Friday, April 25, 2008
While we're sleeping, the Iranian octopus is extending it's tentacles into yet another strategic arena, this time in central Africa.
As I've noted previously, this is not the first time Iran has sought to extend its reach into Africa,using its Hezbollah proxy as a wedge. The Islamic Courts in Somalia are received assistance from Iran and Hezbollah, and Somali fighters from the Islamic Courts fought with Hezbollah against Israel in the last Lebanon War. This was part of a strategic jihad aimed at finishing off the resistance in Darfur, surrounding and marginalizing Christian Ethiopia and moving down into East Africa, where there are already substantial Islamist movements in Kenya and Tanzania.
That plan was unexpectedly held up by the courageous efforts of the Ethiopian forces and their allies, who routed the Islamist forces and fought the jihadis to a standstill in Somalia.
The new push by Iran involves a close strategic and military relationship with the jihadist regime of Omar al-Bashir in the Sudan, and an attempt to take over the neighboring country of Chad...and its oil and uranium.
Not counting the Janjiweed militias, the Sudan has a standing army of 120,000, mostly equipped with second rate Russian and Chinese arms. Because of the publicity surrounding the Darfur genocide,the Sudanese regime's backing for the Islamist insurgents trying to overthrow the regime of Chad's president Idriss Déby and China's concern over its public image with the Olympic Games coming up in August, these traditional suppliers have backed away from supplying the Sudanese army with the tools of the trade. And Iran has stepped into the vacuum.
Sudan and Iran have now concluded a comprehensive military agreement for Iran to supply arms and training for the Sudan's army, in a pact signed in Khartoum March 8th by Iranian defense minister Mustafa Mohammed Majjar and Sudanese defense minister General Abdul-rahim Hussein.
The pact involves what amounts to a mutual defense agreement, with each country agreeing to come to the other's aid in the event of foreign aggression, and the two countries agreeing to establish a joint military commission to coordinate strategy.
There's also training for the Sudanese Army ( most likely by the Republican Guard) and a massive package of Iranian-made arms, which are a natural fit for the Sudanese army since the Iranian arms are mostly knock-offs of Russian technology...and in any event, it's a simple matter for the Russians to ship arms to the Sudanese using Iran as a convenient go-between. Iran has also pledged to build factories in the Sudan to manufacture Iranian arms.
What does Iran get out of it? Plenty.
They get a base strategically located in Africa in a Muslim ruled nation, with a long seacoast on the Red Sea along a major sea route to the Persian Gulf and within spitting distance ( or should I say, missile range) of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They get a guaranteed market for their arms and access to Sudan's oil, and remember that Iran's oil production is actually decreasing by about 7% per year.
And they can work directly with the Sudanese to destabilize Chad, and possibly get control of Chad's oil and uranium, something the mullahs find very interesting for obvious reasons. Chad's uranium deposits are in the eastern part of the country, right on the Sudan's borders. That's also the part of the country most heavily dominated by Muslims. And interestingly enough, the Sudan-backed insurgency fighting to overthrow the government of President Déby is centered in the same part of the country.
The rebels were strong enough to actually bring the fighting to Ndjamena, the capitol early this year before the French intervened and sent troops in to bolster the Déby regime, and at present there are 2,200 EU troops, more than half from former colonial power France deployed in Eastern Chad. But under the terms of their mission, they'll be leaving in a year.
Once they're gone, will the Iran/Sudan axis step up its efforts to oust Déby and take over Chad, or put together an insurgent 'government' in the Eastern part of the country?
Time will tell, but I think that's the sort of strategic thinking being done inTehran right now.