debkafile Exclusive from Tehran: Iranian leadership debate next step in British hostage crisis in light of speculation on US military intentions

Tuesday, April 3, as top Iranian leaders met in emergency session for the third day running, to decide whether to hold on to, or free, the 15 British sailors seized March 23, the US released an Iranian diplomat captured in Iraq two months ago.
debkafile reports that Jalal Sharafi, second secretary at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, was set free and allowed to return to Tehran, in an attempt to influence the Iranian leaders’ decision on the fate of the British hostages.
The Bush administration thus softened its former rejection of any linkage between the six Iranians in American hands and the British hostage case.
debkafile‘s Tehran sources stress that the Iranian government’s decision on the British hostages depends very much on the way it interprets the reported intrusion by two US warplanes over Abadan city, center of southern Iran’s oil installations in Khuzestan province, on Saturday, March 31.
A local Revolutionary Guards chief called Col. Aqili told the Al Alam Arabic language news satellite channel Sunday that the two aircraft entered Iranian airspace northwest of Abadan, before flying southwest into Iraq. He said “The planes left white vapor trails, attracting the local people’s attention.”
The heads of the pragmatic school in Tehran, supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and national security adviser Ali Larijani, argue that the over-flight incident was a clear American warning signal that the British marines had better be returned soon or else the US will launch a punitive operation to inflict heavy damage on Iran’s oil industry.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who speaks for the radical Revolutionary Guards and the religious clergy, is not worried; he argues that it is better for the Americans to strike now when the Revolutionary Guards are well prepared than in 8-10 months, after they are ready and at a time of their choosing.
The pragmatists conjure up the following scenarios:
The first: American air and missile strikes would bombard Iran’s oil fields, pipelines and refineries. Because Tehran imports 60 percent of its refined fuel, including petrol, an attack which put the Abadan refineries (the largest of Iran’s four refineries) out of action, would cut off the gasoline supply to Iranian motorists and industry, and force the government to draw on its energy reserves for military use.
The second: A US blitz against Kharg Island and the Lavan group of islands in the Persian Gulf to knock out Iran’s main oil export terminals.
The pragmatists stresses that the Americans make no secret of their plans to hit hard at Iran’s economy in order to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees on the nuclear question.
They are challenged by the radicals, who warn that Washington is using scare tactics to cow Iran and at the end of the day will give up its military option so as not to drive world oil prices up to at least $70-80 a barrel.
If the Americans want to follow through on their military option, says the Iranian president, the sooner the better. The Revolutionary Guards are already poised to strike back at Saudi and Arab Gulf oil installations and the oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Therefore there is no hurry to engage the British for a solution to the hostage crisis.
Moscow put its oar into the debate among Iran’s leaders, when Yury Baluyevsky, head of the armed forces general staff, warned the US to think twice before attacking Iran. “Inflicting damage on Iran’s military and industrial potential might be realistic, but winning [the war] is unachievable – its reverberations would be heard across the world.”
debkafile notes that interestingly, the Russian general hit on the very issue exercising the Iranian leadership at this time, indicating Moscow’s up-to-the-minute intelligence grasp of the innermost counsels in Tehran.
debkafile‘s Exclusive Tehran sources will continue to follow the ongoing debate among Iran’s top leaders.

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