A top-level strategy conference took place urgently in Tehran Wednesday, March 8, called by Iran’s supreme spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to decide how to handle the International Atomic Energy Agency’s decision to report its nuclear program to the UN Security Council.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources report that the conference decided to pursue diplomacy while quietly dusting off and upgrading shelved plans for a broad military and guerrilla offensive against the United States and the West in the Middle East and the world over.
Some immediate steps were approved, as disclosed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly:
1. Multibillion-dollar Iranian deposits will continue to be withdrawn from European and US-controlled banks and transferred to the Far East and Muslim countries. Tehran is also talking on the quiet with banks in Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya for them to reinvest withdrawn accounts in the same American and European banks under their own names.
2. The Iranian navy’s six Russian-made SSK or SSI Kilo class diesel submarines are to be moved out of the Persian Gulf and redeployed in the open sea.
The subs will then be safe from American reprisals should Iran decide at some point in its confrontation with the US to blockade the strategic Straits of Hormuz. These vessels have been patrolling Gulf waters as a deterrent to an attack by the US Sixth Fleet.
This mission passed on March 8 to four brand-new Nahang (whale) submarines launched on that day. Rear Admiral M. Sajjad Kouchaki, commander of the submarine brigade of the Iranian navy, described these mini-subs as carrying multipurpose weapons, which he did not name. They are adapted to sailing in shallow waters and negotiating narrow channels. The northern reaches of the Persian Gulf abound in inlets where the small Nahangs are designed to lurk in ambush against enemy craft.
How well these mini-subs perform in combat conditions is unknown. After years of development, Iran has only now released word of their existence for the first time.
Naval experts report Nahang is in fact the Iranian version of similar Soviet and North Korean underwater craft, but has also borrowed heavily from World War II manned torpedoes.
The Iranian navy has been further beefed up by the recent purchase of North Korean cruise missiles that can be fitted on the Kilo submarines. They carry warheads of 650 kilo of conventional explosives, but can be adapted to nuclear warheads.
As we write these lines, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources learn that three of Iran’s Kilo submarines are approaching a rendezvous in the Pacific with a North Korean merchant vessel carrying missile experts and technicians from Pyongyang.
This report has not been confirmed. But this flurry of naval activity shows Iran is preparing a submarine fleet for future, long-lasting voyages in the Atlantic for possible missions close to European or even American shores.
3. Tehran is planning a diplomatic charm offensive against key members of the UN Security Council. Senior Iranian officials will make the rounds of their capitals, but the UN delegation will also be strengthened with Iran’s most able diplomats, who will also seek to engage as many delegates as possible, including Americans.
Security Council haggling promises Iran another breather
Ali Khamenei and his top advisers have reached certain assessments on the next stages
One, the UN Security Council is likely to be hamstrung for some time by the sharp differences among its members on how to handle Iran’s violations and concealments, and the conviction that it is working towards a nuclear weapon. While the US is pushing hard for harsh sanctions, the Europeans prefer lighter, reversible penalties that will not hurt the Iranian people at large, and China and Russia, who supported referral of the debate to the UN body, are opposed to sanctions and military action alike.
Two, Iran is counting on Moscow and Beijing to prevent the council debate culminating in condemnation or penalties. This optimism derives from their conduct in three years of nuclear watchdog board debates on the Iranian question, which left the Islamic Republic virtually unscathed and unimpeded.
Three, Iran relies on its diplomatic skills, aided by nations like China, Russia, South Africa and even India, to hold the Americans and Europeans back from pursuit of military action against its nuclear installations.
Four, According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Tehran sources, Iranian policy-planners cannot make their minds up if the worsening situation in Iraq works in favor of US military restraint against Iran, or the reverse. Some believe that because US forces are pulling in their horns in Iraq, they might be impelled to exercise the “McCain choice.” (Senator John McCain said recently: “There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option, that is a nuclear-armed Iran.”) Others dispute this theory.
Iran needs to buy time to overcome technical problems hindering its production of a deliverable nuclear bomb. So the longer diplomacy can be drawn out without ructions, the more Iran can inch forward towards its goal without interruption.
Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s former leading nuclear negotiator, remarked that this strategy has worked for two years, giving Iran time to complete its UCF plant in Isfahan. Now a further breathing space is needed to complete the Natanz installation and overcome certain difficulties centering on centrifuges and their efficacy. Thousands of P-2 centrifuges are still required. According to our sources, Iran has just over 500 active centrifuges, when more than 50,000 are needed for the process of enriching uranium to weapons grade level.
Our sources also disclose that the Revolutionary Guards units in charge of the nuclear program are under orders to complete the assembly of 20 to 50 centrifuges at a secret site for experiments, while the testing of the ten-machine cascade continues at Natanz.
At the moment, the Americans, the Europeans, the Israelis and the UN watchdog have not been able to plumb the extent of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities. It could be smaller and more modest than suspected, or larger and much more advanced.