Originally Published 2005-02-07 12:54:03 Published on Feb 07, 2005
To any intelligence analyst, it should be obvious that the US has already embarked on a psychological warfare (PSYWAR) campaign to keep Iran on tenterhooks in the hope of thereby breaking its will to resist US pressure to agree to the dismantling of its uranium enrichment capability.
Keeping Teheran on Tenterhooks
To any intelligence analyst, it should be obvious that the US has already embarked on a psychological warfare (PSYWAR) campaign to keep Iran on tenterhooks in the hope of thereby breaking its will to resist US pressure to agree to the dismantling of its uranium enrichment capability. 

It is in this context that one has to view the rhetoric of "no option excluded" coming at regular intervals from President Bush, Ms. Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, and other US leaders, orchestrated leaks to the media of Pakistan's co-operation with the US in a possible covert action against Iran's military nuclear capability, of increasing Israeli contacts with Pakistan, of US drones (unmanned surveillance planes) flying unhindered over Iran's nuclear establishments from bases in Iraq and the latest reports of a mysterious blast near the southern port city of Dailam on February 16, 2005. 

Iranian leaders would be making a serious miscalculation--- as Saddam Hussein of Iraq did--- if they underestimated the determination of not only the US, but also of Israel to see that Iran did not acquire a capability for the production of nuclear weapons. 

It would be a serious mistake on the part of Iranian leaders and policy-makers to think that the disastrous consequences of the US-led military intervention in Iraq and pressure from the rest of the world--with even the UK reportedly hesitant to go the whole hog with the US in the case of Iran as it did in the case of Iraq--would deter any US military or para-military action against Iran, despite undoubted difficulties. 

In its efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring any capability, which might bring a nuclear weapon within its reach, the US has three options. The first is military--- an open military intervention as in Iraq to bring about a regime change and dismantle Iran's nuclear capability. The Iraqi experience and the continuing instability in Iraq two years after the US occupation ought to discourage such an adventurist course of action. 

The US under-estimation of the sense of patriotism and national pride of the Iraqis is largely responsible for the mess it has created for itself in Iraq. The Iranians have even a much stronger sense of patriotism and national pride than the Iraqis and the US would be landing in another mess if it invaded Iran. 

The second option is to do an Osirak in Iran--destroy its nuclear establishments through clandestine action, either from the air or the ground or both as Israel did to Iraq's French-aided Osirak reactor in the early 1980s. 

Both the USA and Israel have the capability to do so, acting in tandem or independently of each other, but a repeat of Osirak in Iran would be beset with serious difficulties, the like of which Israel did not face in Iraq. Osirak was still under construction when Israel attacked it and it had not yet been commissioned. Hence, Israel did not have to worry about collateral damage to the civilians and the environment in the area due to possible radioactive leakages or other hazards. Moreover, the French engineers working on the construction quietly collaborated with the Israelis, by remaining absent from the construction site at the time of the bombing. This helped minimise, if not avoid, French casualties. 

In Iran, the US and Israel face two types of nuclear establishments---those already constructed and possibly already secretly working and those still under construction and yet to be commissioned. In the first category would come the nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz and possibly one other place. Under the second category would come the nuclear power stations at Bushehr under construction by the Russians despite US pressure to stop it. 

A clandestine US and/or Israeli strike on the construction sites at Bushehr should be feasible without causing much collateral damage to Iranian civilians and the environment. But how about the Russians employed on the construction? Will they co-operate by remaining away from the site at the time of the raid? 

A strike against Bushehr, even if successful, would not put an end to US concerns. The real source of concern at present ought to be the uranium enrichment capabilities. They will have the first priority for both the US and Israel. Here, the dangers of incalculable collateral damage to the civilians and the environment could be high. This ought to act as a deterrent, but if the concerns of the US and Israel cross the limits of tolerance, they may not hesitate to organise a raid even at the risk of serious collateral damage. 

The third option is PSYWAR in the hope of breaking the Iranian will so that the other two options become unnecessary, This option has no unacceptable risks, but its ability to produce the expected results is uncertain. 

The US has already embarked upon it. The PSYWAR is being waged at two levels--- the political and the para-military. The political PSYWAR, which is democracy-centric, is directed at the Iranian people and is being waged through Iranian dissidents in the US and elsewhere. It aims to keep alive and aggravate the divide between the reformists and the fundamentalist clerics and the liberals and the conservatives in the Iranian civil society. It also seeks to exploit the already existing pockets of alienation inside Iran and create more. Flow of US funds and sophisticated means of propaganda mounted from California and Iraq play an important role in this. 

The para-military (covert) PSYWAR, which is nuclear-centric, seeks to convey a message not only to Teheran, but also to Moscow about the consequences of Iran pressing ahead on the nuclear path in disregard of the concerns of the US, other Western countries and Israel. This PSYWAR is being waged from bases in Iraq and Pakistan. Its purpose is to create fears in the minds of Teheran and Moscow about the inevitability of American para-military action against Iran's nuclear establishments if they do not see reason and give up their present obduracy. The actions mounted by the US also seek to demonstrate its capability for para-military action, if it decides to act. 

It is in this context that one has to view the reported mysterious blast at Dailam, which is in the Bushehr province. The place of occurrence of the blast is about 150 Kms from the site where the Russians are constructing the nuclear power stations. 

The confusion in Teheran over the incident, which was reportedly spectacular without causing any human casualties, is evident from the contradictory statements emanating from Iran on the cause of the blast. 

The Associated Press news agency quoted an Iranian Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani as saying:: "An airplane flew over Dailam today. Minutes later, there was an explosion. But we have no reason to say it's a hostile attack. There is a big possibility that it was a friendly fire by mistake." 

Iran's state TV Al-Alam, which was the first to break the story, said the explosion was possibly caused by a rocket from an aircraft. Subsequently, it changed its version and said that the blast might have been the result of an aircraft accidentally dropping its fuel tank. 

of the Bushehr province, however, said the explosion was connected to "geophysical exploration" in the region, in connection with the construction of a dam. 

A spokesperson of Iran's Supreme National Security Council said there was no incident and that people were stirring trouble with such reports. She reportedly said that the Supreme Council declared that reports of a blast near the nuclear plant were just part of an ongoing campaign of psychological warfare against Iran. 

Officials at the Russian Embassy in Tehran and at the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy in Moscow -- which is overseeing construction at the Bushehr nuclear plant - reportedly told CNN in a phone interview there had been no explosion at the plant area itself. 

Given the normal lack of transparency in Teheran, one may never know what really happened, but it is quite on the cards that the explosion was possibly the result of an American air-mounted para-military (covert) operation, which was meant to demonstrate the US ability to carry out such an operation without being detected and prevented by the Iranians and at the same time convey a message to Teheran and Moscow of the seriousness of the US concerns over the nuclear issue and its determination to put an end to Iran's clandestine nuclear plans. By making the strike in the same province in which the Russians are constructing the nuclear power stations, but away from the construction site, the Americans could have sought to convey the message without creating any international controversy due to human casualties and other damage. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: [email protected]).

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper No. 1255, February 17, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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