by Charles J. Mouratides
“… A joint mission to create a new world order on the basis of justice, humanity and belief in God…” — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezad to Syria
Soldiers and scholars alike have forever thought that the Persian Empire passed into the dustbin of history and would never again threaten Europe.
Increasingly we become aware that such a reading of history and world affairs ignores reality. Iran, as Persia has been called since 1935, is again pounding on Europe’s gate.
Iran has amassed treasure and weapons and has already started to throw its weight around in world affairs. Its armed forces command an estimated active force of 545,000, plus about 300,000 reservists and a peculiar paramilitary force of about 12.6 million men and women. Iran historically maintained large armed forces. In the second assault against Europe (480 b.c.e.), King Xerxes led an army of more than 2 million soldiers, concubines and support personnel to Greece through Middle East and Asia Minor, according to Herodotus, the “Father” of history.
Today, Iran is taking no direct military action against any countries on the European continent. But it has prepared the way through alliances with Middle Eastern countries. Alarming, too, is the Iranian view of the world. It is bellicose and messianic as demonstrated by the frequent pronouncements of Ahmadinezad and other top leaders.
In the distant past, Persia launched against Europe three major – and many minor – invasions by land and sea, in the 5th century b. c. e. The invasions had near cataclysmic consequences as they swept through the Middle East and Asia Minor (now Turkey), and deeply shook Greece’s city-states. But in the naval battle of Salamis (480 b.c.e.) the Greeks decisively defeated Persia’s much larger navy.
“The astonishing sea battle banished forever the specter of Persian invasion and occupation,” as our contemporary historian Peter Green brilliantly retells this historic moment, evoking the whole dramatic sweep of events that the Persian offensive set in motion.
Mainly, it was the cultural shock felt worldwide then and through the centuries. Those invasions also determined the meaning of “East” and “West” even as we understand it today. Historians accept the Greco-Persian Wars, begun under King Darius I and continued under his sons, as the start of conflict between Eastern and Western cultures.
But it was Alexander the Great who handed the Persians their final defeat 150 years later, and began their irreversible retrenchment. History reserves for itself some ironic twists. After slashing the Gordian Knot for P.R. purposes, Alexander fought the Persians in Syria. It was along Syria’s border with Asia Minor (today’s Turkey), that the Macedonian King, leading a small army, routed the Persians. The defeat was so decisive that Darius III abandoned his mother, his wife and his daughter as he fled!
Let there be no doubt about it. Today Iran is positioning itself as the great new power from the East.
1. As in the distant past, Iran brought under its political control all the areas on its path to the Mediterranean – Iraq, Syria and Gaza. It has established a beachhead in the Eastern Mediterranean.
2. Now Iran is morphing itself into a nuclear power, and is racing to establish itself as the leading anti-Western, Muslim power in the Middle East.
3. Iranian leaders have cultivated a grandiose image. They devote much of their resources to the military even though more than half of Iran’s population of 79 million lives under the Iranian poverty line. Still, Iran produces its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, guided missiles, radar systems, a guided missile destroyer, military vessels, submarines and a fighter plane. It exports weapons to 57 countries.
4. Iran is one of the five countries having a cyber-army capable of conducting cyber-warfare operations. It has also been reported that Iran has immensely increased cyber warfare capability since the latest Iranian presidential election unrest.
5. It patched up differences with Iraq with whom it used to be at war. Now they cooperate closely on local and regional issues. 6. It controls, at least partly, a diverse number of energy resources: The Caspian Sea; the Strait of Hormuz through which passes almost 30% of the world’s oil supplies.
7. Iran has expanded its access to oil and gas production on the Levantine coast. Iran, with its long experience in oil production and distribution, may eventually share offshore production with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. It is already constructing a pipeline to supply oil to Syria through Iraq.
It’s the Mediterranean ties which, as Iran develops strengthens them, they will place Iran in conflict with Greece and Cyprus on the European side, and Israel and Turkey on the Asiatic side. Gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean are estimated to be abundant, but most of the countries around this basin have not yet established their Exclusive Economic Zone to protect their rights. Syria, Lebanon and Gaza are protesting Israeli energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean. They are also objecting to the agreements between Cyprus and Israel. Turkey is against Cypriot and Greek explorations, too. Egypt which was formerly agreeable towards Greek claims, now under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood, has begun to object, and also to the cooperation between Israel and Cyprus which have declared their EEZ.
Time is running out for Greece to declare its economic zone, even though Israel has already declared acceptance of the Greek EEZ (or AOZ, in Greek.)
Remember that 60 years ago, Syria and Egypt formed one state, the United Arab Republic. If Iran succeeds in unifying Syria, Gaza, Lebanon and Egypt, confrontation with Greece and Cyprus over natural gas and oil in the Eastern Mediterranean is inevitable.
We must also keep in mind that when Ahmadinezad and Ayatolla Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader in all things, speak of “justice,” or ‘humanity” or “belief in God,” they do not refer to Western notions. The differences are as pronounced today as they were in the Greco-Persian war days.