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.