Iran’s leaders are sticking to the simultaneous “double fork” tactic they have successfully pursued against the West for the past 12 years – albeit with possible minor adjustments – because it has paid off. They will therefore stay with dead-end international negotiations on their nuclear program, while at the same time developing their nuclear capabilities and grabbing strategic assets in the Middle East.
This was decided at a meeting of key advisers called by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his office this week, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and Iranian sources. They met to decide whether new tactics were called for at the secret talks with US negotiators in Geneva in the light of President Barack Obama’s appointment of Chuck Hagel as new US Secretary of State and John Brennan as Director of the CIA.
Iranian policy-makers decided they were on the right track after all, in view of the steps taken by the Obama administration in Washington: Proposed deep cuts of nearly $500 billion in the US defense budget over the next decade – resulting in the diminution of America’s global presence under the incoming defense secretary's stewardship; Chagel’s reputed disapproval of military action against Iran – or even some unilateral sanctions; and, the determining factor, the White House’s decision to leave no US troops behind when the US quits Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
Tehran is convinced that the Americans will need Iranian help in the process for ending their military presence in Afghanistan and will therefore be loth to start another war against Iran in mid-process.
Unafraid of a US strike, Tehran spins out talks for more concessions
Khamenei’s additional motives for carrying on as before are outlined by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources:
1. America is short of funds for getting embroiled in a new wide-ranging Middle East war. Therefore, Iran has nothing to fear from continuing its tactics of spinning out the nuclear negotiating track and pumping more concessions from the Obama administration. The US must now be maneuvered into approving the higher level of 20 percent purity and silence the talk in certain influential Washington circles that this concession would open the door to Iran’s weaponization. The leading voice fighting against this concession is the knowledgeable Olli Heinonen, former senior nuclear agency inspector and currently senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
In all, Iran’s policymakers decided that because dialogue with Tehran was the only option left to Obama, he would have no other choice but to play the diplomatic game according to the rules set by Iran.
2. Khamenei and his team found further encouragement in their course in the falling back of US military assets from Middle East focal centers far ahead of the exit of US troops from Afghanistan. On Obama’s orders, the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group set sail on Dec. 21, 2012, from the eastern Mediterranean where they were stationed from late November opposite war-stricken Syria. The USS Johan C. Stennis Carrier Battle Group was the only American naval force left behind in the entire Mediterranean and Persian Gulf region.
Tehran sees its lavish support of Assad paying dividends
Tehran interpreted this withdrawal as marking Obama’s resolve to shut the door at the outset of his second term on possible US military intervention in Syria or any other armed Middle East conflict.
The Iranians watched the installation of six NATO Patriot missile batteries on the Turkish-Syrian border – 2 American, 2 German and 2 Dutch – and heard Israel's declared intention to build a high steel fence along its Golan boundary with Syria – and drew an important conclusion. Rather than a prelude to direct Western-Arab military intervention in the Syrian conflict, Tehran saw America’s allies Turkey and Israel retreating to defensive positions in consequence of America’s bid for disentanglement from the region’s troubles.
(A close look at these developments appears in the next item on Bashar Assad's gains.)
The Iranians are now counting their gains from almost two years of lavishing on Bashar Assad a bushel of money ($100 million per month) and military and intelligence assistance, to prop him up and sustain him for crushing the revolt against his regime. After many setbacks, their tenacious championship of the Syrian ruler is starting to pay dividends: The Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah front has not only weathered the turbulence, it has grown stronger.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that the conference in Khamenei's office addressed the possibility of John Brennan’s appointment to the CIA being deleterious to Iran’s next Middle East and Persian Gulf moves. The conclusion was that Brennan, whose expertise and former experience is confined to counterterrorism, was likely to expand the war on terror, as did his predecessor David Petraeus and would tend to assign Iran and its nuclear program a lower priority on the agency agenda.