New report warns of Iranian sleeper cells in Western cities

US strike on Iranian nuclear sites could “provoke retaliation by terrorist sleeper cells”

17th January, 2011 London: Iran’s nuclear ambitions include developing the capability to deliver missiles as far as London, Paris and Moscow in the years ahead through advanced solid fuel rockets. North Korean technical support is available to the Iranian regime both in ballistic missiles and advanced centrifuges essential to making weapons grade uranium. A pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear sites by the United States would likely provoke retaliatory attacks by Iranian terrorist ‘sleepers’ on Western targets. ‘In any strike, Iran would likely retaliate against US soldiers and assets in Afghanistan and Iraq, and might activate sleeper cells to launch Al Qaeda–like attacks against the US homeland and in Europe’ says foreign policy expert Jonathan Paris in a report – ‘Prospects for Iran’ - published by the global free market and research think-tank Legatum Institute today. A chilling analysis of Iran’s progress towards becoming a nuclear state sets out the range of possible consequences for it, the Middle East and US authority in the region. The report examines three particular aspects of the Iran conundrum: its drive to build a nuclear capability, internal instability, and the wider impact on the region of a nuclear Iran. The West’s responses so far- based on the US policy of ‘engage and sanction’ - have failed to deter Iran from expanding its nuclear knowledge as it moves steadily to being able to build a viable weapon. There is some evidence that sabotage, assassinations, and sanctions on sensitive nuclear-related material are slowing Iran’s progress. Some even suggest that Iran cannot go nuclear on its own in less than three or four years. One of the ‘red lines’ Iran has yet to cross is the final decision to go to the next stage and make weapons grade material from its uranium stocks. Iran’s desire to achieve nuclear status is part of a wider ambition to become the leader of the billion-plus Muslim world. It aims to rival the US in terms of influence and power. It also seeks regional hegemony over the cradle of the world’s energy supply. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government faces immense domestic problems that further complicate the picture in one of the most volatile regions of the world. The contested 2009 elections, continuing human rights violations, and the emergence of the Green Movement have undermined the legitimacy of both the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Ahmadinejad. A power struggle is underway between reformists and conservatives, and between conservatives and ultra-conservatives. The President is also increasingly at odds with the supreme leader, the parliament, and many other power brokers. This has led to a paralysis of decision-making although the Revolutionary Guard remains in operational charge of the nuclear programme. Internal dissent so far has been ruthlessly crushed but the seeds of revolution have been sown. Economic mismanagement has been rife and ‘reformists might gain popular support for reprioritizing the economy and de-emphasizing rebuilding Hezbollah in Lebanon or funding a massive space, missile and nuclear programme when hospitals in Iranian cities are inadequate, jobs are almost non-existent, and the economic situation has become so hopeless that industrialists are leaving Iran for good’ writes Paris. The economy is seen as a key potential driver for internal change in Iran. The main problem with the ‘engage and sanction’ approach of the Obama Administration is that it is not powerful enough to change Iran’s current nuclear course. Sanctions play two roles. They pull the people away from the regime, and pressure the regime on its nuclear programme. Without really crippling sanctions, it is doubtful that the regime will compromise. Doubts persist over whether there is sufficient international will to impose sanctions that will make the difference. Iran has huge energy reserves. China and Russia have significant interest in Iran and European countries do not wish to surrender their commercial position to the Chinese. If sanctions fail, only the threat of force might convince Iran not to cross ‘the red line’ to becoming a nuclear state. President Obama hesitates to say more about military action in case it creates a momentum of its own. There are good reasons against military action including worldwide terrorist revenge and missile attacks on Israel from Hamas and Hezbollah. If attacked, Iran would probably leave the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, which would rule out any oversight from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The revenge factor might increase the possibility of a future nuclear war. Israel is not certain it has the political and diplomatic resources for a successful attack, although it has the technical capability if it chooses to carry out an attack. It is more certain that it would hold the upper hand in facing a nuclear Iran. Israel’s second strike capability would be so powerful that it could assure Iran that any nuclear attack on Israel would result in unacceptable destruction in Iran. The impact on the Middle East of a nuclear Iran is stark, especially for the US and its allies. In one scenario, the effect could be to spark a race between neighbouring states to acquire their own nuclear weapons, with cash-starved North Korea and perhaps Pakistan as suppliers. Alternatively, the Arab Gulf states may accommodate Iran or rely on the US strategic nuclear umbrella or pursue a combination of both. Conclusion: The nuclear clock is ticking faster than the rotting regime clock. The report concludes that there are two separate time clocks ticking: the slow rotting of a regime that has lost its legitimacy and that is struggling to hold power in the face of a brewing rebellion among the people, and the nuclear clock. If Iran were not inching toward nuclear power status, strategic patience on the part of the US and the international community would be the logical policy. The internal contradictions within Iran’s system will lead eventually to its demise. But strategic patience runs up against the reality that Ayatollah Khamenei could decide to take the final steps to build a nuclear weapon. In that case the region’s states would begin to realign, and in ways unfavourable to the United States and its allies. For more information contact Nick Wood of Media Intelligence Partners on 07889617003, or Jonathan Haslam on 07779708542. Ends Notes to Editors ‘Prospects for Iran’ is published by the Legatum Institute. Copies of the report will be available for download from from 21:00 on Sunday 16 January, or by request. Jonathan S. Paris is a London-based security specialist and Adjunct Fellow of the Legatum Institute. He is a non-resident Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council of the United States South Asia Centre and Associate Fellow of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London. He is a graduate of Yale University and Stanford Law School. About the Legatum Institute The Legatum Institute is an independent, non-partisan organisation that researches and advocates for an expansive understanding of global prosperity. The Institute's mission is to research and promote the principles that drive the creation of global prosperity and the expansion of human liberty and wellbeing. For more information about the Legatum Institute, please visit

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