As dark clouds gathered over the revolutionary regime in Tehran, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad groped for a semblance of stability by a show of space science and military achievements, on the one hand, and of fake diplomatic flexibility, on the other.
He was bracing for the next shock of a mass demonstration of popular disaffection on Feb. 11, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution. Opposition tacticians are counting on jostling the regime ever closer to collapse, while the president's men are out there trying to break the spirit of the resistance and avert large-scale disturbances.
In typical theatrical mode, Ahmedinejad vowed that the upcoming national anniversary will mark "the total annihilation of the capitalist liberal regime.” His meaning was not clear, but he sounded to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian experts as though he was threatening physical annihilation for dissidents who dared show up on the streets of Tehran and other big cities on Revolution Day.
Two former demonstrators were hanged this week and more executions were threatened.
At the same time as Iran paraded its offensive might, Ahmadinejad threw out an offer to send Iran's 3.5-percent enriched uranium overseas in return for 19.7 percent grade material, a UN proposal he ignored for months.
Washington was right to be wary of his sudden display of flexibility. DEBKA-Net-Weekly Iranian sources report that never for a moment did Tehran consider letting go of a single gram of its low-grade enriched uranium stock. Sounding reasonable was just a tactical ploy by which the Iranian leader hoped to torpedo US and Western efforts to bring Russia and China aboard for tough sanctions.
It also sought to justify Iran's own gradual upgrade of uranium enrichment to 19.7 percent towards the goal of 80-90 percent weapons grade material.
Legendary eagle to threaten US shores
The three space satellites Iran unveiled Wednesday, Feb. 3 in Tehran were less significant than the new carrier engine for launching them the Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3). Put on display were the Tolou satellite, a research capsule called Navid-e Elm-o-Sanaat (Messenger of Science and Industry), and the first version of Sabah-2. All three are first-generation communications satellites.
The real star of the show was the Kavoshgar-3, which can loft a payload weighing up to 100 kilos to an altitude of 310 miles. On its back was a biocapsule of living creatures, a mouse, two turtles and worms.
This missile, presented as "home-made," is in fact an upgraded North Korean No-dong, parts of which were delivered six months ago by an Antigua-flagged ship which slipped past American patrols to reach Iran.
The space test was held to camouflage Iran's efforts to finish developing a 6,000-kilometer range ballistic missile capable of reaching every capital in Europe, from Vienna to London.
On show too was a model of a next-generation booster rocket, called Simorgh after the Iranian version of the mythical Phoenix, fabled to be the strongest bird in the world. It is equipped to carry a carry a 100-kilogramme (220-pound) satellite 500 kilometers (310 miles) into orbit.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that, after it is fully developed in partnership with Pyongyang, Simorgh will be powerful enough to send a missile up to the East Coast of America; from North Korea, the West Coast would be in range..
The joint project is generously funded by Tehran, with Pyongyang pressing a team of its finest engineers and scientists into service to speed its development. Iran hopes to begin production in two to three years
China has also contributed technology to the Simorgh project for the sake of profitable contracts from the Islamic Republic and generous remuneration.
The Sabah-2 comsat's development is aided by the Italian Carlo Gavazzi Space Company.
This firm's spokesman strenuously denied any connection with the Italian satellite development Tuesday, Feb. 2, during Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's visit to Israel. But our sources insist that the company has been cooperating with the Iranian space-missile program for some time in conditions of deep secrecy.
Iran's strategic advantage, China's vested interest
On February 2, written testimony to Congress by Director of US Intelligence Dennis Blair revealed: "Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East" and it continues to expand the scale, reach and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces, "many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload,"
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources report that Blair's testimony was in fact the curtain-raiser for the administration's new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a work in progress which deals primarily with Iran. His conclusion is that Iran has accumulated more missiles than Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states combined, or Egypt.
This was a radical reassessment of US and Israeli intelligence evaluations computed as recently as the fall of 2009, when Iran was believed to be able to field in a Middle East conflict no more than 60-70 ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 200 kilometers.
Blair did not spell out the current figure, but our military sources believe Iran has at least 300 medium-range missiles in operational service and is capable of producing another 10-12 a month, so that in a year's time, Tehran's missile arsenal will be boosted by another 40-50.
According to our Iranian sources, Tehran is no longer counting on Moscow's support, unsure now whether Russia might not line up with the US and the West on the nuclear controversy.
Beijing is another matter. Tehran trusts its deepening ties with China to keep Beijing loyal and is willing to hand out contracts for an increasing number of military, industrial, and economic projects to buy China's continued opposition to expanded sanctions.
Beijing has proved useful in helping Iran devise ruses for circumventing new US restrictions on Iran's foreign banking and international trade. In command of vast financial resources and a major share of world banking China stands to amass huge profits from collaborating with Iran in beating US financial penalties.