Regime Change Bruited as US Troops Train Secretly for Next Campaign
The hottest intelligence item bandied about in top Western, Russian and Middle East circles is this:
For some weeks now, US-military chartered airliners and scheduled flights have been ferrying hundreds of US officers and soldiers in civilian dress between the Persian Gulf, the Far East and Thailand, in particular. They are bound for a spot of R & R. Most of the American soldiers flooding the holiday resorts and local bars around Bangkok are tightlipped about their next missions, but some have disclosed they were resting up from strenuous training ahead of one of the most grueling and lengthy operations US armed forces have ever undertaken: A military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities and its strategic and military infrastructures.
There were additional signs in the past two weeks that President Barack Obama was turning away from diplomatic engagement with Iran and towards the military option (which he never eschewed).
Is the apparent U-turn a zigzag with more to come?
In a surprise statement Tuesday, Feb. 9, Obama told reporters he had "bent over backwards" to engage Iran in constructive dialogue, but now that Tehran has moved to enrich uranium to the 20 percent level in defiance of the world powers, the US is moving fast forward to develop a "significant regime of sanctions."
The Pentagon said the US wants a UN Security resolution within weeks, pointing out that Iran has defied five UN Security Council resolutions with sanctions banning enrichment.
At the same time, the US president is letting talks with Iran go another round, perhaps as a last throw of his engagement dice. Tuesday, he sent Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutolu to Tehran to engage Iranian leaders in another bid to bridge the gap, a mission that could also take some weeks.
Either way, Iran's leaders have again won time to parlay for progress on their nuclear plans, free of heavy American pressure to mend their ways.
So which is it to be? A sanctions regime or regime change?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence sources report exclusively that three former Democratic administration officials acting as his informal envoys last week delivered messages which took their interlocutors aback – European and Middle Eastern alike. Make no mistake about President Obama's apparent offer of more time for Tehran to accept the world powers' enriched uranium offer of a swap, or his slow response to Iran's advance notice that it would start enriching uranium to 20 percent on Feb. 9 – or even the unveiling of the advanced Kavoshgar-3 satellite carrier-cum-missile. Washington is only pretending to let Tehran get away with its escalating provocations. In reality, the White House has reached three decisions in principle:
1. Not to allow Iran to build or possess nuclear weapons;
2. To go to war to prevent this happening, having concluded, contrary to former predictions, that a military strike on Iran would be less fraught with danger than letting Iran acquire an N-bomb.
3. Diplomatic engagement having exhausted itself, regime change in Tehran is a real option.
According to our sources, Obama's messengers did not specify whether US military action would persevere until regime change is achieved or that two separate operations for separate goals were contemplated.
Asked to substantiate his highly dramatic message, one of the envoys advised an interviewee to read an article written by Richard Haass, president of The Council on Foreign Relations, for Newsweek of January 22.
Haass was faithfully representing President Obama's thinking and his next direction, said the envoy. Beyond this, he would not elaborate.
The coming NIE may box Obama in
Under the headline "Enough Is Enough," Haass wrote: “I've changed my mind (about the engagement policy). The nuclear talks are going nowhere. The Iranians appear intent on developing the means to produce a nuclear weapon…
"Critics will say promoting regime change will encourage Iranian authorities to tar the opposition as pawns of the West. But the regime is already doing so. Outsiders should act to strengthen the opposition and to deepen rifts among the rulers. This process is underway, and while it will take time, it promises the first good chance in decades to bring about an Iran that, even if less than a model country, would nonetheless act considerably better at home and abroad. Even a realist should recognize that it's an opportunity not to be missed.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington and military sources note that the envoys are stressing that President Obama has already come down in favor of military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms in a bid to allay Middle East and Gulf Arab concerns. For their message to be believable and taken seriously – and not just as a non-binding expression of intent – the US envoys defined the circumstances that would prompt the offensive and the time frame for its launch, namely: Clear US intelligence affirmation that Iran was proceeding to assemble a nuclear weapon, i.e. some time this year or next.
On February 2, US intelligence chief Dennis Blair told the Senate: “Iran is keeping open the option of developing nuclear weapons but it remains unclear whether Tehran has the political will to do so.”
Our sources disclosed in last week's issue (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 432) that Blair's testimony was in fact the curtain-raiser for the administration's new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a work in progress which deals primarily with Iran.
Should the new NIE determine from the evidence that the Iranian leadership has made up its mind to go for a nuclear weapon – or assembled its components – it will be time for Obama to decide finally if an American military strike is warranted.
The pace would be forced if Iran landed the shock of its first nuclear test, which some Iran-watchers tell DEBKA-Net-Weekly cannot be ruled out during the Islamic regime's anniversary month.
Obama bids farewell to his Muslim outreach
Obama's decision to aim for regime change in Tehran would be a policy reversal as radical as his resort to military action to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. It would bury for good the outreach to the Muslim world heralded in his epic speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009 and add the name of Barack Obama to the list of bygone US presidents, including George W. Bush, who viewed regime change as legitimate for achieving political goals and reshaping countries and world regions.
Since Obama's Cairo speech, the meaning has been drained from his opening words: “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition."
Washington sources note that ten months later, the principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings have gone up in smoke. The speech sincerely meant to heal a historic breach has been swept away on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Pakistan and latterly Yemen, where American servicemen are fighting Islamic forces.
If the US exercises its military option against Iran too, the breach will widen further.