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Crossing Red Lines on Iran's Borders

It's business as usual when the US parks aircraft carriers and missile destroyers in the water surrounding Iran's border. But what if Iran did the same thing in the Gulf of Mexico?

| Mon Jan. 30, 2012 2:49 PM EST
Sailors man machine guns aboard the USS Dewey while the ship passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Exclusive: New Iranian Commando Team Operating Near US

(Tehran, FNA) The Fars News Agency has confirmed with the Republican Guard's North American Operations Command that a new elite Iranian commando team is operating in the US-Mexican border region. The primary day-to-day mission of the team, known as the Joint Special Operations Gulf of Mexico Task Force, or JSOG-MTF, is to mentor Mexican military units in the border areas in their war with the deadly drug cartels. The task force provides "highly trained personnel that excel in uncertain environments," Maj. Amir Arastoo, a spokesman for Republican Guard special operations forces in North America, tells Fars, and "seeks to confront irregular threats..."

The unit began its existence in mid-2009—around the time that Washington rejected the Iranian leadership's wish for a new diplomatic dialogue. But whatever the task force does about the United States—or might do in the future—is a sensitive subject with the Republican Guard. "It would be inappropriate to discuss operational plans regarding any particular nation," Arastoo says about the US.

Okay, so I made that up. Sue me. But first admit that, a line or two in, you knew it was fiction. After all, despite the talk about American decline, we are still on a one-way imperial planet. Yes, there is a new US special operations team known as Joint Special Operations Task Force-Gulf Cooperation Council, or JSOTF-GCC, at work near Iran and, according to Wired magazine's Danger Room blog, we really don't quite know what it's tasked with doing (other than helping train the forces of such allies as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia).

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And yes, the quotes are perfectly real, just out of the mouth of a US "spokesman for special-operations forces in the Mideast," not a representative of Iran's Republican Guard. And yes, most Americans, if they were to read about the existence of the new special ops team, wouldn't think it strange that US forces were edging up to (if not across) the Iranian border, not when our "safety" was at stake.

Reverse the story, though, and it immediately becomes a malign, if unimaginable, fairy tale. Of course, no Iranian elite forces will ever operate along the US border. Not in this world. Washington wouldn't live with it and it remains the military giant of giants on this planet. By comparison, Iran is, in military terms, a minor power.

Any Iranian forces on the Mexican border would represent a crossing of one of those "red lines" that US officials are always talking about and so an international abomination to be dealt with severely. More than that, their presence would undoubtedly be treated as an act of war. It would make screaming headlines here. The Republican candidates for the presidency would go wild. You know the rest. Think about the reaction when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that an Iranian-American used-car salesman from Texas had contacted a Mexican drug cartel as part of a bizarre plot supposedly hatched by senior members of the elite Iranian Quds Force to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a Washington restaurant and possibly bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies as well.

Though doubts were soon raised about the likelihood of such an Iranian plot, the outrage in the US was palpable. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted that it "crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for." The Wall Street Journal labeled it "arguably an act of war," as did Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Speaker of the House John Boehner termed it "a very serious breach of international behavior," while House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers swore that it crossed "a very dangerous threshold" and called for "unprecedented" action by the Obama administration.

On the other hand, no one here would claim that a US special operations team edging up to the Iranian border was anything out of the ordinary or that it potentially crossed any lines, red or otherwise, or was a step beyond what the international community accepts. In fact, the news, such as it was, caused no headlines in the press, no comments on editorial pages, nothing. After all, everyone knows that Iranians would be the equivalent of fish out of water in Mexico, but that Americans are at home away from home in the Persian Gulf (as in most other places on Earth).


The Iranian "War" Against America

Nonetheless, just for the heck of it, let's suspend the laws of political and military gravity and pile up a few more fairy-tale-ish details.

Imagine that, in late 2007, Iran's ruling mullahs and their military advisors had decided to upgrade already significant covert activities against Washington, including cross-border operations, and so launched an intensification of its secret campaign to "destabilize" the country's leadership—call it a covert war if you will—funded by hundreds of millions of dollars of oil money; that they (or their allies) supported armed oppositional groups hostile to Washington; that they flew advanced robot drones on surveillance missions in the country's airspace; that they imposed ever escalating sanctions, which over the years caused increased suffering among the American people, in order to force Washington to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and give up the nuclear program (military and peaceful) that it had been pursuing since 1943; that they and an ally developed and launched a computer worm meant to destroy American centrifuges and introduced sabotaged parts into its nuclear supply chain; that they encouraged American nuclear scientists to defect; that one of their allies launched an assassination program against American nuclear scientists and engineers, killing five of them on the streets of American cities; that they launched a global campaign to force the world not to buy key American products, including Hollywood movies, iPhones, iPods, and iPads, and weaponry of any sort by essentially embargoing American banking transactions.

Imagine as well that an embattled American president declared the Gulf of Mexico to be off-limits to Iranian aircraft carriers and threatened any entering its waters with dire consequences. In response, the Iranians promptly sent their aircraft carrier, the Mossadegh, and its battle group of accompanying ships directly into Gulf waters not far from Florida and then stationed a second carrier, the Khomeini, and its task force in the nearby Caribbean as support. (Okay, the Iranians don't have aircraft carriers, but just for a moment, suspend disbelief.)

And keep in mind that, in this outlandish scenario, all of the above would only be what we knew about or suspected. You would have to assume that there were also still-unknown aspects to their in-the-shadows campaign of regime change against Washington.

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