Iran continues to behave as though it is calling the shots. The first formal announcement of the resumption of Iran-world powers nuclear talks (confirming debkafile’s exclusive) came from its Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Selahi who Sunday, Feb. 19, named the venue as Istanbul, Turkey. Saturday, two Iranian warships got away with delivering arms for Bashar Assad’s crackdown on protest without US or Israeli interference.
They docked at Tartus port Saturday alongside a Russian naval flotilla, symbolizing their joint effort to preserve Assad.
US and Israeli naval craft were entitled by UN sanctions to intercept and search the Kharq supply ship carrying illegal arms and military equipment for Bashar Assad’s army as it sailed past Israel’s Mediterranean coast with the Sahid Qandi destroyer. But they abstained from doing so for fear of a firefight at sea with the Iranian destroyer.
The Egyptian Suez authorities were equally wary of trouble and so did not exercise their authority to search the arms vessel.
The US and Israel therefore let Iran get away with establishing three disagreeable facts:
1. A precedent for bringing arms to the Assad regime and the Lebanese Hizballah group without being challenged;
2. Flaunting its comradeship with Russia for buttressing the Assad regime and warding off Western-Arab military intervention by their military strength. Its warships entered Tartus and docked alongisde the Russian naval flotilla.
3. Tehran felt it could safely ignore the warning that “Israel is watching Iran’s military movements in the Mediterranean” which came from “military sources” tardily after the two warships were berthed at Tartus ready to unload their cargo.
Israel did not interfere either when exactly a year ago, the Kharq passed through the Suez Canal on its way past the Israeli coast to deliver missiles for Hizballah, even though Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at the time that the Israel Navy would halt the ship if it was laden with arms.
A whole year has gone by and Israel is still not geared for stemming the flow of Iranian weapons to its enemies. Inaction this time is bound to detract from Israel’s military credibility at the very moment that another round of intense US-Israeli talks on Iran is taking place.
Top-flight White House advisers, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator Gary Samore and head of the NSC’s Middle East Desk Steve Simon, arrived in Israel Saturday, Feb. 18, for three days of critical talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his senior security team headed by Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror.
debkafile’s sources note that military and intelligence officials conversant with Iran’s nuclear projects are not part of this delegation. This US-Israeli round is therefore designed to hammer out political and diplomatic coordination between the two governments, not the military aspects of a strike against Iran.
The Obama administration is walking on eggs so not to jeopardize the new chances opening up for resumed international negotiations with Iran. Following debkafile's exclusive disclosure at week’s end, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi confirmed Sunday, Feb. 19 that the next round of talks between Iran and six world powers on the country's nuclear program will be held in Istanbul, Turkey. He did not mention a date.
He also reiterated Tehran’s standard refrain that neither sanctions nor any other penalties would make Iran give up its nuclear aspirations.
In this sense, the dispute between Washington and Israel over whether or not sanctions are effective is academic. Still, as an added incentive for the Netanyahu government to hold its fire against Iran, Washington persuaded the Brussels-based Swift financial clearinghouse used by 210 countries to agree to shut Iran out of its network, thereby choking off much of its international trade.
However, as debkafile reveals here for the first time, Tehran had already taken the precaution of opening alternative lines to KTT, a company which provides certain financial and trading services to some European, Far Eastern and Muslim governments. It is registered with the Government of Pakistan's Department of Export & Import and Ministry of Defense.
Shortly after the Donilon team landed in Israel, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff made these comments to a CNN TV interviewer for broadcast Sunday, Feb. 19: “It’s not prudent at this point for Israel to decide to attack Iran. It would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives.”
He went on to say that the U.S. government is confident the Israelis “understand our concerns.” But then added: “I wouldn’t suggest, sitting here today, that we’ve persuaded them that our view is the correct view and that they are acting in an ill-advised fashion.”
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources note that Israeli is paying a heavy strategic price for the interminable wrangling over an attack on Iran going back and forth between Washington and Jerusalem for months. It is forcing the Netanyahu government to sit on its hands in circumstances where inaction is dangerous and watch its deterrent strength drain away. Therefore, not a finger was lifted to break up Iran’s latest breakthrough to a seaborne route for replenishing Assad’s depleted arsenals.