Closer than Ever to the Brink

Without waiting for the dust to settle on the Lebanon War, Iran has set in motion six strategic steps – some covert – on the road to attaining a nuclear bomb as the engine for boosting the Islamic Republic to the status of premier power in the region.


(See the last DEBKA-Net-Weekly 266: Rise of a Soon-to-be Nuclear Power in the Middle East)


But first they are preparing to challenge the Americans to a military duel.


As DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s exclusive Iranian, intelligence and military sources will now demonstrate, the rulers of Tehran have grown bigheaded over what they see as the failed American military performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israeli military shortcomings in Lebanon and the crumpling of the democratic regimes the Bush administration has toiled to put in place in the last five years – Kamal Karzai in Kabul, Nouri Maliki in Baghdad, Abu Mazen in Ramallah, the Somali government exiled to Baida and Fouad Siniora in Beirut. Iran’s rulers have therefore chosen this moment to find out once and for all whether America and Israel really mean to take out their nuclear industry by military force.


To this end, they have approved the following five steps:


1. The Zarbat e-Zolfaqar War Games, which went into their second stage Wednesday, Aug. 23, have been programmed to place the population of 70 million on a war footing.


2. The deployment in Iraq for the first time of a forward command group made up of Revolutionary Guards senior officers up to the rank of general.


3. A similar forward group was positioned in Syria to assume direct command over Hizballah units.


4. The acceleration of an airlift to Hizballah of brand-new weapons including a heavy long-range missile.


 


There is no better time for a military confrontation with the US and Israel


 


5. The announcement that Iran’s Arak heavy water plant will soon be operational. This revelation on Aug. 21 meaning that Iran was going into the production of plutonium for nuclear bombs while also continuing its uranium enrichment activity was muted in the hue and cry raised over Iran’s reply the following day to the six-power proposal of generous incentives, if only Tehran would drop its enrichment projects.


Our Iranian sources report that this six-point plan was put before a meeting of the Iranian leadership Monday, Aug. 21, summoned by the supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


He wanted to be sure that all its elements were in place before Iran handed in its response to the incentives offer assembled by the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany to tempt Tehran to drop uranium enrichment.


The plan was designed to back up Tehran’s refusal to give up enrichment and prepare itself for – or even pre-empt – the most extreme consequences.


Therefore, ayatollah Khamenei intoned this solemn message to the gathering of Iranian high-ups:


“We are at war. If Washington and Tel Aviv decided to launch an offensive against us in the coming days or weeks, we are ready. The damage they are able to cause us is relatively small. But the damage we can cause them (apparently in Iraq and Israel) is immeasurably greater. What happened to them in Lebanon will happen again: they will be forced to stop in mid-offensive and we shall bring the Americans and Israeli to defeat.”


The ruling trio, Khamenei, Supreme National Security Council head Ali Larijani and RC supreme commander General Rahim Safavi, carried the argument that it would be best for Iran if US and Israel attacked in the summer or fall of 2006. By then, they maintained, the Iranians would have studied and applied all the necessary lessons of the Lebanon War before the Americans and Israelis had had time to assimilate them.


At this moment, they maintained, the Revolutionary Guards can boast military superiority over American Middle East forces and the Israeli army. This superiority is manifested in Iran’s missile defenses against cruise missiles and aircraft, its anti-tank, sea-to-sea and shore-to-sea missiles. Iranian leaders are also confident that by September 2006, they will have achieved preponderance in electronic warfare.


General Safavi said he doubted Iran’s military advantage over the US and Israeli would hold up as long as two or three years. This view supported the Khamenei-Larijani position that if Iran were to face a military clash with the US and Israel, it had better be this year.


Iran’s top officials carefully calculated the odds against them before deciding to spurn the demand to withdraw from uranium enrichment.


 


Israel‘s leaders are in jeopardy from the Lebanon War backlash


 


These are the considerations they took into account:


One: The perceived internal weakness of the Bush administration. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld seem to be pulling in opposition directions on the Middle East, and Iraq in particular.


The mounting popular opposition to the Iraq war in America is expected to inhibit Bush from launching a full-scale assault on Iran. He will have to be satisfied with a limited action he can justify, but will in any case be stopped in mid-course like Israel’s offensive against Hizballah – whether by an international outcry, especially from the Chinese, Russians and Europeans, or by UN Security Council intercession.


Two: Israel will either join the American offensive or strike out on its own. Some of the speakers at the high-level Iranian meeting were of the opinion that Israel’s ruling trio, PM Ehud Olmert, defense minister Amir Peretz and chief of staff Dan Halutz, can only save themselves from forced resignation in the short term by going to war against Iran or trying to finish the campaign against Hizballah.


Recalling the reservists to active service would silence their voices in the lead of the swelling wave of anti-government protest over the Lebanon war.


A war faction was seen later to be taking over in the Olmert government.


Tuesday, August 22, the octogenarian Israeli minister Rafi Eitan demanded the construction and overhaul of enough bomb shelters and protected spaces to accommodate the entire population. He maintained that should the United States and Iran come to blows, Israel will be first in line for Iranian reprisals.


Familiar with the elderly minister’s intelligence background as a former head of the Mosad’s operations division, the Iranians concluded that Eitan knew which way the wind was blowing. They inferred that he had reason to expect an American assault in conjunction with Israel in the not-too-distant future.


Three: Iran has the further advantage at present of having maximized its military and security penetration of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This advantage should be exploited now because there is no knowing how long it will last.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Tehran report that the meeting chaired by Khamenei on Aug. 21 ended with a consensus on the importance of pressing forward with war preparations. In addition to placing the army and RC on the highest state of preparedness (See a separate item on the Iranian war games), Iran’s indigenous military industries will also go on a war footing. Their volume of production will be expanded as of next week to simulate the running needs of an army fully engaged in combat.

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