Storm gathering in Iran

MOSCOW. (Lt.-Gen. Gennady Yevstafiyev (Ret.), Foreign Intelligence Service,
for RIA Novosti)

The Iranian authorities and elite are busy transferring their bank accounts
from Europe to Asia, or to Switzerland, whose territory is usually outside
sanctions. These are multi-billion sums. Many analysts see this as Tehran's
precaution ahead of a potential armed clash with the U.S. and its allies,
which may take place if the attempt to settle the situation around Iran's
nuclear program falls through. Apparently, the Iranians have learnt their
own lessons well and remember the sad experience of neighboring Iraq, which
was attacked for its alleged attempt to hide the weapons of mass destruction
from the world community.

For all the differences between the two regimes and their political and
economic potentialities the Washington-drafted plan of action against Iran
is strangely similar to the U.S. scenario for Iraq. But there are some
indications that the U.S. strategists have lost some of their confidence
since the cruel lesson in Iraq. This fact creates an additional chance for a
diplomatic settlement of the problem.

According to U.S. political tradition, George W. Bush is an outgoing
president, a lame duck. It would seem nothing should prevent him from being
totally reckless in foreign policy, except for a natural desire to go down
in history with a more positive image. The problem is that his entourage is
not motivated to make a positive contribution to history. To the contrary,
it is obsessed with a messianic idea to prove single-handed the prevailing
military force of the U.S. super power, and its readiness to bear the heavy
cross of the only propagator of American democracy, the only true democracy
in the world.

It is this entourage that sets the pace of the attempts to step up the
preparations for a strike against the Iranian regime. Clearly, the latter is
no bargain either to professional diplomats or international officials who
are trying to find a compromise on the Iranian nuclear problem.

U.S. long-term goals in Iran are obvious: to engineer the downfall of the
current regime, establish control over Iran's oil and gas, and use its
territory as the shortest route for the U.S.-controlled transportation of
hydrocarbons from the regions of Central Asia and the Caspian Sea bypassing
Russia and China. This is not to mention Iran's intransient military and
strategic significance.

It is not yet clear what long-term goals are in the minds of the Iranian
leaders, whose positions are far from flexible. Of course, for starters,
they would like to have nuclear weapons like their second-rate neighbor
Pakistan. Incidentally, it was the U.S., a vigorous fighter for the
non-proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction, that allowed Pakistan
to get the bomb without a problem. Now it is making declarations of love to
its enemy India.

The ayatollahs believe that nuclear weapons would make Iran invulnerable to
foreign pressure, and turn it into the number one nation of the Persian
Gulf. Well-known Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus thinks that the Iranian nuclear
program is not anti-Western, but was a response to Saddam Hussein's nuclear
bid. But now that Saddam is no longer in the picture, and that Tehran has
declared that its nuclear program is exclusively civilian, why repeat all
these loud statements about the need to erase Israel like Carthage from the
face of the Earth? Why make them sound as if Tehran already has nuclear
weapons? It seems that if Tehran's policy were peaceful and well balanced,
it would bring it many more benefits and allies against the background of
the aggressive line adopted by the U.S., and would rule out any military
initiatives.

In the absence of this line anything may happen; all the more so if the
Americans or Israelis decide to provoke some particularly malicious act of
terror in the Middle East through their local agents (Israel has more of
them than the U.S.), and blame it on the verbose ideologists from Tehran.

The mentality of the current U.S. Administration officials suggests the
following tentative scenario. First, they will persuade the world that the
talks with Iran are a thing of the past, and that priority should be given
to sanctions against it. A Security Council resolution on the imposition of
any sanctions will be a key element. Once adopted, the sanctions will be
followed by a chain of consistent steps, which, regardless of what the world
might think, would result in the use of military force to overthrow the
current regime.

But this far from simple task requires a lot of effort. To begin with, it is
necessary to consolidate the Western alliance. It seems that although
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said more than once that military
solution is unthinkable, Prime Minister Tony Blair is, as usual, in Mr.
Bush's pocket, and already taking part in drafting a plan of joint action as
a junior partner. It may be that the Brits have been told to deal with the
Shiites in Iraq because without at least some appeasement of this group it
will be very difficult to guarantee success in the operation against Iran,
which may use the Shiite lever any time for an asymmetrical but very painful
response. Incidentally, this is evidence of the fact that the second-stage
task - Iran's complete isolation - is far from being fulfilled. Therefore,
now the focus of attention is still on exerting heavy psychological pressure
on Iran, as well as on those countries, which do not give the U.S. complete
carte blanche.

Last January the Director of the U.S. National Intelligence John Negroponte
appointed Ms. S. Leslie Ireland as the Mission Manager for Iran. She was
involved in intelligence in the Middle East for more than 20 years. It is
easy to see what this mission is all about. Obviously, some Gulf nations
already have their own Gateway, which became so infamous during the effort
of the Security Council Special Commission to disarm Iraq. Moreover, Joseph
Sirinsione, a major expert on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction, admitted that he was not right when he thought that the Bush
Administration was not going to deal a military blow at Iran. Now he is sure
that it will strike.

When told that the Iranians have many underground nuclear and military
installations, the Pentagon proudly responds that it is already testing
700-ton precision bombs designed to destroy facilities (bunkers and depots)
deep underground.

The U.S. has inspired the leak that the Iranian rulers are trying to
persuade Turkmenbashi to let them stay in Turkmenistan during hostilities.
Even the Pentagon's latest attack on Russian security services for alleged
transfer of information about a future U.S. aggression to Iraq, is obviously
aimed at creating a political atmosphere where nobody would even think of
backing Tehran.

And what about a resolution submitted to the Senate in early 2006 with the
demand of a ban (to be imposed by whom?) on Russian and Chinese arms
supplies to Iran?

And what to do about Ukraine, which has ostensibly supplied Iran with 250
nuclear charges? What kind of an Orange ally is it?!

In general, the Americans have started playing the bear, like they did in
Iraq.

Needless to say, Condoleezza Rice would like Iran to surrender, but this
seems to be wishful thinking. Tehran has its own hawks. So the remaining
options are to engineer a coup, preferably velvet, or to go for a
blitz-intervention, or a completely disarming sudden attack.

It is clear that the Administration will try to minimize its military
casualties, and will focus on the use of cruise missiles, and pilotless
reconnaissance and assault aircraft. This is exactly why the Iranian hawks
defiantly demonstrated their military arsenal not long ago. But they will
fight the U.S. with other instruments, and their asymmetrical response may
cost Washington dearly. Its allies will pay even more.

The situation is developing in fits and starts with monthly intervals. One
more moment of truth is approaching today. The Iranians took a step when
their Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced at the disarmament
conference on March 30 Tehran's readiness to consider the formation of
regional uranium-enrichment consortiums where all interested parties will
take an equal part. Apparently, it is necessary to quickly analyze this
step. What is it - a proposal of compromise, or an attempt to gain time?
Meanwhile, another IAEA inspection is at work in Iran (all in all, IAEA
inspectors have already spent 1,700 working inspection days in Iran, but the
evidence of its involvement in the military program is not yet there). Let's
repeat: the world sees these tricks as clumsy. However, the promotion by the
Bush Administration of its ideas at home has produced results - the polls
have shown a steady increase in the number of people who are ready to accept
the use of any military force against Iran. As of March 15, their number was
well over 55%. Continuous advocacy of even the most unjustified demands
works wonders, as the Third Reich proved a long time ago. -0-