The Sunday Times has a history of delving into the secret world of Smiley’s people. Its sensational disclosure that Israel’s Mossad perpetrated the murder of the Iranian scientist, Mustafa Ahmadi Roshan, aged 32, in Tehran last week is based on intelligence sources. It is a nuanced story which carefully — and clinically — isolates Israel as the perpetrator of the act of terrorism, and separates Britain and the US from the ghastly act.
This is interesting because Tehran’s reaction to the Israeli terrorist strike is hardening. Never before has Iran reacted with the threat of retaliation. But now it has. And the warning has come from high levels of Iranian political and military leadership.
The speaker of the Majlis Ali Akbar Larijani is a key figure in the Iranian establishment who is close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and who also enjoys impeccable credentials with the IRGC. (Many consider him to be a sure bet as future president of Iran.) Larijani said enigmatically, “We [Iran] will not hesitate in punishing the Zionist regime so that it realizes such actions have clear responses. There will definitely be a response but our action will be of a non-terrorist nature.” It suggests something big in the works.
The comment by the Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces Massoud Jazayeri is more strident when he warned, “The opponents of Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the nation’s progress should have no doubt that the punitive response to the US, the Zionist regime and their criminal accomplices will be delivered in an opportune time.” [Emphasis added.]
Interestingly, Larijani’s warning is directed at Israel specifically whereas Gen. Jazayeri has included the US. Arguably, Iranian regime is under political compulsion to react, especially in a crucial year when the struggle for the leadership of the revolution is accelerating with parliamentary and presidential elections due within the next 15-month period. But that is not the issue.
The israeli terrorist strike coincides with a ‘thaw’ in the Iran nuclear issue with both Tehran and the so-called “5+1″ edging warily toward resumption of talks. Even the venue of Istanbul is being mentioned. Larijani had a productive visit to Ankara last Wednesday within days of the consultations by the Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglu in Tehran. (In between these two Iran-Turkey exchanges, US deputy secretary of state William Burns dropped by in Ankara to hear what tidings Davutoglu would have brought from Tehran.)
Now, Israel has a whole history of trying to torpedo the political track over the Iran nuclear issue as the spectre that haunts Israel is ultimately the normalization of US-Iran ties, which may leave it high and dry.
Tehran has now alleged that the IAEA inspectors who visit Iran from time to time (who include western experts with known links to the intelligence) are leaking the identity of Iranian scientists and this apparently becomes the ‘guard file’ for Mossad to mount pointed terrorist strikes. If Iran withdraws its consent to the IAEA inspectors to visit — another mission is due shortly — the political and diplomatic track once again gets frozen. The Israeli terrorist strike’s objective would have been precisely that.
The point is, Israelis are not dumb enough to estimate that the murder 3 or 4 Iranian scientists out of Iran’s vast reservoir of tens of thousands of scientific personnel would inflict any meaningful setback to Iran’s nuclear programme. In fact, PM Benjamin Netanyahu himself has just publicly admitted that even the much-vaunted sanctions are not having any effect on Iran’s nuclear programme.
But if the diplomatic track which is currently resuming runs aground, Israel would be the winner. It seems Washington sees through the Israeli game plan. There are straws in the wind. Over the weekend, NATO rescued an Iranian boat in distress. Earlier, US Navy rescued Iranian sailors from the clutches of Somali pirates. Again, President Barack Obama has addressed a letter to Khamenei (which Iran was probably thinking of replying to).
Debka, the Israeli website with links to the intelligence, wrote in the weekend: “Obama seemed to suspect that Israel staged the killing to torpedo yet another US secret effort to avoid a military confrontation with Iran through back channel contacts with Tehran, while the administration’s extreme condemnation [of the Israeli terrorist strike] is seen as tying in with its all-out campaign to hold israel back from a unilateral strike.”
But the catch is that “Bibi” can interfere with Obama’s election campaign, too. Although, on the other hand, there is also domestic opposition within Israel to Bibi’s warmongering, which Obama can tap into if he wishes to — such as the former Mossad chief Dogan. Polls repeatedly show a hefty majority of Israelis opposing a war with Iran and as willing to co-habit in the region even with a “nuclear” Iran.
In fact, recently, Dogan warned against the beating of war drums. “The commotion surrounding the immediate alternative of an attack [on Iran] may lead the Iranians into a reality in which they are [pushed over the edge] and try to obtain nuclear capabilities as quickly as possible instead of treading rather carefully while taking the international community’s demands into consideration.”
At any rate, the proposed biggest-ever military exercise between the US and Israel slated for April has now been abruptly called off in circumstances that haven’t been fully explained. Thousands of US troops were meant to have been deployed in israel in a staunch display of US solidarity.
All in all, it all boils down to Obama’s grit and political will to rein in Israeli adventurism. Israel’s resort to terrorism at this point is fraught with dangerous consequences. Obama would know that much. But the big question is how he could follow up his power of comprehension of geopolitics. It’s US interests versus Israeli agenda.
A China Daily commentary last week was spot on while making the following measured assessment of the tortuous political landscape. It wrote: “The political landscape in the Middle East and North Africa is indeed undergoing dramatic changes, worsening the environment for Israel… Israel wants to attack Iran to consolidate its national safety and advantages in the Middle East. And it seems Israel is likely to kidnap the US’ Iran policy in the year of American presidential election… So, it is up to Iran and the US to settle the issue peacefully…
“If the American public strongly opposes military action against Iran, the Obama administration may restrain Israel from starting a war. After all, going against public opinion could cost Obama his reelection. But conversely, if launching a war could help Obama win a second term in the White House Office, Iran cannot escape military strikes.”
What a cruel irony that given the dysfunctional American political system, it will be the gullible, ill-informed, semi-literate, self-centred, shallow American public opinion who will ultimately decide on the odds for war in the Middle East! What is the point in having a cerebral president who is afraid to think lest he looses his job? The CD commentary is here.
– January 17, 2012