Iran's Arming of Afghan Insurgents Hits Lethal Level
British Foreign Minister William Hague has lashed out at Iran after extensive tests verified without a doubt that 122 mm rockets intercepted by the British Special Air Services in Southern Afghanistan were being shipped by Iran to the Taliban there. "This is a really significant indication of Iranian support for the insurgency," said one British military source. "I'm not aware that we have had so strong evidence as this in the past."
Hague stated that such behavior was "unacceptable" and far from "the behavior of a responsible neighbor." The 48 rockets seized have a 13-mile range, double the range of the weapons currently in Taliban hands. While they are not the most precise weapons extant, they can wreak heavy damage on large targets such as an airfield or government compounds.
Both Hague and his cabinet colleague Defense Secretary Liam Fox connected the Iranian arms shipment to the Iranian nuclear program. Fox said the weapons constituted a “clear example” of the threat Iran posed. Fox added, “This confirms my view of the dangers that Iran poses, not only through its nuclear program, but its continuing policy of destabilizing its neighbours.”
Mark Sedwill, a senior civilian NATO representative to Afghanistan, said: "These rockets represent a step-change in the lethal impact of weaponry infiltrating Afghanistan from Iran."
Perhaps this step-up is what prompted Hague to go public. Iran's assistance to the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan is hardly new and has been reported before by senior NATO commanders. The previous charges, however, did not reach the headline level and have remained on the back pages and back burner.
Two weeks ago, for example, U.S. Rear Admiral Gregory Smith charged Iran with offering “support in training, financial support, and equipment, mostly ammunition” to Afghan militants.
This Iranian support, said Smith, consisted of “a limited amount of bullets, technical pieces of IEDs, rockets, RPGs, through networks well established through the border.” Smith's assessment of Iranian motives , as deputy chief of staff of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, was, “They want to be in the game.”
Sometimes a country has an interest in not blowing the whistle on an enemy and going public because it wants to avoid escalation. One of the best kept secrets of the Korean War was that the Soviet Union provided air support to the Communist forces with planes flown by Soviet pilots. Had the US acknowledged this, it could have forced action against the Soviet Union.
Time to Go Public
In the same vein, as long as Iran sufficed with putting in just enough to stay in the game, the Americans and the British had an interest in keeping things quiet. Once Iran introduced a potential game changer, it was time to go public.
The West has frequently consoled itself with the notion that Shiite Iran could not do business on a long-term basis with Sunni Muslim extremists in Afghanistan who view the Shiites as heretics. Iran has proven, in its relations with Sunni Hamas and now with the Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan, that such a mutually beneficial relationship is possible.
The more US forces are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the greater is American public opinion's aversion to another Middle Eastern "adventure," as can be witnessed in Libya. This obviously benefits Iran, and therefore it will probably continue to ship arms to the Taliban - and even engage Al Qaeda.
Therefore, in the short term, the unholy alliance will continue, just as Hitler and Stalin managed to cooperate until Hitler decided to attack the Soviet Union. As in the case of the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop Pact, the alliance between Shiite Iran and Sunni jihadists, although inherently unstable, can cause incalculable damage, until the eventual inevitable falling out between them.