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IRAN has trained secret networks of agents across the Gulf states to attack Western interests and incite civil unrest in the event of a military strike against its nuclear program, a former Iranian diplomat has revealed.
Spies working as teachers, doctors and nurses at Iranian-owned schools and hospitals have formed sleeper cells ready to be "unleashed" at the first sign of any serious threat to Tehran, it is claimed.
Trained by Iranian intelligence, they are also said to be recruiting fellow Shiites in the region, whose communities have traditionally been marginalised by the Gulf's ruling Arab clans.
Were America or Israel to attack Iran, such cells would be instructed to foment long-dormant sectarian grievances and attack the extensive American and European business interests in wealth centres such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
Such a scenario would bring chaos to the Gulf region, one of the few areas of the Middle East that remains prosperous and has largely pro-Western governments.
The claims have been made by Adel Assadinia, a former career diplomat who was Iran's consul-general in Dubai and an adviser to the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
They came as Sunni and Shiite heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed on Saturday to fight the spread of sectarian strife that threatens to spill over from their neighbour, Iraq.
Saudi King Abdullah held talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was on his first official trip to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi official said the Sunni Muslim kingdom would seek Shiite Iran's help to ease sectarian tensions in Iraq erupting into full-blown civil war.
In London, a report to be released today, said military strikes to destroy Iran's nuclear ambitions could backfire, increasing Tehran's determination to obtain atomic weapons and bolstering hostility towards the West.
The report Would air strikes work?, written by a leading British weapons scientist, said strikes would probably be unable to hit enough targets to cause serious damage to Iran's nuclear facilities.
"With inadequate intelligence, it is unlikely it would be possible to identify and subsequently destroy the number of targets needed to set back Iran's nuclear program for a significant period," said the report.
"In the aftermath of a military strike, if Iran devoted maximum effort and resources to building one nuclear bomb, it could achieve this in a relatively short amount of time."
Such a weapon would then be wielded in "an environment of incalculably greater hostility," said the report, published by the Oxford Research Group and written by Dr Frank Barnaby.
Dr Barnaby, one of the few remaining people to have seen an above-ground nuclear test, urged greater diplomatic efforts to end a standoff with Tehran.
Meanwhile, major powers failed at the weekend to settle their differences over a second UN sanctions resolution against Iran for its nuclear work but are committed to passing one soon.
Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of backing Shiite death squads killing Sunnis in Iraq, and of backing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia.
And a US naval build-up has continued in the Gulf waters south of Iran, a move intended to show Washington's readiness to strike against Tehran's nuclear installations for defying UN orders to cease uranium enrichment.