Tehran Runs Scared of US Strike

Iran’s leaders are reading the Western news media with growing alarm, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian experts and sources. They take the latest spate of reports to mean that an American attack on the Islamic Republic is about to crash on their heads.

The ayatollahs took particular note of the comprehensive series of articles appearing in the last DEBKA-Net-Weekly (Issue No. 69, July 19) reporting mounting pressure in Washington to take advantage of the Iran regime’s seriously weakened state – as a result of economic crises and corruption – to sweep it aside.

Their forebodings were exacerbated further by three subsequent events:

On July 21, The New York Times cited a sealed deposition by Abdolghassem Mesbahi, a former Iranian intelligence officer who defected to Germany in 1996, alleging that Iran was behind the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, a disaster in which 85 died. According to Mesbahi, the Argentine president of the day, Carlos Menem – now front-runner in a coming election – was handed $10 million from a secret Swiss bank account in the name of the Iranian president of the day, Hashemi Rafsanjani, to hold his tongue and prevent the Argentine police investigation from naming Iran.

Menem called the allegation a “vile lie”.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism and intelligence sources report that guilt for the massacre at the Buenos Aires Jewish center lies not in Tehran – or not directly there – but elsewhere, with Syrian intelligence. According to this exclusive information, the bombing was carried out with the help of neo-Nazi elements in South America and officers of the Argentine presidential guard loyal to Menem’s former wife, who is of Syrian descent. The Argentine officers used Mrs. Menem for liaison with Syrian intelligence, whose operatives were the moving force behind the attack.

Most investigators of the bombing, including the Israelis, agree on this point. The big question left unanswered is: Who pulled the strings activating Syrian intelligence? In the 1990s, the theory most popular in intelligence circles was that Iranian intelligence ordered the atrocity.

That theory has since been discarded.

Eight years after the attack, most clandestine agencies lean more towards fixing responsibility on the notorious Lebanese arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. They still cannot tell who gave him his orders, whether Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as far back as 1994, exploited Mughniyeh’s special services and terrorist contacts, without consulting his government colleagues; or whether the arch-terrorist worked hand in glove with Hizballah cells in South America, mainly in Paraguay. These cells harbor ties with neo-Nazi cells in Argentina and elsewhere.

The hypothesis that Rafsanjani bought Menem’s silence no longer washes with most security officials conversant with Iranian-sponsored terrorism and the former Iranian president’s role in that murky world.

Tehran was therefore perplexed by The New York Times report, wondering if it did not signal Washington’s intention of taking aim at Rafsanjani and through him at Khamenei himself, as a prelude to an American decision to crush the Iranian leadership.

That perplexity gave way to shock when, two days after The New York Times report, the Washington Post quoted senior administration officials in Washington as stating that the US had abandoned hopes of working the President Mohammed Khatami and his reformist allies, after President George W. Bush concluded that they “are too weak, ineffective and not serious about delivering on their promises” to transform Iranian society. The report said the Bush administration would henceforth appeal directly to the democracy supporters among the Iranian people.

Alarmed before, the Iranian leadership was now thunderstruck. Top officials in Tehran interpreted the report as meaning that Washington had shifted its attack plan for Iran to top gear, bringing it forward to precede the campaign against Iraq. Panicky officials on Iran’s national security council issued immediate orders to initiate crash courses for civil defense and rescue services in readiness for US air strikes. Iranian leaders were totally at sea over Bush’s motives in choosing this week to plant such stories in the American press.

But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Teheran and Washington declare that Khatami had no right to pretend surprise over Washington’s change of tactics. For two months, the Bush administration worked hard to arrange a get-together in Germany between national security council officials and Khatami’s close aides as a preface to high-level talks between Khatami himself and very senior White House officials. The timetable and participants were settled when, at the last minute, the Iranian president got cold feet and backed out of the rapprochement process. He was afraid of leaks in Tehran.

The Bush administration took his behavior as further evidence of impotence and decided to cut him out of their policy considerations.

That was not all. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington, the CIA is considering drastically revising Radio Free Europe’s Iranian programming. The station currently beams nine hours a day in Farsi to all parts of Iran. Until now, those broadcasts carried Khatami’s platform and the voice of his so-called reformist lobby.

This is about to change. Washington has not only abandoned him as the great white hope for democracy in Iran, but Radio Free Europe will soon begin portraying the Iranian president as part of the Ayatollahs’ regime of repression and a target for replacement like the rest of the Islamic Republic’s government.

One day after the devastating Washington Post report, an opinion piece penned by former US Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross appeared “coincidentally” in the “Wall Street Opinion” section of the WSJ, under the caption “The Hidden Threat in the Middle East: Iran and Syria to open a second front.” Ross wrote that while the world was focusing on the Israeli killing of wanted Hamas commander Salah Shehada and members of his family in Gaza, it gave scant attention to the danger from the formidable arsenal of highly mobile rockets that the Hizballah was building out of a constant supply from both the Iranians and the Syrians. Some of the missiles, he noted, have a range of more than 70 kilometers (40 miles), bringing Israel’s industrial area below Haifa into the sights of Hizballah rocketeers.

Ross ends his article with a question: “Can there be any doubt, should one be fired, that Israel would go after not only Hizballah but Syria as well?”

Since Iran regards the rows of Hizballah missiles pointed at Israel from Lebanon as its own line of defense against a US attack, Tehran will no doubt interpret Dennis Ross’s words as indicating that the American offensive against Iran and its Lebanese surrogate is closer than ever.

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