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Analysts say Iran seeking Middle East power -

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Analysts say Iran seeking Middle East power

Reporter: Leigh Sales

TONY JONES: On the surface, this is a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, but as with many
tensions in the Middle East, it actually goes much deeper than that. The United States and its
allies have fingered Syria and Iran as key players in the crisis, given their long-standing support
and funding of Hezbollah. And analysts say that Iran, in particular, sees this conflict as playing
towards its strategic goals - the primary one being to establish itself as the most powerful force
in the Middle East. Our national security correspondent Leigh Sales reports.

LEIGH SALES, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Last week, Iran permitted only the second catwalk
show since the nation's 1979 Revolution. The aim's to show the world that Iran's international and
cosmopolitan, but uncorrupted by the West. Like the models rejecting the tight, sexy outfits of
their Western sisters, Iran itself wants to strut on the world stage on its own terms, not those of
America and its allies. Iran's using the current conflict in the Middle East to help achieve that
goal. Now that Iraq's been sidelined, Iran's trying to manoeuvre itself into what it considers its
rightful position as the region's most important player - a kind of counterbalance to Israel and
the US. Over the weekend, the country's leadership was trying to inflame the Muslim and Arab worlds
in the hope that this crisis would escalate. "What the American and Israeli regimes are doing is a
conspiracy for the entire region and it'll be to the loss of Islamic and Arabic countries," warned
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman.

DR CARL UNGERER, UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND (BRISBANE): There are clear, strategic reasons why Iran
might be dabbling its hand in this particular fight, and indeed, for control of southern Lebanon,
which is - they would see as a key, strategic asset.

LEIGH SALES: The first reason Iran has a stake in this conflict is ideological: Iran wants Israel
annihilated. The second reason is political. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be influential, but
the real power still rests with Iran's religious leaders. By playing the hard line against Israel,
Ahmadinejad protects his own fortunes. The third reason is strategic. Iran's hoping this situation
will distract the international community from its nuclear ambitions, even though for now, the
United Nations shows no signs of letting it slip off the agenda. All these sub-goals feed into
Iran's bigger aim of becoming the key player in the Middle East. It's trying to achieve that by
spreading its tentacles not just into this crisis, but anywhere in the region there's the potential
for destabilisation.

MARTIN INDYK, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL (LATELINE, 9 MARCH, 2006): The Iranians have been, for
many years now, building up cards that they can play in confrontation with what they refer to as
the 'Great Satan': the United States.

LEIGH SALES: A look at Iran's dealings with its neighbours shows the extent of its troublemaking.
Iran's pledged $50 million to the Hamas Government, to build its influence in the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For years, it's supplied and armed its proxy, Hezbollah, which
operates out of Lebanon. It's been a major destabilising force in Iraq, infiltrating militias,
terrorist groups, political parties and security organisations. And it does all of this through its
ally, Syria, which is the conduit for Iranian weapons and people into the region. That's why US
President George W Bush made this comment last week:

GEORGE W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: See the irony is that what they need to do is to get Syria to get
Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over.

LEIGH SALES: As Lebanese refugees take shelter in Syria, getting Damascus to sever its ties with
Tehran would be an incredible breakthrough. It's unlikely, but does Syria have a price?

DR GIL MEROM, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY (SYDNEY): I think that the main price that the Syrians are
looking after is, first, to resume negotiations with Israel over the future of the Golan Heights.
Having said that, even that may not be enough.

LEIGH SALES: One of the most significant developments during this crisis is the response of the
Arab League, which has condemned Hezbollah rather than Israel.

DR GIL MEROM: It is very a unusual behaviour of the league - of the Arab League, or the Arab regime
- that they keep quiet, and seem not to support, but accept, Israeli massive use of power,
including against civilian targets in Lebanon. It tells you about the level of threat that they
perceive from Iran.

LEIGH SALES: In the Unites States, some leading neo-conservatives, like William Kristol, are
arguing the US should take military action against Iran right now. The New Yorker Magazine recently
reported the Pentagon had even drawn up war plans. But would the American public and President Bush
have the appetite for another pre-emptive war?

MARTIN INDYK (LATELINE, 9 MARCH, 2006): The Iranians have 500,000 battle-hardened Pasdaran plus the
people that they have control over or influence over in Iraq. I would just make - put this
proposition on the table: the United States cannot strike Iran when we still have our troops in
Iraq.

LEIGH SALES: Like the young Iranian models, Tehran's ambitions exceed its current opportunities.
But it's always scouting for more openings and when the current conflict subsides, Iran's desire to
make over the Middle East will remain. Leigh Sales, Lateline.