Ali Salehi as Foreign Minister Is Cause for Reviving US Military Option
Just two weeks after Western media seriously considered Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad weak enough for the Majlis to institute a process of impeachment, he struck again.
Monday, Dec. 13, he not only fired Monouchehr Mottaki as foreign minister, but humiliated him by announcing him dismissed and replaced while he was on an official African tour.
Wednesday, Dec. 15, the Majlis Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy convened to review the dismissal. It has no power to revoke it, but it does have the authority to withhold endorsement from Mottaki's successor as foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, who has been kicked upstairs from his post as Director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran-AEOI.
Iran's lawmakers are not happy with the president's continual takeover of various arms of government. But they know that even if they withhold endorsement, they are powerless to prevent Salehi from becoming foreign minister so long as Ahmadinejad is behind him.
It is an open secret in Tehran, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources, that the president acted without consulting – or even informing – supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, before switching foreign ministers and then, Wednesday, naming Prof. Mohammad Ahmadian AEOI Director in place of Salehi.
Far from indicating his weakened state, Ahmadinejad clearly feels strong enough not only to flout the Majlis but to make key government appointments on his own initiative – so far without incurring any reaction from Ayatollah Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad pulls the rug from under Obama's diplomatic tactics
One Western intelligence conjecture making the rounds this week was that behind the Iranian president's action was a scheme to replace National Security Adviser Saeed Jalil as lead negotiator opposite the Six Powers (five permanent UN SC members plus Germany) in the talks scheduled to resume in Istanbul next month with an acknowledged nuclear expert who has since been appointed to head the foreign ministry, namely Salehi.
That assumption fails to take into account, say our intelligence and Iranian sources, that Jalili enjoys the complete trust of Ahmadinejad and is part of his tight inner circle. Ahmadinejad's game was, in fact, more circuitous. He took into account that Mottaki's dismissal might run into the displeasure of Khamenei and/or the Majlis and so he had Plan B ready to pull out of his sleeve. This entailed another reversal: National Security Adviser Jalili – not Salehi – would be appointed foreign minister while Salehi would take over from Jalili as lead negotiator in the nuclear talks with the Six Powers.
He counted on neither Khamenei nor the Majlis having fast political reflexes and made sure they would be several steps behind his game of musical chairs and wake up only after all his pieces were in place.
Both his Plans A and B pulled the rug from under the premises shaping President Barack Obama's strategy in the ongoing negotiations with Tehran.
According to one premise, the UN, US and European sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic would soften its leaders into making important concessions.
This premise has proved wrong. They show no sign of budging from their toughest positions.
The second premise depicted Ahmadinejad as the most pragmatic member of Iran's leadership elite and expected him to go for a secret accommodation with Washington on its nuclear program.
This theory has also been refuted.
The US military option fades from over-exposure
The president's reshuffle of key positions in the foreign ministry and AEOI this week demonstrates the opposite. Tehran is presenting a harder face on its nuclear aspirations than ever before, with no sign of giving an inch.
This obduracy was further underlined by Tehran's announcement Monday, hours before Mottaki's dismissal, that its ground forces had just finished a major military drill near its border with Iraq. Contrary to usual practice, nothing was announced when the exercise began; nor were any details released about its features, excepting only the death of two officers in a road accident – Gen. Rahman Forouzandeh, a senior officer of the ground forces and a lieutenant described as his adjutant.
This was unusual: Iran always makes big play of its war games and never reports the deaths of high-ranking officers in accidents.
Twenty-four hours later, administration Iran-watchers are reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources as beginning to discern the outlines of Iran's latest posture. Its army had deliberately staged an exercise on the Iraqi border as a warning that should US military pressure on Tehran persist, its armed forces were prepared for a confrontation on Iraqi soil.
The White House hastened to pull out the military option yet again.
President Obama directed Dennis Ross, his special adviser on the Middle East and Iran, to leave immediately for two days of talks Wednesday-Thursday, December 15-16 with Israeli military and intelligence chiefs.
The question, of course, is how many times can Washington brandish the US or Israeli military option without ever applying it, and still hope to frighten Iran into backing down? The desired effect was certainly blunted by President Obama's order in the first week of December to ease US military pressure on Iran and withdraw the USS Harry S. Truman carrier from seas opposite its shores. The next turn of the wheel will indicate where all these moves are heading.