Iraq: ready to play its hidden hand? Western governments fear Tehran will unleash a wave of terror if its nuclear facilities are attacked.

Author:Blanche, Ed

THE VOW MADE BY ONE OF IRAN'S TOP nuclear negotiators, Javad Vaeedi, in Vienna in March to inflict "harm and pain" on the United States for hauling the Islamic Republic before the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear programme, has been widely interpreted as a thinly veiled threat to use its oil as an economic weapon.

But there is a more sinister element as well: the threat of unleashing Tehran's highly effective intelligence services, which have in the past systematically eliminated those deemed to be enemies of the Islamic Republic, as well as proxies, like Lebanon's Hizbullah, whose terror campaign in the 1980s and early 1990s pioneered suicide bombings and hostage-taking in which hundreds of Americans and Israelis perished. Iran's well-established international clandestine network is capable of engaging in asymmetric warfare against the US and its allies across much of the globe if ordered to do so.

The US State Department still lists Iran as "the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism" and claims it harbours Al Qaeda activists, if not actually supports them. Western counter-terrorism specialists consider Iran's intelligence services and their allies, such as Hizbullah, to be better organised, trained and equipped than the Al Qaeda network that carried out the 9/11 suicide attacks, and most agree that in the event of US or Israeli air strikes against Iran these forces would be ordered to carry out retaliatory attacks.

It should be no surprise then that the US is once again zeroing in on the man who embodies Hizbullah's murderous capabilities more than any other, Imad Mughniyeh, the alleged mastermind whose actions blazed the trail for Osama bin Laden.

In February, US authorities repeated a request to the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to extradite Mughniyeh and three other militants indicted by the US Justice Department for the 14 June 1985 hijacking of a TWA jetliner and the murder of a passenger, a US Navy diver. The Lebanese have repeatedly denied such US requests, citing a 1991 amnesty for all crimes committed by armed groups during the 197590 civil war. One of the men the Americans want, Mohammed Ali Hamadi, returned to Lebanon in December 2005 after serving a 19-year prison sentence for the TWA hijacking in Germany.

Since the end of the civil war, Mughniyeh's whereabouts have been shrouded in mystery. He is reported to have twice undergone plastic surgery to alter his appearance. Only two...

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