Magazine article The American Conservative

The Fire Next Time

Magazine article The American Conservative

The Fire Next Time

Article excerpt

Neocons begin their march toward Tehran.

IRAN'S RECENT DECISION to break the security seals on its key uranium enrichment facility in Natanz has confirmed the worst fears of intelligence agencies, foreign ministries, military commands, and corporate risk-analysis shops around the globe. For months, intelligence officials have been scratching their heads about the intentions of the United States and Iran over the nuclear issue. The indications and warnings (I&W) were sketchy at best. Now they are becoming more sharply focused and worrisome.

During the Cold War, U.S. and allied analysts scanned every bit of intelligence data and every line in Soviet-bloc newspaper, magazine, and professional-journal articles looking for anything that might indicate the military intentions of the ultra-secretive Soviet leadership. Now the same takes place in countries around the world with regard to the objectives of the guarded Bush administration and the unpredictable Mahmoud Ahmedinejad regime in Iran.

As of this writing, there is some behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the European Union, Russia, China, and pragmatists in the Bush administration and Iran to defuse the crisis. Responsible parties are looking to the UN Security Council to weigh in with specific requirements for Iran concerning its nuclear program. But according to U.S. and Middle East diplomats, there is also a fierce debate within the Bush administration between those who want to work within the UN and European Union framework to impose sanctions on Iran, those who want a limited strike to take out a few key Iranian nuclear sites to delay Iran's nuclear-weapons program, and those in the neocon camp who want to carpet bomb Iran with conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. In a limited strike, the Natanz uranium site, the heavy-water plant and radioisotope facility in Arak, and the Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan are likely targets.

President Ahmedinejad has decided to shore up his radical fundamentalist Islamist base against the reformists in the Iranian parliament and the more conservative pragmatists who surround former President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Rafsanjani. His provocative rhetoric about denying the occurrence of the Holocaust in Europe, that Israel is a "tumor" that should be removed from the Middle East map and transferred to Europe, and wishing for the death of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after his second stroke are all designed to play to the young and increasingly radicalized Iranian unemployed who helped propel the one-time university professor into office.

Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, himself no stranger to provocative statements intended to rile the West, is nonetheless alarmed about the Iranian president's statements in the midst of a showdown with the International Atomic Energy Agency, European Union, and United States over Iran's nuclear program. For that reason, Khamenei appointed Ahmedinejad's rival, Rafsanjani, to chair the Expediency Council, an entity given greater powers by the Supreme Ayatollah to check the excesses of Ahmedinejad and his radical base.

But that may not be enough to prevent the brewing storm. The neoconservatives in Washington and Israel did not help the situation when, after Ahmedinejad's election, they flooded friendly media outlets with bogus "evidence" that the new Iranian president was one of the U.S. embassy hostage-takers in Tehran in 1979 and that he was a roving assassin who murdered an Iranian Kurdish leader in Vienna in 1989. To further aggravate the situation, the neocons persuaded the Bush administration to deny Ahmedinejad a visa to address the UN General Assembly last September.

Israeli actions are also worrying intelligence analysts. According to the Times of London, in mid-December Sharon ordered his elite Special Forces Unit 262 and his air force's strategic 69 Squadron to be prepared to strike Iranian uranium-enrichment facilities by the end of March 2006. …

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