Behind the flurry of upbeat noise about progress in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program – mostly from Iranian and European circles – is the rumble of the US army on the move.
Since the end of last week, thousands of US special forces troops at home bases or on leave were warned to stand on the ready for immediate transfer orders to the Middle East. This partial call-up of US reservists, reported exclusively here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources, is taking place in tight secrecy.
It is unusual in two ways.
One: The standby orders were marked effective from now until December. The combatants were therefore required to keep their combat gear packed ready at the door for up to eight months – an abnormally long period for holding down thousands of special forces personnel on combat readiness.
Two: The orders named their Middle East destinations if the call-ups were executed – some in Israel, others in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the UAE. In all these places, the US maintains military bases.
Clearly, the Obama administration is a lot less confident than its European allies about the prospect of a breakthrough in the negotiations with Tehran and is preparing for one of three untoward eventualities:
Iranians may fail to deliver on a deal, as their record shows
1. A nuclear accord would be successfully negotiated between the Six Powers and Iran and properly endorsed by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. And then, when the moment came for executing their commitments, the Iranians would go AWOL.
It wouldn’t be the first time. Our intelligence sources say that Washington and Vienna know the score. Iran may accept a deal on Point A or Point B of its nuclear program. A place, date and time would be set for Western and Iranian representatives to meet and start putting the deal into effect. At the appointed time, Western representatives (or IAEA inspectors) are on hand, but the Iranians fail to show up. Attempts to reach them by phone reach disconnected numbers.
This is the sort of thing that happened just four months ago – not once but twice.
On February 3 and 21 one IAEA team of inspectors after another returned to Vienna from Tehran empty-handed after being stood up.
They had been assured by the Iranian government they would be allowed to visit the Parchin military complex to investigate suspicions that nuclear-related explosives tests were taking place there and interview Iranian nuclear scientists.
Both UN teams waited at their hotel in vain. No Iranian officials arrived to escort them to Parchin; neither were they allowed to meet any nuclear scientists. Both times, the IAEA in Vienna was forced to acknowledge that Tehran had toyed with them.
US Special Forces on standby for a midsummer, mid-campaign crisis
The White House is therefore guarding against a similar debacle hitting the administration while Barack Obama is in mid-campaign for reelection – or, even worse, that his Republican rivals make a major issue of Iran’s deceit and show the American public how the US president was made a fool of – both in the formal dialogue he initiated between Iran and the six powers, and in the direct backdoor dialogue in which he held much store.
Before Mitt Romney can go down this road, the White House is making sure American armed forces are in position to hit Iran back for its perfidy.
2. Israel may launch a surprise attack on Iran without warning Washington. Against this eventuality, Washington has found it prudent to keep US forces on high alert so that at 36-hour notice, they can move into any point in the Middle East to deal with the fallout.
3. A Middle East War for the summer of 2012 war is being taken into account – not just to preempt a nuclear Iran but also in consequence of the increasingly bloody Syrian uprising.
In this regard, 17 nations began a special operations forces exercise under US command on May 15 in the Kingdom of Jordan not far from the Syrian border. Tehran took careful note of its codename, “Eager Lion 2012.” Bashar Assad’s surname is the Arabic for “lion.”
Enormous pressure for the White House to move on Syria
The admission to the Washington Post of May 16, by senior Obama administration officials, that the US is involved in coordinating weapons shipments to the Syrian rebels by Persian Gulf suppliers betokens a shift in President Obama’s stance on Syria.
(For three months, debkafile and DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources have run disclosures of Saudi and Qatari intelligence supplies of weapons, explosives and funds to the rebels in Syria. Indeed the last DEBKA-Net-Weekly carried a detailed breakdown of the types of arms Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey were respectively transferring to those rebels.)
There appears to be growing awareness in Washington that the Obama administration cannot afford to sit on the Syrian powder keg without direct action for much longer. The White House is under enormous pressure to shift away from its uncompromising resistance to military ventures in the Middle East until after electioneering is over.
Regarding the form direct action should take, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington and Riyadh report that when Saudi defense minister Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz visited the White House on April 11, President Obama asked him what he thought ought to be done about Syria to stop President Bashar Assad slaughtering his citizens.
An air strike on the presidential palace should fix it
Prince Salman looked at Obama and said: “First of all, we need to stop talking and shift from words to actions. There is no need for a large Western military intervention like in Libya,” he added. “All that is needed is an air raid and perhaps also an assault by American and Muslim special forces on Kassiun Mountain (in north Damascus) and Kassiun Palace (Bashar Assad’s palace in the Syrian capital) to blow up all their facilities and wipe out all their occupants.”
Bashar Assad maintains all his most confidential government and intelligence facilities on Kassiun Mountain. His entire family resides at Kassiun Palace.
President Obama made no reply to the Saudi defense minister’s suggestion.