Iran Bullies Israel’s Strategic Friends – with Eye on Washington

Hardly a day has gone by this month without some Iranian official making an aggressive statement against the United States and Israel. The most unbridled are reserved for the Jewish state. Thursday, August 19, defense minister Vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani threatened pre-emptive strikes to protect Iran’s nuclear facilities. “We will not sit on our hands waiting for what others will do to us,” he said, adding that some Iranian generals believe the doctrine of pre-emption is “not limited to Americans.”
The warning, leveled against Washington, brought to mind Israel’s 1981 strike against Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor. To hit America, Iran does not need to cover the distance to the United States; American forces are close by, as is America’s ally, Israel.
Two days earlier, the deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards corps, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Zolqadr warned that if Israel fired a missile at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, “it can say goodbye to its Dimona nuclear facility where it produces and stockpiles nuclear weapons.”
In a separate interview, Revolutionary Guards political bureau chief, Yadollah Javani, pointed out that all parts of the Jewish state are within range of Iran’s advanced Shehab-3 missile.
Iran’s hardline rulers are not content with words alone.
debkafile‘s intelligence and military sources uncover determined Iranian steps worldwide to undermine Israel’s strategic positions by engendering its international isolation, a tactic reminiscent of the excesses of the Arab boycott. Iranian officials are going around capitals on three continents telling governments friendly to Israel to chill their military and other ties.
Our sources report two blatant examples:
When Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan visited Tehran in late June, he was informed in no uncertain terms by spiritual ruler Ali Khamenei and president Mohammed Khatami that if he wants good relations with the Iranian regime with concomitant economic benefits, such as cheap oil and gas, he must end Turkey’s military ties with Israel. Erdogan agreed to bar Turkish air space to Israeli warplanes stationed in Turkey or incoming from Israel for use as a corridor for striking Iranian nuclear and military installations.
The Turkish prime minister did not inform either Jerusalem or Washington of this step away from Turkish-Israel military understandings, although it effectively robbed both the US and Israel of Israel’s key strategic deterrent card against Iran and Syria. Seven months ago, Erdogan stood up to a similar demand from Syrian president Bashar Assad. Since then, his sights have shifted to the detriment of ties with Washington as well as Jerusalem.
Washington regards the relations of mutual support between the two secular democracies of the Middle East – embodied first in their 1996 Military Training and Cooperation agreement – as a cornerstone of regional stability. The American-Jewish lobby has often supported contentious Turkish interests. Israel, the United and Turkey have committed to work together against al Qaeda and the Hizballah. Israel’s strategic ties in the Caucasus and Central Asia are part of overall Israel-Turkish collaboration. Since 1996, Turkey has spent $3bn in Israel, mostly on military products including a $688m contract for Israel to upgrade 170 Turkish M-60A1 tanks with its own Chariot technology. Turkey has long been a favorite resort of the Israeli tourist.
Erdogan’s high-profile re-orientation away from Ankara’s traditional ties with Washington and Jerusalem in pursuit of closer relations with the Arab and Muslim world was abruptly signaled earlier this year by his condemnation of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians as “state-sponsored terrorism.” Turkey then temporarily withdrew its ambassador and consul in punishment for a fictitious claim that Israel was training Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and engaged in covert operations in northern Iraq. In mid-July, the Turkish prime minister went on holiday hours before Israel’s deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert arrived for an official visit.
These actions were taken in Jerusalem as snubs, although Turkish officials insisted throughout that the friendly bilateral ties are unchanged. Maybe because so far Ankara has not exactly profited from its pro-Muslim pro-Arab shift and is, moreover, concerned about potential damage to its ties with Washington, the Erdogan government is attempting some damage control.
Therefore, as debkafile‘s sources have discovered, a high-level Turkish government delegation is due in Jerusalem this week for a fast repair job. It is composed of three top officials in the prime minister’s bureau, Omar Shakik, Ajaman Bagish and Shaban Dishli.
Their threefold mission will not be easy.
A. To offset the ill effects of the concession the Turkish prime minister made to Tehran when he pandered to the relentless anti-Israel animosity of the Islamic Republic and removed one of Israel’s key strategic deterrents. The visiting Turks will labor the line that nothing is amiss with bilateral relations and that military cooperation continues without interruption.
2. To make it appear that Turkey and Israel are engaged in a dialogue to diagnose and clear up any upsets in the relationship. This performance will be staged to allay the suspicions of Turkey’s generals who are keen on the military partnership with Israel that their prime minister wants to diminish their influence.
3. To soften the ground in Israel, as a means of appeasing the United States, ahead of Erdogan’s visit next month to Damascus, where Turkey and Syria will declare the start of military cooperation.
In late July, Iran’s president Mohammed Khatami visited Baku, capital of Iran’s northern neighbor on the shores of the Caspian, ostensibly to pay his respects to the new Azeri ruler Elham Aliyev, son of former strongman Heydar Aliyev.
Ninety percent of Azerbaijan’s eight million inhabitants are Azeris; they are all Shiite Muslims. Roughly the same number of ethnic Azeris dwells on the Iranian side of the border. Defined as an Azerbaijani Turkic people, they share the same language. They have also raised up a strong breakaway movement fighting for their region’s annexation to Azerbaijan.
That was one item on Khatami’s agenda in Baku; another was the disputed exploitation rights of Caspian resources including oil. Khatami carefully skirted the American and Israeli military presence in the Caspian state. The two sides agreed to discuss Azerbaijani-Iranian military relations at a later date.
However, last week, two weeks after the Khatami visit, debkafile‘s sources report a senior delegation of Iranian intelligence officers turned up in Baku. They put before president Aliyev and his military and intelligence chiefs a list of demand presented in the same hectoring tone as Iran’s approach to the Turkish prime minister: if Azerbaijan wants good relations with Iran, then –
A. The Israeli Mossad station in Baku must be shut down forthwith and its agents ordered out of the country.
B. The Azeris must dismantle the electronic listening stations the Israelis set up along the Caspian and the Iranian border.
C. Visits by groups of Israeli military and intelligence officers must stop.
The Iranian officers claimed to have confidential information that these visits had been stepped up of late as part of what Tehran sees as Israeli preparations to strike Iran’s nuclear installations.
President Aliyev said he was surprised to hear this and would need to check the information out before making decisions.
debkafile‘s intelligence experts see three main themes dominating Iran’s campaign against Israel:
One, genuine anxiety over possible Israeli plans to strike its nuclear installations and/or military infrastructure. This fear has heightened the belligerence of threats issuing from Tehran.
Two, a concerted, focused effort to break up Israel’s military alliances in the Middle East and Central Asia so as to weaken the Jewish state strategically and diplomatically. The immediate rationale is that divesting Israel of its military links with key countries like Turkey and Azerbaijan will minimize the Jewish state’s resources for military or covert action against Iran.
Three,Tehran believes it can make short shrift of Israel’s military links in the region before tackling the major issue of the US military presence in the same countries. Once Israeli military officers and experts are out, Iran will press for the Americans to go too.
The Sharon government looks as though it is too weighed down by the political obstacles constantly bedeviling the prime minister’s disengagement and evacuation plans to properly address the Iranian offensive, even though it has already begun hurting Israel’s foreign strategic relations.

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