UPI International Editor
Washington (SPX) Mar 20, 2007
Responding to a UPI article published last week on Saudi Arabia's worries over mounting Iranian influence in the Arab world, a well-informed Saudi source told United Press International that the reality on the ground offered a very different picture.
"The situation has radically changed in the Gulf, and especially between the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) and Iran. Iran is at best a second-grade power and is slowly slipping into a third-grade power," said the source, who requested anonymity. He added, "Saudi Arabia is more than ready at present to directly deal with the Iranians in many different ways, and this is what has got them so nervous.
"It is Iran that is on the defensive and has realized it has way overplayed its hand," said the official. This fits with recent reports from Iran that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was accused by some mullahs of "making enemies" for Iran.
"Iran has already tried many times to stir trouble in our eastern province and failed for many reasons," said the source. "So we are not very concerned about this currently."
Now it is Iran who is worried, said the Saudi source. "They are very worried about the 8 million-plus Sunni community in Iran and the recent unrests in the Sunni areas."
Refuting earlier UPI analysis that stated Saudi Arabia would be dependent on the U.S. military to guarantee its independence, the Saudi source said: "Saudi Arabia does not need to be supported by anyone to deal directly with Iran."
Saudi Arabia's lack of fear of Iran has been proven "over and over again over the past several weeks," added the source, referencing a "dressing down" of Ahmadinejad during his recent visit to the kingdom by King Abdullah as "the most recent and visible example of this."
In stressing Saudi Arabia's position of strength vis-à-vis Iran, the Saudi source pointed to the following statistics:
While it's true that Iran dwarfs Saudi Arabia in population -- 68 million vs. 25 million -- and its military is far more powerful, developed and experienced in combat than the Saudi military, the Saudis carry greater economic, diplomatic and strategic clout.
The Saudis dwarf Iran in gross domestic product. According to the CIA's 2006 estimates, the Saudi per capita GDP is $13,800; Iran's is $8,900.
Economically, Saudi Arabia's free-market economy is no match for Iran. Iran's economy is plagued by a bloated and inefficient state bureaucracy that is over-reliant on the oil sector. Its statist policies further hamper development. Private-sector activity is typically limited to small-scale workshops, farming and services.
Saudi Arabia leads in oil production and exports. In a report carried by Arab News, Abdullah Jumah, the president and chief executive of Saudi Aramco, said the kingdom's oil output reached 10.7 million barrels per day by the end of 2006. Aramco also added an additional 3.6 billion barrels of oil to its reserves in 2006 and boosted its natural-gas holding by 10.4 trillion standard cubic feet, more than double its initial target.
Iran, according to Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh, increased its crude-oil production by 55,000 barrels per day in the last year, bringing total output to 4.08 million bpd.
Additionally, unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran lacks the capability of refining its own crude oil, relying instead on foreign refineries, principally India.
To the world's 1.4 billion Muslims, Saudi Arabia carries greater religious importance as the center of Islam's two holiest shrines -- Mecca and Medina -- where Sunnis and Shiites carry out their pilgrimage, one of Islam's five requirements. The holy shrines in Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, as well as in Qom and Mashhad in Iran, are generally exclusively sacred to the Shiites. While Iran has a Shiite majority, Shiites account for only about 15 percent of the Muslim world. And repeated attempts by Iran to drum up support among the Saudi Shiite population of approximately 1 million yielded little success.
A Saudi security expert instead sees Iran's Sunni community of close to 8 million as a "huge fifth column." The expert remarks on the differences between Saudi Shiites, who are Arabs and thus ethnically similar to Saudis, and Iranian Sunnis who, unlike the country's Shiites, are not Persian but Arab.
Counter to what many Arabs fear, according to this usually very reliable source, "The hypothesis that they (Iran) are or will become the regional power is laughable and highly delusional."
Leading U.S. military strategist Anthony Cordesman thinks Iran's current military capabilities are "outdated" and "present little current threat to its neighbors."
"Iran has exaggerated its military capabilities," Cordesman, of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said during a recent speech to a group of military experts in Abu Dhabi.
"Iran is more focused on national defense than using military power to boost its influence in the region," he said. Iran represents "a force that has to be taken seriously in the defense of its country, but it has very little capacity to project outside the country," Cordesman said.
He maintained that Iran's nuclear program could someday pose a danger but that "any serious threat lies a decade or so away."
"Iran cannot seriously engage the U.S. for any length of time. Its army possesses about 1,600 mainly obsolete tanks and armored vehicles that would be no match for the U.S. Abrams M1-A1 battle-tested tank. Similarly, the Islamic republic's aged air force of some 260 warplanes, many of which have parts cannibalized from other planes just to keep them flying."
Iran's ballistic missiles use 1960s technology, making them only accurate enough to "probably" strike a large city, Cordesman said. Their small warheads might only damage a few buildings.
The most sophisticated weapons system in Iran's arsenal is defensive: the Russian-made TOR-M1 air defense systems just purchased from Russia.
Cordesman also contended that tensions in the Gulf were being worsened by U.S. and Israeli leaders overstating the Iranian threat. "The real danger Iran poses would be in an asymmetric capacity perhaps, but not in conventional warfare," he said.
But it is precisely this asymmetric capacity that has many U.S. and European Union officials worried. Iran has the ability to disrupt -- albeit temporarily -- the oil flow in the Gulf. And it has the ability to create trouble in Lebanon through Hezbollah. One area of particular concern to the Europeans, primarily the French and Italians, is the vulnerability of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, where Iran could demonstrate its power precisely through asymmetric warfare.
Source: United Press International
Email This ArticleUS Upbeat On Korea As North Says Nuke Plant Shutdown Soon
Beijing (AFP) March 18, 2007
Negotiators met Sunday on getting the North Korean nuclear disarmament accord under way amid expectations a key hurdle -- a row over North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank -- would be cleared. The secretive North had said Saturday that the February 13 deal signed by six countries would not go ahead until about 25 million dollars of its money frozen by US sanctions was released. With the newest round of full six-nation talks resuming in Beijing on Monday to implement the nuclear accord, US envoy Christopher Hill said on Sunday he was confident US plans to finally end the financial dispute would be accepted.
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