OpinionIran in the World PressThe price of Iranian sanctions

The price of Iranian sanctions

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ImageWall Street Journal: As U.S. President Barack Obama intensifies his efforts to garner international support for fresh U.N. sanctions against Iran, Tehran is quietly putting its own measures in place for renewed confrontation with the West. The Wall Street Journal

The risks from further punishing Tehran are real—but inaction is even more dangerous.

Opinion Europe

By CON COUGHLIN

ImageAs U.S. President Barack Obama intensifies his efforts to garner international support for fresh U.N. sanctions against Iran, Tehran is quietly putting its own measures in place for renewed confrontation with the West. Watching how a conventionally armed Iran manages to destabilize the entire region only serves to underline how dangerous a nuclear-armed Iran would be.

For all of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's public bluster, the Iranian regime likely feels threatened by the prospect of further sanctions—so much so that it has now embarked on a well-organized and coordinated effort to attack or undermine Western interests throughout the region. The most sinister trend is the revival of Iran's international terrorist infrastructure, which is evident in neighboring Afghanistan where NATO intelligence officers have reported a marked increase in cooperation between Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Taliban insurgents.

A senior Taliban commander claimed last month in Britain's Sunday Times that hundreds of his fighters had been taught how to conduct ambushes at training camps run by Iranian Revolutionary Guards located along Iran's border with Afghanistan. At the camps young Taliban recruits were given instructions on how to attack American, British and other NATO troops, as well as how to construct the deadly roadside bombs that account for the majority of NATO casualties.

Tehran has also revived its interest in Iraq, where the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds force has a long history of attempting to radicalize the country's Shia community. The inconclusive election result last month has delivered the balance of power to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iran-backed radical Shia cleric who waged war against U.S. forces at the height of Iraq's insurgency. At present Mr. al-Sadr is living in exile in the Iranian holy city of Qom, where he is undergoing intensive religious training. But after his Sadrist Movement (the political arm of his Mahdi Army that has in the past fought bitterly with U.S. forces) won between 30 and 40 seats in Iraq's 325-seat assembly, Mr. al-Sadr suddenly finds himself in the unlikely position of being courted as a potential king-maker by secular Shia leaders, such as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and his main rival, Ayad Allawi.

Mr. al-Sadr's unexpected return to Iraqi politics has resulted in the almost inevitable surge in sectarian strife. After Tehran was accused of organizing the execution-style murder last weekend of 25 Sunnis in a village south of the capital, Sunni suicide bombers subsequently attacked the Iranian embassy in Baghdad.

Nor is this increase in Iran's terrorist activity confined to its immediate borders. Saudi intelligence officials have blamed a detachment of Iran's Revolutionary Guards in north Yemen for the recent increase in al-Qaeda terror attacks against Saudi Arabia. Following the failed Christmas terror attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, Yemen has emerged as a major training center for al-Qaeda. Iran's claim that it has sent its Revolutionary Guards to protect Yemen's minority Shia community has raised fears in intelligence circles that they might be attempting to cooperate with al-Qaeda terror cells.

Finally, there are Iran's well-documented ties with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which have been strengthened in recent months in anticipation of renewed hostilities with Israel—one obvious consequence of any increased tensions between Iran and the West. Israeli intelligence estimates that Hezbollah now has more rockets at its disposal than it did during the Lebanon war of 2006. Meanwhile, Iran is continuing to supply Hamas with the military means to attack Israel's southern border. One aspect that has been overlooked in the row over the January assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai is that al-Mabhouh was negotiating with Iran to ship weapons to Gaza at the time of his death.

With so much Iranian activity taking place throughout the region, the message is clear: Any attempt by the West to increase the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program will result in an explosion of violence throughout the Middle East and beyond. The problem is that doing nothing about Tehran's nuclear ambitions would be even more dangerous.

Mr. Coughlin is executive foreign editor of London's Daily Telegraph. The updated edition of his book "Khomeini's Ghost" has just been published by Ecco.

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