Ascending Power in Middle East
New Self-Appointed Guardian of Persian Gulf
After centuries of languishing in the shadow of its illustrious Persian heritage. Iran has emerged once again as a power in the Middle East and as a voice in world affairs. Buttressed by oil and aims, it has become the self-appointed guardian of the Persian Gulf, a region whose prodigious oil resources exert a profound influence upon world economies. For this reason alone, Iran increasingly commands the attention of the United States and Russia. Iran's new-found prominence is all the more surprising in view of the volatile political currents that swept the country during the 1950s, and its relative weakness throughout the last decade. But today, Iran's booming economy and military strength present another face to the world. The old worries about the Persian Gulf power vacuum after the British departure have now been replaced by new worries over Iran's strength, and its willingness to use it to fill that vacuum.
Iran openly acknowledges its military presence in the Gulf sheikhdom of Oman, where it supports the conservative monarchy against a Communist-inspired rebellion. But there is also evidence of clandestine Iranian support for the Kurdish separatist movement in neighboring Iraq, Iran's traditional enemy. Iran has also recently offered support to Pakistan in its struggles against India, another of Iran's rivals.
Iran's rising stature rests on geography as well as oil. The narrow Gulf outlet at the Strait of Hormuz—through which passes most of the region's petroleum exports—is guarded by an Iranian naval force that controls three strategic islands in the Strait. The Gulf states are estimated to have 53 to 58 per cent of the world's known oil reserves compared, for example, with 7 per cent in the United States and 14 per cent in the Soviet Union. Iran's own exports of crude oil ranked second only to Saudi Arabia's even before the Arab oil embargo was imposed last fall, and many observers predict that Iran will become the world's No. 1 oil exporter in the next five years.