Iranian strongman, ex- president Hashem Rafsanjani, spent the last ten days of March on holiday in Kuwait with his family. Rafsanjani is head of the Council of Guardians of the Constitution and also closest of any Iranian official to the ear of supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Nonetheless he chose to spend the Iranian New Year, Novrwoos, in the most pro-American Gulf emirate, the first high-ranking Iranian figure seen there in seven years. The emir, Sheikh Sabah, placed a sumptuous villa at the disposal of the illustrious Iranian tourists. It happened to be a stone’s throw from US command headquarters and bases in the emirate.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources report that the Rafsanjanis took several family cruises in Gulf waters aboard Sheik Sabah’s royal yacht in full view of the American warships calling in at Kuwait port. The sheik also invited them to dine in the palace several times. On at least two occasions, he and Rafsajani adjourned to a side room for private conversation.
Our sources report that the two rulers talked frankly and openly. The Iranian visitor said his government was prepared to talk seriously with the Americans about its nuclear plans but had no intention of halting progress or giving up uranium enrichment. He said the Americans would be making a big mistake, politically and militarily, by attacking Iran, because the conflict would not stay within the bounds they chose.
This was the clearest hint heard until then from a high-placed Iranian leader of Tehran’s plan to expand any military clash with the United States to other arenas.
Rafsanjani had strong words of contempt for the aggressive posture of his rival, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Kuwaiti sources familiar with the content of these conversations report the strength of his animosity for the fire-eating president went much further than an act to dupe the West and Arab rulers into believing the Iranian regime was divided over how to proceed. Rafsanjani is clearly convinced the president is causing the Islamic Republic extreme, irreversible strategic damage, but he admitted Khamenei would never throw him out, because the revolutionary rulers would never admit to making mistakes.
His Kuwaiti host also had plenty to say.
Sheik Sabah is quoted by our sources as remarking candidly that no one in his country or anywhere in the Persian Gulf sleeps peacefully at night knowing that the Russian firm Atomstroyexport, which built the Chernobyl reactor that blew up exactly 21 years ago, also constructed the Iranian atomic reactor at Bushehr, only 130 km from Kuwaiti shores.
Kuwait worries about war and radioactive contamination from Iran
Sabah told his Iranian visitor that the Western reactor experts he had commissioned for an extensive survey had sent in grim reports.
They estimated that the water drawn from the Gulf for the reactors’ cooling system (which is at the center of the financial dispute between Tehran and Moscow) is designed to return to the waterway contaminated. The radioactive water will be carried by westerly currents up to Kuwait’s shores. This, said the emir, was completely unacceptable. Rafsanjani did not react.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources add that, after the Iranian notable’s departure, the Kuwait ruler took two firm steps:
- He set logistical arrangements in train to absorb an intake of thousands of US soldiers scheduled to land in the coming weeks.
The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, which carries more than 6,000 sailors and Marines, has been conducting drills and exercises to prepare for operations in the Persian Gulf. The group is comprised of the USS Bonhomme Amphibious Assault Ship, the Austin-class amphibious transport dock USS Denver (LPD 9), the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47). The Arleigh Burk-class missile destroyers USS Milius (DDG 69) and USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) and the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65).
- Then on April 24, Sheik Sabah let it be known through the local media that he had formed a special ministerial team to prepare the emirate for a war contingency. Its task is to draw up plans “to keep the country running during a war emergency.” He was thus the first Gulf ruler to publicly confirm that a war was in the offing in the immediate region.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources rate Kuwait as America’s closest ally in the Gulf, closer even than Saudi Arabia. The Kuwaitis are not in two minds, like the Saudis, about the relationship and are content to host American command posts and large US contingents on a permanent basis. Kuwait Port is a busy hub for the passage of American troops and supplies for US troops fighting in Iraq and posted in the region.
The proximity of Kuwait’s government center, oil fields, facilities and ports to Revolutionary Guards bases makes the emirate extremely vulnerable to attack. The emirate could scarcely escape injury from any US-Iranian military clash. Hence Sheik Sabah’s haste in putting a ministerial team to work on a contingency plan for the care and rescue of casualties, large-scale evacuations from damaged areas and running supplies of food and water in an emergency.
Before taking this step, Sabah must have been given the green light that a major conflict was in the offing from a high-placed American source.
He made sure that word of the emergency team reached the public domain as a means of warning Kuwait’s Shiite minority, which makes up 40% of the population, that a national emergency was at hand and they would be expected to fall in behind official directives and pay no heed to Iranian propaganda broadcasts.