The Obama administration's decision last week to boost its military presence in the Gulf and supply its Arab allies with tens of billions of new weapons is a bid to win the galloping arms race with Iran and mark out American spheres of influence in the face of Iran's drive for regional hegemony.
Looking behind Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's bluster, Washington is closely watching the numbers Iran's opposition can muster on Feb. 11, Iran's Revolution Day, despite the regime crackdown on dissidents. A large turnout will shrink the hardline regime's base of support proportionately. A Tienanmen-style response risks hackles rising – even in Europe.
Barack Obama appear to be hoping that the US buildup in the Persian Gulf, though purely defensive in nature, will make up for the world powers' inability to come together on sanctions or any other means of bringing Iran to heel on its nuclear program. The US, the West and Israel, were struck dumb even when Iran's Atomic Energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi announced Sunday, Feb. 7 that the production of home-made 20-percent grade uranium would start on Tuesday, Feb. 9 – virtually shutting the door to further engagement.
Still less has Washington condemned Iran for hanging two pro-democracy campaigners last week amid a succession of rigged trials and the massive persecution of protesters.
debkafile's intelligences source report that since January, the Obama administration has tried putting out discreet feelers to encourage Iranian flexibility. Director of US Intelligence Dennis Blair testified to the US Senate on Feb. 2: "We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that bring it closer to being able to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."
Blair made it clear that a final decision on nuclear arms was Iran's to make.
The subtext of this statement was notice that America would not resort to force to make Iran abandon its race for a nuclear weapon, but hoped Tehran was responsible enough to stop at the threshold and be dissuaded from going through to the final step of building one.
it sounded very much as though Obama had come to terms with Iran advancing up to that nuclear-arms threshold and accepted its right to cross over at will.
This concession was greeted with an outburst of confrontational rhetoric from Iran's senior ally Syria, an Iranian missile airlift to Syria, expanded military support for its allies, the Hizballah in Lebanon and the Hamas in Gaza, and Tehran's further engagement in a proxy war over Yemen with the US and Saudi Arabia.
By expanding the US naval presence and stepping up security for the Gulf's Arab rulers – and especially their oil installations and ports – Washington may have increased the likelihood of hostilities.
But it is a gamble with the broader purpose of telling Tehran unambiguously that, even armed with a nuclear weapon, the Islamic Republic can forget about becoming the region's omnipotent number one. The United States is there for its allies and has laid down military and spheres-of-influence markers confining Tehran's areas of control.
Since engagement with Iran was first broached last year, non-belligerent options have progressively narrowed to a straight choice between a military strike for crippling Iran's military nuclear facilities, with predicted dangerous repercussions, or living with a nuclear-armed Iran.
Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak are caught in a time warp, holding on to "common international action" against a nuclear-armed Iran and sanctions. They don't seem to understand that the US military build-up around Iran does not let them off the hook of clear decision-making in the light of Israel's security interests, or even survival, as Netanyahu has insisted more than once.
The US has struck a defensive posture in its Gulf build-up that will do nothing to deter Iran from consummating its nuclear objectives. If Israel fails to develop an independent policy on the issue, it will find itself tagging along behind a United States guided by its own geopolitical interests instead of being a key player in the contest ahead.