The string of intelligence, military and nuclear provocations Iran has been feeding out since Nov. 22 aims not only at putting Barack Obama on the spot before he takes office but also discrediting Israeli intelligence, namely the Mossad.
They are going to a lot of trouble to demonstrate to the new US president that the Mossad cannot be relied on – either as a source of credible intelligence on Iranian and Syrian nuclear activities or as an agency capable of penetrating the Islamic Republic. The idea is to cool the friendly relations binding the US and Israel and spoil the ties of trust between their intelligence services.
Saturday, Nov. 22: Tehran announced that an electronics salesman called Ali Ashtari had been hanged as a Mossad spy. The disclosure came six days after the event, along with a claim that “four terrorists” had been captured in western Iran having crossed over from Iraq to carry out attacks with “Zionist weapons and methods.”
Monday, Nov. 24: TIME Magazine reported that president George W. Bush had warned Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert against a military attack on Iran, Hizballah or Hamas in Gaza.
As a result, our sources reported that their final meeting, far from being an amicable farewell, turned stormy: Bush hammered home his demand for Israel to refrain from any military action in the Middle East during the transition between presidencies in Washington; Olmert protested against the US president's efforts to prevent Israel from fighting back against Hamas' missile offensive from Gaza and his opening of a line to the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal through Jordan's King Abdullah.
The Israeli leader warned Bush that these steps would reinforce the suspicions in Jerusalem about Obama's motives in deciding to embark on dialogue with Iran.
… then there were three
After celebrating the fallout on US-Israel relations from the TIME report, the Iranians decided to raise the stakes.
Revolutionary Guards chief, Gen. Ali Jafari, issued a dramatic statement over Tehran radio claiming the discovery of a Mossad spy ring of three, complete with the tools of espionage. The spies, he said had kept track of Iran's nuclear installations and senior Iranian officials.
Although he offered no details, Jafarai's senior rank lent extra weight to the statement and injected an ominous note warning Israel that the Revolutionary Guards had plenty of punishment in store for its “espionage offensive.”
Tuesday, Nov. 25: Another heavy-weight official, Iran's state prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, said he would seek the death sentence for the three members of the spy ring, one of whom was a retired member of the basij (the IRGC's popular militia). They were captured with a satellite telephone, a GPS, a laptop and an oscilloscope.
He said the Mossad had trained them in four countries including Israel in “assassinations, explosions, professional motorbike riding and working with special cameras, computers and satellites.”
(More about this in HOT POINTS)
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports he was referring to Turkey, Greece and Macedonia.
“Halting enrichment is not in our vocabulary”
Wednesday, Nov. 26: The Iranian campaign reached a double climax:
Its first three-stage rocket, Kavosh-2 (Explorer-2), was launched into space, hovered there for 40 minutes and sent its space lab back to earth with a parachute.
Tehran was telling the world it had developed a rocket akin to the Shavit which Israel uses to boost its satellites and which, according to foreign sources, is capable of delivering nuclear warheads.
That same afternoon, Gholam Reza, head of Iran's Nuclear Energy Commission, announced that 5,000 centrifuges were up and running at their uranium enrichment installation, meaning that Tehran had doubled its product. He promised more centrifuges would soon be spinning larger quantities of the nuclear fuel.
Reza rounded off his statement with a flourish: “Halting uranium enrichment is not in our vocabulary.”
Tehran will stop short of assembling a nuke if Obama delivers
What he was saying on behalf of the Islamic Republic was that the issue of Iran's uranium enrichment, condemned by the UN Security Council as grounds for international sanctions and the subject of endless rounds of diplomatic palaver with the West, is finally off the table. Under the world's nose, Iran has accumulated enough of the banned material to make its first nuclear bomb, as the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week.
The Islamic republic also unveiled missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads.
In Tehran's eyes, these are all immutable facts which the new American president and his top team – Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and Gen. James Jones – will have to digest whether they like it or not.
Given the facts, Iran's leaders believe they have narrowed the subjects open to dialogue with Washington to one: Will Tehran take the last step and assemble a weapon or not?
If the Obama administration opts for stopping this happening, it will have to accept Tehran's terms and scrap the conditions for talks prepared by his transition team, or so the ayatollahs believe
DEBKA-net-Weekly's Iranian sources affirm that Tehran's campaign is not yet over; more developments are still in store.