Iran's brazen actions call for stronger response from the West

Manssor Arbabsiar, is seen in photos from 1993, 1996 and 2011. Arbabsiar was arrested Sept. 28 at JFK airport under terrorist charges.

Credits: REUTERS/Nueces County Sheriff's Office/Handout

OTTAWA -- The growing ambitions and brazenness of the brutally repressive Iranian regime is cause for alarm, according to defence and Middle East experts.

And the alarm is only ringing louder now with the country's expeditionary Quds Force - a branch of the Revolutionary Guard - allegedly linked to the foiled assassination attempt of the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington last week.

Late last month, Iranian military leaders announced their warships would now be armed with sea-to-land cruise missiles and would start patrolling the U.S. coast - a bellicose response to the American naval fleet's presence in the Persian Gulf.

And the Quds Force, long suspected of financing and supporting assassinations and bombing attacks around the world, has been linked to insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they are believed to have supplied anti-U.S. forces with armour-piercing roadside bombs.

Worst of all, according to retired Col. Alain Pellerin, with the Conference of Defence Associations, is that Iran is still moving full steam ahead with its secret nuclear program, which was exposed in 2002. While Iran denies its uranium enrichment is for anything but peaceful energy production, nobody in the West believes that. (A report from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog next week could provide evidence either way.)

Following news of the attempted assassination on U.S. soil, Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Friday the Iranian regime "represents probably the most significant threat in the world to global peace and security."

But the West's response to this great Iranian threat? More sanctions, despite the fact that many consider the foiled plot an act of war.

"As we found out with Saddam Hussein, it doesn't matter how stringent the sanctions may be, Saddam always had enough to eat and so did all of his cohorts and everybody in his family," said Paul Chapin, the former director general for international security at Foreign Affairs and now director of research at CDA Institute.

"If you really want to hurt them, even in a small way for them to understand that they have to cease and desist, you do have to take some form of military action - and you have to be prepared for the unintended consequences, whatever they might be."

In 1993, just months after Bill Clinton became president, an Iraqi plot to assassinate George H.W. Bush was uncovered. Clinton's response? Warships in the Gulf fired 24 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Saddam Hussein's intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. When Moammar Gadhafi's Libya blew up a dance club in West Berlin in 1986, injuring 79 American servicemen, President Ronald Reagan responded by ordering air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi, killing 15 civilians and injuring more than 2,000.

Some are looking at those types of actions - neither of which led to war - as an example the U.S. should consider now.

"Unless you discipline them somehow, and make it a little less easy to contemplate something like this again, they will do it again," Chapin said. "A missile strike for this (assassination attempt) would warn the Iranians that this is costly. You could take out something that is precious to them and say, 'This is tit-for-tat and don't do it again.'

"While you don't know where that will lead, sometimes in this world you have to have the courage of your convictions and be prepared to do something about it."

What's more, if the Quds Force is even partially behind the assassination plot, it represents a marked escalation in their tactics to date and could indicate some in Tehran are keen to up the ante in their fight against America, according to Houchang Hassan-Yari, a Middle East expert with Queen's University and the Royal Military College.

"The Americans are leaving - gradually, at least - Iraq and Afghanistan. They are cutting their forces, they are stretched financially, the economy is very bad, and it's also election season," Hassan-Yari said. "Americans have a lot of other things on their plate right now, and that might be seen by some people in Tehran as a weakness and that the Americans would not dare to start any military operations against Iran.

"There might be some in the Revolutionary Guard who thought that it was a good idea."

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