In mid-October, the United States massed large naval, military and air strength in the Persian Gulf (See DNW 273 of Oct. 12: A mighty US build-up will be in the Persian Gulf by Oct. 21)
Up until the third week of November, President George W. Bush insisted that the United States would not let Iran acquire nuclear weapons.
But then, the entire concentration of might melted away without explanation.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reveals that, only in special confidential messages to Saudi Arabia and Israel, did the administration admit that the military strike against Iran had been called off – as had diplomatic collaboration with Europe over UN sanctions – for a simple reason: The White House had been forced to accept that the US lacked detailed intelligence on the scope, the locations and the areas of Iran’s clandestine military nuclear facilities. The data available was too slight to ensure even the partial success of a US military strike.
For the same reason, Washington eased its pressure on the Europeans for tough UN sanctions against Iran for going ahead with uranium enrichment in defiance of an earlier resolution.
According to DEBKA-net-Weekly’s Middle East sources, the secret American missives were given mixed receptions in Riyadh and Jerusalem.
There were three types of response:
1. Some high-ranking Saudi and Israeli politicians, generals and intelligence chiefs accused the Bush administration of failing to live up to its standing commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb whatever it took – including military action. They asked skeptically: If intelligence was deficient, why did America mass colossal naval, marines and air force strength in the Persian Gulf in October? Was the build-up not preceded by a thorough intelligence study? And if so, where is it?
Is the US faking withdrawal?
2. Other policy makers and high brass in the two Middle East capitals still cling to the conviction that the US means eventually to strike Iran’s nuclear sites and faked the retreat to maximize the element of surprise.
They note that almost all the mighty US ships have left the Persian Gulf leaving behind only a single carrier with the USS Boxer task force assigned to the defense of the Iraq’s southern ports and oil fields. This mission is too taxing and complex to leave the force free to engage in combat with Iran.
However, this group of officials is certain that Washington has deliberately planted in Iranian minds the belief that the danger of a US military strike has passed.
They refer to fragments of data floating around the Gulf, one of which claims that two US task forces – the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Carrier Strike Group and the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Group have been secretly ordered to stand by at a point from which they can sail at speed to the Persian Gulf or Arabian Sea.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources add that Monday, Dec. 11, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), flagship of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group entered the Persian Gulf accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio (G 68) and the fast attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN 750). Their home port is in Norfolk, Virginia.
3. A third group of Saudi and Israeli officials, some of them high-ups, disbelieve the messages received from the White House. They are sure the Americans have all the intelligence data they need to attack Iran’s nuclear sites, but canceled the operation under the pressures of the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the deep differences in Washington over what to do next.
Let China and India worry about stopping Iran going nuclear
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources disclose two immediate consequences of the American note: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia ordered the speeding up of his government’s plans to enter the region’s nuclear race (reported in a separate article in this issue). He wants to tighten the time lag from now until the oil kingdom can develop or purchase a bomb shortened as much as possible.
The other development was the public admission made by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on Dec. 12, mistaken by some as a slip of the tongue, that Israel is in possession of a nuclear weapon.
According to our Washington sources, when Saudi Arabia and Israel asked the administration separately what, failing military action or sanctions, the United States planned to do about Iran’s dash for a nuclear bomb, the answer they received was that the administration would try and enlist India and China to the task of prevention.
US officials explained that both these rising world powers are the biggest buyers of Iranian oil as well as huge investors in the upgrading and modernizing of Iran’s oil fields and installations. Once Iran goes nuclear, so too will its Arab neighbors and the republics of Central Asia. The nuclear threat will therefore creep into the back yards of China and India and directly menace them both. Therefore, said US officials, the two powers own an interest in keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Islamic Republic.
Our sources in Riyadh and Jerusalem report that this explanation met even more skepticism than the American claim of insufficient intelligence.