Tuesday, Feb. 9, Tehran followed through on its leaders' promise to start home-processing of uranium up to 20 percent grade, in open defiance of a UN ban. Adding insult to injury, UN inspectors were invited to Natanz to witness the event, which was charged with echoes of the threat sounded by Iran's spiritual ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the day before: "The Iranian nation with its unity and God's grace will punch the arrogance [of Western powers] on the 22nd of Bahman (Feb. 11) in a way that will leave them stunned!"
This declaration climaxed the series of "scientific and military" achievements to which president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad laid claim in the last ten days: The launching of a space capsule carrying a small zoo by the new Kavoshgar-3 carrier on Feb. 3; the inauguration of production lines for "advanced drones capable of precision bombing," on Feb. 8; Iran's attainment of the ability to enrich uranium up to 20 percent grade – all capped now with the spiritual ruler's ominous remark.
Some of the claims are dismissed by certain informed circles in the West as empty boasts, part of the extremist Islamist regime's war of propaganda against the world or its campaign to still domestic fears of a US or Israeli attack.
Yet debkafile's military sources say certain points cannot be lightly dismissed:
1. While some boasts are indeed unfounded – like the one that Iran has developed an interceptor against air and missile attack more advanced the S-300 system withheld by Russia – most of Tehran's claims with regard to military, missile and nuclear advances have been borne out as resting on solid achievement.
2. The fact that Khamenei issued his apparently wild threat in the presence of the commanders of the Iranian Air force – and just three days before its promised execution – indicates he must have something serious up his sleeve and is building up the drama.
Some Iran-watchers in the West believe he is talking about blood on the streets of Tehran during the coming opposition protest rallies. But others do not rule out Iran's first nuclear test.
Foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki contributed to the heightened tension generated by the war-mongering from Damascus in the last ten days. He pledged that if Israel attacked Syria or any other Arabs, Iran would come to their aid.
Manifesting deep-seated racism, he commented contemptuously: "The Jews are mad and Israel is a nation led by lunatics."
He was contemptuous too about a possible US attack on Iran's nuclear facilities: The Americans will fail here too, said the Iranian foreign minister, just as they failed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
US defense secretary Robert Gates hinted at a change of tune after meeting French president Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris Monday Feb. 8: He said he hoped "strong international sanctions on Iran will forestall the need for a military strike designed to end the country's chances of developing a nuclear weapon."
debkafile's Washington sources note that this was Gates' first mention of a possible resort to military action (which Barack Obama has never eschewed) for ending Iran's development of a nuclear weapon. He has always been staunch opponent of military action and preferred sanctions,
But he knows perfectly well that the chances of the UN Security Council imposing a fresh round of penalties against Iran are nil. China made it clear that it will not come on board for stiffer sanctions and, at the Munich conference, sided solidly with Tehran, urging "the parties concerned" to "step up diplomatic efforts and exercise greater patience and flexibility with Iran."