Author : Vikram Sood

Originally Published 2006-01-04 09:01:39 Published on Jan 04, 2006
Ever since the US declared Iran a member of the ¿Axis of Evil¿, and more so after the Iraq invasion, the question very often asked in many of the essays that appeared in the West was ¿Is Iran next?¿ And now, after a bruising experience in Iraq, the US administration cannot just retreat to the relative safety of the White House and glower at the rest of the world.
Wild, Wild West
Ever since the US declared Iran a member of the 'Axis of Evil', and more so after the Iraq invasion, the question very often asked in many of the essays that appeared in the West was 'Is Iran next?' And now, after a bruising experience in Iraq, the US administration cannot just retreat to the relative safety of the White House and glower at the rest of the world. It has to assert itself as the arbiter of the destiny of the world and show what the American Century is about - unchallenged US primacy. Retreat from Iraq without settling Iran would in reality be handing over a victory to Iran. It simply has to re-establish its authority in West Asia before it can think of pulling out of Iraq.

The recent visit of CIA Director Porter Goss to Turkey, to brief the Turkish PM and intelligence, seems to be part of a new campaign by the Bush administration to prepare Nato allies for a possible US air strike against Iran. The German news agency, DDP, citing authentic Western sources, asserted that friendly Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan and Oman, had also been informed.

According to the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, Goss had also asked Ankara to be ready for a possible US operation against Iran and Syria. Following the visit of the Nato secretary general to Ankara, the respected German weekly Der Spiegel commented on the coincidence and the increased frequency of high level Nato and American visits to Turkey. Incidentally, the DDP journalist who first blew the story in the German press is believed to be under questioning.

American allegations against Iran are well-known - its plans to acquire WMD capability, including and particularly nuclear, its assistance to terrorist organisations like the Hezbollah and suppression of liberties at home. In fact, the US has been looking for compensation for past Iranian sins of sacking the Shah and the US hostages and what that ultimately signified - the fear that a switch, over time, to the petro-euro would weaken the supremacy of the dollar. Besides, the Iranians went ahead and struck multi-billion dollar energy deals with the Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis. The Russians have refused to back down from their stand that the Iranians are within their non-proliferation treaty rights to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Anxious to discipline Iran, the US campaign began two years ago in real earnest.

Seymour Hersh wrote in early 2005 in the New Yorker that the Pentagon had sent ten commando teams to West Asia and South Asia (read Pakistan) to carry out combat operations, even terrorist acts, inside Iran. Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK) a Kurdish anti-Iran group, which was declared a terrorist organisation by the US in 1997, was rehabilitated and deployed in Baluchistan and Afghanistan for intelligence operations at Iranian nuclear sites. In early 2005, there were reports of surveillance drones being launched from American bases in Iraq to collect evidence from Iranian nuclear sites, including Bushehr. There were also attempts to provoke the Iranians to activate their radars but the latter refused to rise to the bait.

Since the Iraqi catastrophe rules out ground troops in Iran, the obvious choice is air strikes from Turkey, and possibly Pakistan and Afghanistan. Aircraft taking off from Turkey would fly close to Iraqi airspace, which is still under US control, while those from Afghanistan and Pakistan would fly in direct. But a little bit of bombing over targets that are so spread out, well-camouflaged and well-protected will not be adequate and may even be counterproductive.

A conventional attack on Iran would be expensive and not quite cost-effective. It would allow Iranian retaliation. The 9/11 attacks showed to the world very dramatically that while a nuclear State can deter nuclear attacks on itself, it cannot prevent conventional or sub-conventional attacks. We in India know what this means, especially since we went overtly nuclear about eight years ago. Any pre-emption against such a possibility, therefore, will have to be devastating and accurate, with no possibility of escape.

The choice could be the nuclear option - low-heeled and against underground facilities. There seems to be considerable nervousness and alarm in the West, notably the US, that the Bush administration may have put together all the elements required to justify an impending military action against Iran that would include nuclear weapons. It is no longer a question of whether or not Iran has the bomb. It is well-known that the Iranians are still some years away from making a bomb and they are still in the elementary stage of processing uranium, leave alone enrichment. Deterrence and persuasion could still work.

The tragedy unfolding is that if the US believes that its adversary possesses or has the intention to possess WMDs, then it is justified to consider this a threat to itself and to US forces in the region. It must, therefore, act pre-emptively. The fear also is that unlike in the case of Iraq when considerable time was spent in building a case, this time the attack will be sudden and actual justifications will be given later.

Jorge Hirsch, a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, has written extensively on this subject ( Hirsch refers to a story by Philip Giraldi, a former CIA analyst, about the Pentagon drawing a plan under instructions from Vice-President Dick Cheney on how to respond to a 9/11 type of situation. The plan included a large-scale air assault on Iran, using both conventional and nuclear weapons. Shortly after the Giraldi disclosures, the Pentagon put together its 'Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations', which discusses several scenarios, including the Iranian one. Hirsch writes: "Barely two weeks later, the US succeeded in getting a totally toothless resolution passed by the IAEA on Iran's noncompliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which implies, however, that the US would not be violating its commitment to the NPT if it used nuclear weapons against Iran." This was on September 24, 2005, and India voted for the resolution.

It is still not clear why Iran is being singled out, located as it is in a region that is far from friendly to it and surrounded by US forces. If anything, it needs to protect itself. The Iranians have unofficially alleged that Saudi Arabia had received nuclear assistance from Pakistan and speak of an agreement in 2003, where Pakistan promised to help the Saudis develop nuclear missiles. In Jerusalem, the Haaretz report also said that Pakistan owed Saudi Arabia a great deal because the Saudis had financed development of the Pakistani bomb and that Pakistan had arranged the sale of Chinese long-range missiles to Saudi Arabia some years ago.

Later in January 2005, Ephraim Halevy, the former Mossad chief and NSA till he resigned in 2003, commented that while looking at the A.Q. Khan nuclear retail business, one should also be looking at Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and not just at Iran. Halevy said - and Halevy is a wise man - that it could well be that these countries, too, had nuclear capability although he no longer had access to classified information. Thus, in the region, all the US allies are suspected or known to have nuclear ambitions, if not capabilities. In all this, Pakistan's role remains dubiously stellar.

Meanwhile, is this only drama at high noon hoping the other man will blink or does the world wait for Dr Strangelove.

The author is Advisor to Chairman, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: Hindustan Times, New Delhi, January 4, 2006.

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

Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood is Advisor at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Sood is the former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) — India’s foreign intelligence agency. ...

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