Iran's top leaders have not had much to say about the momentous events swirling around them, whether the evidence of their work on a nuclear bomb, the allegation of an assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to Washington or the explosion that wiped out their missile program's top men.
The most extreme comment heard came from Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Thursday, Nov. 10: "Our enemies, particularly the Zionist regime (Israel), America and its allies, should know that any kind of threat and attack or even thinking about any (military) action will be firmly responded to. The Revolutionary Guards and army and our nation… will answer attacks with strong slaps and iron fists."
Otherwise, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources say, the ayatollahs seem to believe that actions speak louder than words. As their conflict with the US and Israel gathers momentum, Tehran is getting set for deeds to show its people and the Muslim world that Revolutionary Iran is the only Islamic power willing and able to challenge the West.
Sunday, Nov. 20, our military sources report, a quarter of a million Iranian troops will take part in a large-scale war game staged jointly by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Basij militia in five Iranian cities. Dubbed "Fedayeen (Fighters) of the Islamic World Revolution", it will also present Iran's enemies with two challenges:
Palestinian volunteers will take part in the exercise after training for a potential war in invasion tactics. They will then be transferred to Syria. Part of the exercise will take place in Syria too, to boost Bashar Assad against Western and Arab condemnation.
The war game is timed to prepare the people for a coming attack and caution them against taking a leaf out of Syria's book and exploiting the upheaval for insurrection.
Moscow and Beijing will keep a showdown short-lived
Iran's brinkmanship is strongly supported by Russia and China. They are pushing from behind on the assumption that the outbreak of an Iranian war with Israel and the US, possibly drawing in Syria, Lebanon and other Middle East nations, can be quickly shortened by their combined leverage in the UN Security Council.
Moscow and Beijing would be able to guarantee that the damage wrought by a confrontation to Iran's strategic infrastructure, nuclear program and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) would be minimal and the regime would survive and be able to restore it.
Indeed, in private conversations, high-ranking Iranian officials say the damage to their nuclear program could be fixed within three to six months, far sooner that estimated by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Nov. 11, who spoke of three years.
The eve-of-showdown atmosphere was accentuated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when in early November he told his clique: "The West is mobilizing all its forces to finish the job because it is clear as day that NATO is yearning to act against Iran."
Striking an apocalyptic-messianic note, he spoke of abnormal conditions taking shape in the region (a hint at the coming of Imam Mahdi), adding, "We are nearing the point of final confrontation."
This confrontation would not necessarily be military, he said; it could take political or other form.
Ahmadinejad stressed that Iran is close to the apex of its power.
He also warned that an attack on Syria by NATO would cause a regional explosion.
Iran's students favor a military strike hoping it topples the regime
Many voices in the West argue against an American and Israeli military attack on the Iranian nuclear program on the grounds that it would rally the people around its leaders and strengthen the revolutionary regime rather than weaken it.
This view was advanced most recently on Tuesday, Nov. 15, by Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki bin Faisal.
Any military strike on Iran, he said, "would be foolish. And to undertake it… would be tragic." He added: "If anything, [a potential military strike] would only make the Iranians more determined" to develop nuclear weapons.
But the intelligence gathered by Iran's leaders show the reverse picture.
Since early November, secret agents working under cover inside various departments of Tehran University obtained copies of the results of a public opinion survey which student leaders conducted at the universities of Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz.
The poll sampled a cross-cut of students and Iranian intellectuals in the three cities.
It found that 62 percent of the sample polled would welcome a foreign attack on their country's nuclear program so long as it also struck IRGC bases and other arms of the regime.
Most welcomed the prospect of a foreign attack as a short cut for getting rid of the Islamic regime, rather than a means of rallying support, as some Western circles consider.
The survey found 68 percent of the students favored an attack with two caveats: 1) That it is limited to nuclear facilities and IRGC bases and does not kill civilians, and 2) That it is short and hastens the regime's fall.
Khamenei answers rising opposition with assassinations
On sanctions, some 65 percent of the students and intelligentsia would endure crippling oil sanctions and a ban on flights to and from Iran so long as these measures topple the regime in less than six months.
Another finding reflected great fear of the authorities.
For instance, 43 percent of those surveyed said the longer the West delayed its operation against Iran's nuclear program, the greater the risk of the government perpetrating a deliberate massacre of civilians to pin responsibility for the loss of life on the Israeli or American aggressors. This would deflect popular anger away from the regime and thwart a popular uprising.
Some of the people canvassed, when asked to substantiate this fear, asserted that the IRGC had developed a war scenario for tossing an Iranian nuclear bomb at a large group near the holy city of Qom and accusing the US and Israel of sacrilege.
Aware of the rising popular animosity, Khamenei has quietly ordered his covert agents to resume political assassinations abroad of opposition figures and tighten the suppression of dissent at home, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report.
He is pursuing these measures as precautions in the face of the escalating nuclear conflict with the West, the danger of the "Arab Spring" infecting the population and the need to ward off surprise results in the March 2012 general election.
Fifteen years ago, Iran's rulers halted their overseas assassination campaign against opposition figures when Ahmed Khatami became president and the uncovering of Iran's nuclear program put them on the defensive.
However, in early October, orders to start it afresh went down from the Supreme Leader to the dreaded Al Qods Brigades, headed by Gen. Qassem Soleimani. He also ordered security services to stamp down hard on suspected critics of the regime at home.
Al Qods launches campaign of hits and abductions
One of the first victims was the well-known television host, Shayan Kazemi (known as Shayan Kaviani), whose Farsi TV broadcasts from Los Angeles were the platform for cursing Islam and attacking the regime. About a month ago, he disappeared while on a trip to Germany to meet "a wealthy Iranian donor" and is believed to have been abducted.
His wife, who lives in Los Angeles, knows nothing about the disappearance except that the "donor" sent her husband 2,000 dollars to travel to Germany to meet him.
In Toronto, Canada, last week, two attempts were made on the life of Kaspian Makan, fiancé of Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death at Basij hands on June 20, 2009, made her the emblem of that year's protest movement against Ahmadinejad's rigged election.
Makan, who visited Israel a year ago – and was received by President Shimon Peres – has moved to Canada. He is working with a North American Iranian opposition organization. Last week, a truck crashed into his car as it crossed a Toronto bridge and tried to push it into the river below. When this failed, the truck fled the scene.
As the Canadian police investigated the incident, another attempt to run Makan over occurred three days later. Once again the assailants failed to kill him although he was slightly injured.
In another part of the world, Khamenei's assassins were more successful. Saturday, Nov. 12, Ahmad Rezaei, still in his thirties, was found dead in Room 23 of the 18th floor of Dubai's Gloria Hotel. He was the son of Mohsein Rezaei, Secretary of the powerful Expediency Council and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards. All the same, he was an outspoken critic of the regime.
The Dubai police have imposed a blackout on the circumstances of his death, which undoubtedly removed one of the ruling clique's most prominent opponents.