Syrian Crisis May Presage a US Attack on Iranian Nuclear Sites in October

The general prognosis in Middle East capitals this week was that a potential US military flare-up with Russia and Iran in Syria would be Act I of a scenario about to unfold into a US-Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites in October. Why October? Because US President Donald Trump would not wish to lose the momentum gained by military action in Syria in view of the following circumstances.

  1. The Iranian economy is currently sunk in extreme crisis and the next round of US sanctions could bring it to collapse. However, if given breathing space, the Islamic Republic could recover.
  2. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pledge of Russian economic and strategic resources to help Iran sidestep US sanctions must not be given a chance to take hold.
  3. President Trump and his strategic advisers have learned from their North Korean venture an important lesson: Iran must not be allowed to fully weaponize its nuclear program, because it will be much harder to deal with Tehran after the fact than before. Speedy action is the essence of prevention.
  4. Trump needs a major boost at home to help save his Republican party from the risk of losing its majority in Congress in the coming mid-term elections.

The White House now realizes that bringing Iran to the edge of economic meltdown will take longer and entail more steps than the embargo on Iranian oil exports going into effect on Nov. 4. US sanctions are taking effect in Iran, witness the empty shelves in city shops – but not as rapidly or as damagingly as President Trump had hoped.

Last week, the regime had taken the first creative steps for restoring equilibrium: Iran adoped the system of cryptocurrency mining to arrest the Iranian currency’s free fall against the US dollar. Following Tehran’s formal acceptance, Bitcoin (BTC) soared to a record high of 1,020,000,000 Iranian rials ($24,000) on the local cryptocurrency exchange Exir and approximately $7,000 on major exchanges. A new regulatory framework for this sector will be in place by the end of the month.

Announcing this, Abolhassan Firouzabadi, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace, said the national cryptocurrency will be used as an instrument for financial transactions with foreign trading partners and allies in place of Western financial systems. The Iranian Ministries of Communications Technology, Industry, Mines and Trade and Economic Affairs, and Finance have already made the switch.

Iran is furthermore using its substantial $150bn foreign currency reserve, as well as the estimated $25-35bn cached by the Revolutionary Guards’ independent financial system, on projects for sidestepping US sanctions. The sum of $5bn has been siphoned off for setting up the government-owned Foreign Investments Co. This company has begun buying up assets that give the country access to services, goods and funds in 22 countries, as substitutes for the sources made unavailable by US sanctions.

According to the Wall Street Journal of Sept. 6, those projects include a French medicine factory, an Afghan trading house, a Brazilian auto parts plant, a German pipeline factory and stakes in several other companies that can be sold or bartered for other benefits.

President Putin’s decision to place Russian resources at the disposal of his Iranian ally is the key to a long-running battle for neutralizing US sanctions. Tehran, Moscow and Damascus are working on a project for turning war-torn Syria’s rehabilitation program into the fulcrum for boosting Damascus as a major hub for Iranian commerce and Tehran’s primary supply center for goods and materials unobtainable due to US sanctions. When Putin was in Tehran last Friday, Sept. 7, he reiterated his commitment to this project to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Iran is also closely studying how the negotiations Trump kicked off with Kim Jong un for disarming North Korea’s nuclear, plutonium and ballistic missile programs, affect the Islamic republic. They deduce that while the US president knows he possesses the techno-military capacity for destroying the North Korean arsenals, he also realizes that the US cannot in all conscience or even in practice wipe out a nation of 25 million souls.

Trump must also consider that even if Kim does hand over detailed catalogues of his nukes and missiles for dismantling, neither he nor even US intelligence can be sure that the list is complete, and a few nukes ae not tucked away in North Korea’s mountains.

To avoid this uncertainty with regard to Iran, Trump is likely to prevent Tehran  from following North Korean and attaining a nuclear arsenal. He is not neglecting a diplomatic solution. From the second half of July up to mid-August, US emissaries engaged Tehran in clandestine talks brokered by Oman, in search of an acceptable formula for Tehran to agree to dismantle its nuclear program. These talks were first revealed by DEBKA Weekly and publicly confirmed on Saturday, Sept. 8 by none other than President Rouhani.

“From one side they try to pressure the people of Iran, on the other side they send us messages very day through various methods that we should come and negotiate together,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast on state television. “[They say] we should negotiate here, we should negotiate there. We want to resolve he issues … Should we see your message? …Or should we see your brutish actions?”

However, no one in Washington or anywhere else, seriously expects the ayatollahs to voluntarily relinquish the high international standing conferred by possession of a nuclear program. Tehran never sacrificed its nuclear status – even for the nuclear deal signed with six world powers in Geneva in 2015 with a shower of financial benefits. This attitude remained unchanged after the US pulled out of the deal in May.

DEBKA Weekly’s military sources have known that US surgical plans for grinding Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to dust were first put in place in the time of Barack Obama, in case the Geneva talks broke down without a deal. They involved an assault which the Iranians would be unable to fend off, even with prior notice of the exact day and hour.

Trump’s motives for embarking on a military attack in October to wipe Iran’s nuclear capabilities off the face of the earth are heightened by the drop in his popular rating ahead of the midterm elections in November. The Democrats say that if they gain a majority in congress they will seek his impeachment. An October operation could sway the American voter.

Conscious of this tight timeline, Iranian threats grow more strident and explicit. “The era of hit and run is over in the world,” said Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s influential national security adviser, on Monday, Sept. 10. “Any hostile measure against our country will be responded to by Tehran tenfold,” he said. “We are capable of protecting ourselves in every field.”

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