Why is Iran stepping up strikes in Gulf?. Attacks may be part of deliberate plan to provoke clashes with other nations
Iran is raising the stakes in the Iran-Iraq war. The recent surge in Iranian attacks on commercial ships in the Persian Gulf is heightening tensions and may well lead, Western diplomats in Tehran say, to some limited confrontations with superpower warships now in the area.Skip to next paragraph
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Two reasons are being given for the Iranian actions.
On the one hand, Western observers in Tehran say, Iran's leaders have come to the conclusion they cannot win the war as long as Iraq enjoys the backing of Arab neighbors, primarily Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Iran has stepped up pressure on the Kuwaitis, placing missiles on Iraq's occupied Faw Peninsula near Kuwait and intensifying attacks on ships leaving and entering Kuwaiti ports.
On the other hand, domestic political considerations may be pushing Iran's leaders to find justification for their failure so far to win the war, according to a senior European diplomat who often travels to the region.
``The Iranian leadership has failed to fulfill the promise it had made to its people to defeat the Iraqi Army for good before the end of last winter. It is now trying to explain to its population that victory will take a little longer because of United States, French, and Soviet support to Iraq,'' the diplomat says.
``A direct confrontation between Iran and the superpowers in the Gulf could thus serve Iranian leaders' propaganda purposes,'' he adds. ``For the first time since the war began, there are Iranian strategists who believe their country and the Islamic regime may benefit from limited confrontation in the Gulf itself.''
At the center of the present controversy is the role played in the Iran-Iraq war by tiny, vulnerable Kuwait.
Kuwait has been Iraq's staunchest ally since the beginning of the war, selling nearly 110,000 barrels of oil daily on behalf of Iraq and providing President Saddam Hussein's government with an undisclosed amount of financial aid each year.
While Kuwait has taken a continuously tough line against Iran, Saudi Arabia - which also financially supports Iraq - has pursued a more ambivalent policy. It has kept its lines open to Iran and provided it with at least one large cargo of refined oil products
Since January, Iran has attacked 16 ships leaving or entering Kuwaiti ports. An Iranian diplomat contacted in Paris said his country's aim is to force Kuwait to withdraw its support for Iraq.
Since Iraqi ships lost direct access to Gulf waters in the early years of the war, Iraq has had to rely heavily on Kuwaiti ports and overland routes to import goods and military supplies.
A Tehran-based European diplomat says, ``Iranian troops have for the past years launched several unsuccessful attempts to cut the Baghdad-Basra-Kuwait highway. They are now trying to force the Kuwaitis to close the road themselves.''
Last week, gunboats believed to be Iranian attacked a Soviet cargo ship heading for Kuwait. Two days later, Iran's President Ali Khamenei accused both the Soviet Union and the United States of siding with Iraq in the war. Mr. Khamenei contended that American and Soviet leaders had decided that the Iraqi regime would survive only if it received military assistance from them.