Threat of Fiat Siena?

Why Fiat's latest model may become a bigger threat than Shahab-3.

shihab fiat 88 (photo credit: )
shihab fiat 88
(photo credit: )
Fiat's new Siena sedan, which is going to be manufactured at a factory in the Iranian city of Saveh - the first time in 50 years the Italian firm has built autos in that country - sounds like it's going to be one hell of a car. According to an auto-consumer report, the Siena will be equipped with "an ABS brake system, dual airbags, cooling system, anti-theft alarm, lateral window and mirror, backseat seat belt, trip computer, remote control for the car's trunk and gas tank, and a trunk with 515 liters of capacity." And we haven't even mentioned the Siena's most distinctive feature - some of its models will boast a dual-fuel system, enabling it to run both on gasoline and on CNG (compressed natural gas). The latter feature will make it especially attractive for the local market, because as the above report blandly notes, "fuel is ironically a problem for drivers in Iran." It sure is, because while Iran sits on oceans of oil and natural gas, it lacks the refinery capacity to convert the former into gasoline, which is not a problem with the latter. That's why those who advocate stronger economic measures against Iran to get it to halt its illegal uranium enrichment program have especially focused on sanctions aimed at preventing it from getting the technology to update and expand its creaky oil-refining infrastructure. News that production of the Siena will begin in Saveh this autumn broke just as Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini arrived in Jerusalem this week to talk about the Iran situation, among other issues. "A military attack on Iran would be a disaster, a catastrophe for the entire region, but above all Israel," Frattini declared after touching down here. On Wednesday, the Iranians tried to buttress his point with a demonstration of their long-range Shahab-3 missiles, which can reach a range of 2,000 kilometers, enabling them to strike Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. But most defense experts believe Iran has yet to build a substantial arsenal of these weapons; these Shahab models have yet to prove they can carry a sufficient conventional explosive payload to wreak major havoc here; and at any rate, they may well be overmatched by Israel's own missile-defense systems, including the Arrow. A case could be made, then, that the Iranian technological advancement Israel should really be more worried about right now is not the Shahab-3, but the dual-fueled Siena. Although Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post this week they had been unaware of the Italian auto deal prior to Frattini's arrival, it is part of the continuing foreign business investment in Iran that undermines any real effort to use economic sanctions and diplomacy to halt Teheran's uranium enrichment program - which one day will enable it to put the kind of nuclear warhead on its missiles to ensure that even just one getting through will be able to take out Tel Aviv. Until then, the really dangerous retaliatory missile attack Israel is likely to face in the event it launches a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is not going to come from the distant East, but the immediate North - from Hizbullah's aerial arsenal sitting just over the border with Lebanon. The Italian foreign minister was a given a close-up view of that threat by his Israeli hosts on a visit to the northern Galilee, while back in Jerusalem the cabinet was briefed by defense officials that Hizbullah continues to be rearmed by Iran and Syria at an alarming rate. The timing was surely not coincidental, for it is the Italian-led multinational force put into place at the conclusion of the Second Lebanon War to supplement the UNIFIL troops there that is supposed to be helping the Lebanese army enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and prevent Hizbullah from rearming. Israel is now looking to beef up the mandate of those foreign troops in Lebanon, so they can directly intercede in this arms-smuggling before 1701 completely collapses. But that depends on the Italians in particular showing they can live up to the sometimes tough rhetoric of their president, Silvio Berlusconi, when it comes to Lebanon. And for that matter, Iran also. Because if Rome and the rest of Europe really want to avoid disaster in this region, they have to start taking seriously the business of reining in both Hizbullah and its sponsors - instead of looking to do business with Iran at the expense of this nation, and every other, that has good reason to fear Teheran's dream of nuclear-fueled aggression. [email protected]