The self-confidence generated by its capture of the American stealth drone Dec. 4 galvanized Tehran into a spurt for spreading its diplomatic wings, while not letting up on its arm-twisting tactics.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was the object of this tactic this week when Tehran bullied him into placing his Trade Minister Hadi al-Ameri in the party he took with him to Washington for talks to wind up the US war in Iraq.
Al-Ameri is a regular visitor to Iran. He lives in a private residence near Tehran belonging to the Iranian al Qods Brigades; his wife is born in Iran and his children live permanently in Kermanshah in western Iran.
When he last visited Tehran, he was granted an audience with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose hand he habitually kisses to signify his absolute loyalty.
Before the Iraq war, the new Iraqi trade minister planned and executed 150 terrorist operations on Tehran's behalf.
A graduate of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) military command and staff course, Al-Ameri worked under the al Qods Brigades command in the course of the Iraq war. Working closely with al Qods commander Gen. Ghassem Soleimani, he was instrumental in establishing IRGC and al Qods control over the incumbent Iraqi government's security, military and administrative machinery.
Al-Ameri's presence in the al-Maliki delegation to Washington raised a hullabaloo in and around the White House. Iranian regime notables rubbed their hands in glee.
Obama determines to cultivate pro-Iranian radicals in Baghdad
Questioned about the ex-terrorist's admission to the talks President Barak Obama and the Iraqi prime minister held Monday, Dec. 12, the White House handed the media a photo of former President George W. Bush greeting Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim in late 2006. He was then leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq which was part of the violent pro-Iranian Badr force.
It was the White House's way of saying that even President Bush was obliged to hobnob with prominent Iraqis who took their orders from Tehran.
Iran planted al-Ameri under the US president's nose to demonstrate to the American people that no matter who was president, he would have to swallow the hard reality of the ruler of Baghdad having to bend the knee to Tehran. And that included al-Maliki.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and Iranian sources say that Tehran's provocations of the US president are carefully measured.
To seriously undermine Obama, Iran needed only to expose the instruction he gave US intelligence last month for an intensive outreach to the radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential figure in today's Iraq, who is highly unpopular in America after spending eight years either waging war on American soldiers or away in the Iranian holy city of Qom for close communion with Iran's clerical leaders.
The exit of US troops from Iraq by the end of the month coincides with the Iraqi cleric's switch away from radical dissidence. He now embraces the Iraqi political mainstream and calls for an Islamic democracy to rise in Baghdad.
President Obama decided the Iraqi cleric's altered attitude made him worth cultivating – especially in view of the secret dialogue he is conducting with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. They are reported to be discussing how to promote the establishment of moderate Islamist regimes friendly to the US in Arab capitals.
Tehran: Washington's ties with Iraqi radicals weaken the US
Iran's leaders are not bothered by the relationship the Obama administration is developing with al Sadr. They are sure that any time they want, they can force him to toe their line by having the Qom clergy, whom he would never dare defy, haul him back.
They also believe that Washington's association with al Sadr puts the US administration in a position of weakness in Iraq and vis-à-vis Tehran.
With the sense that Iraqi leaders are in its pocket, Tehran embarked on its next diplomatic assault:
Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi was sent to Riyadh Monday, December 12, for "an exchange of information" with Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz and intelligence chiefs led by Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz. The visit was set up with the help of Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi.
Tehran understood that it would be hard to persuade Saudi royals to accept official Iranian visitors less than three months after Iran was charged with conspiring to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, unless the trip was characterized as an opportunity to share intelligence.
Once Moslehi and party sat down with Prince Nayef, they showed their true colors. They struck a posture of superiority, fired up by their success in downing an American stealth drone and unlocking its secrets, and quickly suggested that the Saudis join Iran in establishing an anti-American and ant-Zionist Middle East alliance.
Its centerpiece was to be an Iranian-Saudi axis for leading this alliance into a series of steps for cutting the US and Turkey out of their roles in the Arab Revolt. It would be powered by Iran's military, intelligence and nuclear prowess and Saudi strength and wealth.
Moslehi dangled before the Saudi princes the bait of a share in Iran's nuclear program if they could reach understandings on oil, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Yemen.
Iranian-Saudi leverage alone can force Assad to share power with opposition
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report the Islamic regime's leaders do not delude themselves into expecting the Saudis to turn away from their fundamental policies and accepting the entire package they put on the table in Riyadh. They hope for modest though critical pickings from their initiative in three key spheres:
1. Tehran believes it can extract a few inches of common ground from Riyadh's profound mistrust of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his neo-Ottoman ambitions, and the close collaboration he and President Obama have forged for toppling Syrian President Bashar Assad.
(See a separate item in this issue).
The Iranians thought it worth trying to draw Riyadh into reaching over the heads of the US and Turkey and using combined Saudi-Iranian leverage to make Assad accept opposition participation in his regime. Neither Washington nor Ankara is able to swing this, Moslehi explained. He warned that unless the violence in Syria is stemmed, it may well degenerate into a regional conflagration and draw both Iran and Saudi into the fray against their better judgment.
But, said the Iranian visitors, if the Saudi government played ball with them in Syria, Tehran would be forthcoming on Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, Tehran was offering Riyadh terms in those arenas that would push the US to the sidelines. Anyway, said the Iranian minister, after Syria, get ready for the Americans to turn their backs on the region.
Saudis would be biggest losers if a US oil embargo on Iran caused Hormuz closure
2. On the nuclear issue, Tehran hopes for some sort of Saudi response to Iran's offer of unspecified participation in its nuclear program. Moslehi emphasized Iran's keenness to head off a regional nuclear arms race. He gave the Saudis an opening to define in general terms what sort of cooperation would satisfy them and assured Prince Nayef that Tehran would go a long way to accommodate them.
3. On the oil issue, the Iranian intelligence minister informed the Saudi crown prince that it was a mistake for Tehran and Riyadh to leave Washington free to impose an oil embargo on Iran because this step would generate a Gulf war and block exports from the entire Persian Gulf region, Saudi Arabia most of all.
Moslehi said Tehran knew that the Obama administration was leaning hard on Saudi Arabia to step up production by mid-2012 to meet the needs of Japan and India, which depend on Iranian oil. But, he said, nothing would come of that move if Tehran decides to close the narrow Strait of Hormuz channel. That option is on the Iranian table, he said – even at the risk of a military showdown with the United States.
Tehran's idea therefore was for the two biggest oil producers of the Gulf to join forces to head off a war confrontation in the Persian Gulf.
According to our sources, Prince Nayef listened carefully to the Iranian propositions. He promised to put them before King Abdullah and the senior princes and let Tehran have Riyadh's reply soon.