On Wednesday, December 1, Tehran directly accused Washington of responsibility for the attacks Monday, Nov. 29, in the heart of Tehran on two of its top nuclear scientists, Prof. Majid Shahriari, who was killed, and Prof. Freydoun Abbasi, who was critically injured. Since then, the heads of Iran's government, military and intelligence have been meeting non-stop to determine how America is to be punished.
According to one proposal, rather than hitting out at a US Middle East target or Israel, the more effective reprisal would be to simply finish building a nuclear bomb forthwith.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report that this option had at least at three advocates at the high-powered conference, Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commander Gen. Ali Jafary, Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Suleimany, and Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi. They objected to a military response on three grounds:
1. It would not stop the covert war the US and Israel are waging with mounting intensity in the last three months, of which more details in this article, and might even spur it on.
2. The IRGC and Al Qods have their hands full engineering Hizballah's takeover of Beirut and other strategic areas of Lebanon, an operation that would represent part of Iran's punishment for the assassination of its scientists.
3. They are certain Iran can build up its first stock of 19.5 percent enriched uranium in no more than 8 to 10 weeks – enough for a short leap to weapons-grade material and the manufacture of its first nuclear weapon. Our intelligence sources quote all three as maintaining that this achievement would be fitting punishment for the attack on the two scientists.
The marathon meetings continue as we close this issue.
Tehran sees US covert-psychological war entering second round
The Director of Iran's Atomic Energy Commission, Ali Akbar Salehi, was given the job of holding the United States responsible for the attacks. He will represent his government at the resumed nuclear negotiations with the Six Powers on Dec. 6. Using the opportunity of Shahriari's funeral, he accused the West of carrying out the assassination to bring Iran to heel ahead of those talks.
"These wicked people wanted to show their hideous side which demonstrates their carrot and stick policy in the run-up to the new nuclear talks," he said.
Tehran has clearly taken the attacks on the two scientists as an ultimatum from Washington: If you behave rationally i.e. according to the American – or, as Salehi put it "the Western" – dictate, your nuclear scientists will be safe and the strength massed around your shores – the USS Truman, the USS Lincoln and the French Charles de Gaulle and their strike forces – will withdraw.
But persist in irrational conduct and you will endure more possible assassinations, harsher sanctions and irreparable harm at the hands of "Western" agents already at large in your country.
Tehran believes it is undergoing the second round of a disastrous United States covert intelligence campaign, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report.
The first round took was launched in the second half of September (See our issue no. 466 of October 22: An Undeclared Covert War Takes its Toll on Iran).
Stuxnet marches on the heels of the Shehab-3 store's destruction
It began on September 22 with a bomb attack on an Iranian military parade in the northwestern Iranian city of Mahabad, which killed at least 12 soldiers and wounded 70.
Then, on October 7, gunmen shot at Iranian security forces near Sanandaj in Iranian Kurdistan. At least 5 Iranians died in that attack.
The next day, on October 8, the Baluchi Liberation Front Jundallah claimed to have snatched Amir Hossein Shirani from his place of work at one of Iran's secret nuclear facilities in Isfahan and transferred him to the group's headquarters in Baluchistan.
This week, Sunday, November 28, the day before the two scientists were hit in Tehran, Shirani appeared on the Saudi television station Al Arabiya with a full report on Iran's plans to produce nuclear weapons.
The top officials closeted behind closed doors in Tehran see that appearance as a connecting link between the two rounds of clandestine assaults and evidence of an elaborate, large-scale covert organization at work inside the country. They believe that only a major intelligence power like the American CIA commands the unlimited manpower and financial resources for a campaign on this scale.
Add to this the mysterious explosions occurring on Oct. 12 at the Revolutionary Guards' biggest and most secret missile store at Khorramabad in southwestern Iran, destroying a major part of their Shihab 3 ballistic missile stock.
To this day, Iranian investigators have not discovered how it happened and postulate the cause as being a missile released by an American or Israeli drone. Since that episode was not followed by any more such attacks, the Iranians decided to grit their teeth and shut up.
Washington has gone too far
But then, two weeks later, in early November, the Stuxnet virus was on the march again and managed to disable a large number of centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.
Friday, Nov. 26, a passenger who boarded a Damascus-bound Air Iran flight at Tehran tried to hijack the plane. That incident too was initially blacked out by Iranian authorities. It later emerged that Iranian marshals aboard the plane subdued the attacker in a struggle. Intelligence Minister Moslehi tied the incident to spy networks and claimed the hijacker admitted he wanted to direct the flight to "occupied Palestine."
Then came WikiLeaks and its disclosures of US diplomats reports that Iran was held in fear and loathing by Arab rulers. Then came the deaths of the two scientists, the last straw in what Tehran perceives to be a well-laid American covert, cyber and psychological war.
As far as Iran's rulers are concerned, Washington has gone too far, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report, and they are resolved to exact punishment and draw the line against any further hostile acts.
Retaliation may come in the form of a direct attack on an American Middle East target or on Israel – or both.
Wednesday, Dec. 1, the Kuwaiti Al-Rai newspaper quoted an Iranian source as reporting that Hizballah has finished its preparations for war with Israel: its weapons stores are full and underground tunnels dug for catching Israeli troops unawares.
Our military sources confirm this report. Hizballah's war preparations are known to have been going on for two months. On the other hand, it may be a red herring to distract attention from Iran's plans to strike somewhere else.