Iran this month rolled out a craftily choreographed series of intelligence, military and nuclear provocations for the benefit of US president-elect Barack Obama and the administration he will lead.
Its rationale has eight points, elucidated here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources:
1. Iran's rulers have convinced themselves that the United States or/and Israel are bound to attack their nuclear installations and Revolutionary Guards bases in the interim period before Obama is sworn in as president on January 21.
They strongly believe in a conspiracy between George W. Bush and his successor to bring this about and are reading omens of war in every move made by Washington.
According to a senior Iranian source visiting Abu Dhabi to clue its rulers on the thinking in Tehran, the Iranians seized on the rumor that Obama intended asking Robert Gates to stay on as defense secretary – even before it was confirmed – as evidence that US leaders were making ready for armed conflict with Iran and were accordingly not changing horses in mid-preparation.
Iran's strategists also take Hillary Clinton's nomination as secretary of state and the possible appointment of Marine General James Jones as Obama's national security adviser to prove that the future president has opted for military action. This team is seen in Tehran as more inclined to support a war option than the Bush White House.
Iran believes Obama will fall flat on economy and resort to war
Strenuous efforts have been made in recent weeks to persuade Tehran that a military option is not imminent. They fell on deaf ears. The Iranians say they will not be fooled by any such diversionary tactics. The Islamic republic is therefore geared up for a certain war, said the Iranian visitor to Abu Dhabi.
They found more confirmation for their conviction in the statement from a spokesman for the US European Command mission on Nov. 22 that the US radar recently deployed in Israel to help in its defense against a potential missile attack from Iran was undergoing final tests. The radar was delivered in September and reported to be capable of tracking a baseball-sized object from 2,900 miles.
Army Maj. Bryan Woods, a spokesman for the US military team in Israel, said the radar should be operational by mid-December.
“There has been a lot of work involved,” said Woods. “It's been a joint effort in making it come together. They (the Israelis) are very confident in the system and are happy to have it in their country.”
2. Tehran is certain the Obama administration will be as friendly to Israel as the Bush team.
3. The Iranians have taken on board intelligence estimates and expert opinions heard in various countries, including Russia and China, that the new US president's chances of stabilizing the American economy are slight. They expect him to cover his failure by starting a major war to unite the American people behind him and put the economy and production resources back on track.
Our sources in Tehran say the Iranians are prone to shaping such estimates to fit their own mind-set.
Getting the jump on the incoming US president
4. Iran's rulers figure that, even if the first two premises fall, they would be smart to get the jump on the policy lines Obama is setting out for his administration. They did not like what they heard at his first news conference in Chicago on Nov. 11, when he said that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons was “unacceptable,” and that “he would respond appropriately to a congratulatory letter from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
For the pugnacious Iranians, getting the jump means forcing immutable facts down the throats of American war planners for the sake of deterrence and setting the rules of the game before Obama sits down in the White House.
This explains the rapid volley of startling events emanating from Tehran.
In the last ten days, they announced death penalties for allegedly captured Israeli spies, disclosed that 5,000 centrifuges were up and running after the UN nuclear watchdog reported Iran had enough enriched uranium to make its first nuclear bomb, and launched a rocket into space, following a two-stage solid-propellant ballistic missile test.
The Islamic Republic wants to dictate terms before it goes broke
The Iranian campaign (detailed in a separate article in this issue) had four additional goals:
One, to generate spy-mania for scaring the Iranian people into believing an Israeli agent lurked ground every corner.
Two, to make sure Ahmadinejad is reelected president next June despite the country's economic woes. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report that supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has his heart set on keeping him on because he regards the aggressive president as a political asset both domestically and for promoting national foreign and nuclear objectives.
Three, a belligerent posture towards the West underpins the grip the Revolutionary Guards and their basij popular militia maintain on the country.
Four, raising the specters of war, spies and Western hostility is meant to distract attention from the country's galloping economic crisis. Sharply falling oil prices (down from $147 to $50) and reduced output have slashed Iran's reserves to a bare $25 billion.
Our military sources estimate that maintaining the armed forces and Revolutionary Guards at constant peak war preparedness, as in the last two and a half months, must cost the Iranian treasury about one billion dollars a month, a burden which it cannot sustain for long.
Tehran is therefore in a hurry and turning up the heat to force the incoming US president to come around to Iranian terms for a take-it-or-leave-it package before he properly has a chance to get his bearings.