intending to do something. Yet no specific incident happened in Tehran.”

This episode comes on the heels of a February 14 Green Movement rally, designed to show support for pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa, in which opposition groups claimed over 1,500 protesters were arrested. However, the official response from Iranian police was that “dozens” of people were arrested, and a parliamentary committee set up to investigate the events said only “small groups of trouble-makers turned up.”

An equally common talking point by Iranian officials has been one of moral equivalence and outright indignation. A case in point is the response given by Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, to a recent UN report that alleges Iran has intensified its crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists and opposition groups: “Those countries like the United States that have an embarrassing human rights record [of their own] are not in a position to advise Iran on human rights issues.”

Iran’s denial-fest may be attributed to increased hubris arising from the fact it has taken advantage of the ongoing discord in the Arab world to strengthen its pursuit of becoming the world’s sole Islamic power.

For starters, Iran flexed its military muscle when it recently sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. That event was sandwiched between a naval courtesy call to Qatar in January and joint naval maneuvers with Oman in March. As one analyst said, Iran increasingly views itself “as a pure regional hegemon because of the uprisings. They're taking advantage of the strategic change.”

That strategic change is reflected in the rise of new political opportunities, such as in Egypt, where Iran is no longer plagued by its longtime nemesis, Hosni Mubarak. It may also witness a new Egyptian government that is not so tightly bound to US policies.

Even in Libya, Iran has managed to play both sides of the street. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has condemned Gadhafi’s attack on rebel forces so as to not alienate his Arab league allies—Syria, Iraq and Lebanon – who had asked for a no fly-zone.

However, he also issued typical anti-American, anti-Western rhetoric by saying, “I hope the European and US governments do not intervene in the affairs of this region…I think the Libyan people, can decide their future.”

Finally, the real prize for Iran remains the crumbling of Sunni-ruled Gulf states in the wake of rising Shiite hostility. As events unfold, Iran sees in Bahrain, for example, a potential beachhead for Iranian influence in the region.

That’s why, when Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain, Ahmadinejad, with no hint of irony, given Iran’s approach to its own dissident movement, was able to say with a straight face, “The people's demands for change must be respected. How is it possible to stop waves of humanity with military force?”

Ahmadinejad’s remarks were later topped by Ramin Mehmanparast who said: “People have some legitimate demands and they are expressing them peacefully. It should not be responded to violently ... and we expect their demands be fulfilled through correct means.”

In fact, Iranian expectations are extremely high these days. As the uprisings in the Mideast continue to unfold with no clear end in sight, Iran finds itself one of the few beneficiaries of this ongoing strife. It is one charge the Iranians would probably not bother to deny.

Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank's work at his blog,