THE CAPTURE OF 15 British Royal Navy and Royal Marines by Iran's Pasdaran revolutionary guards in March, their humiliating display on Iranian TV and their release two weeks later by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was a significant step in the Islamic Republic's ambitious plans to emerge as a regional powerhouse.
With its long-term strategy of imposing its hegemony on the Middle East--especially Iraq where it has vital interests--Tehran's plans are complicated by an internal political struggle between different factions. Some 28 years after Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini's Islamic revolution, the republic is still struggling to transport itself from adolescent rebellion to mature statehood.
Iran's national psyche hovers between conflicting identities: ancient Persian nationhood (to which British Prime Minister Tony Blair appealed during the first week of the crisis, saying: "We have no quarrel with the people of Iran who have a proud ancient history") and its craving for a place at the helm of global radical Islam.
Iran's Pasdaran, which sparked off the confrontation, an army of 120,000, organised into 23 brigades drawn from all branches of armed forces, was formed by Ayatollah Khomeini and his close circle of radical clergy who doubted the professional army's commitment to their brand of radical Islamism. The Pasdaran became an instrument to export the Shi'a Islamic revolution, playing an historic role in awakening the Muslim World's Sunni extremists' dream of recreating a medieval Islamist rule in modern times and introducing the concept of Shehada--'martyrdom seeking'.
During the war with Iraq, Ayatollah Khomeini sent thousands of young men recruited by Pasdaran--to clear minefields. Their deaths inspired Hizbullah suicide bombers in Lebanon and in turn introduced the concept to Sunni Palestinian Hamas, Al Qaeda and Iraq's sectarian killers.
A professional army calculates the risks of military actions and hence the Iranian army has been reluctant to engage coalition forces in Iraq or the Gulf directly. But the
Pasdaran are motivated by ideological zeal, putting a higher value on propaganda rather than citing a strategic objective as an aim of their action.
Not surprising then that Iran's neighbours are nervous at the prospect of the Pasdaran getting their hands on nuclear weapons.
The country's long-term regional strategy is best demonstrated in Southern Iraq, whose territorial waters and disputed Shat Al Arab waterway have become a violent...