Iran-US Confrontations Get More Complicated With Inputs From Israel & Iraq:.
*** Sadr On Aug. 30 Told Followers To Cease Firing And Promised To Come Up With A Political Plan
*** The Taliban Kill Many In Escalation To Disrupt Oct. 9 Elections And Show Before Nov. 2 That Bush Failed In Afghanistan; There Will Be Synchronised Qaeda Attacks In Iraq's Sunni Triangle, Will The Sadrists Join In Or Keep Their Promise Not To Fight American Troops In Shiite- Populated Areas?
NICOSIA - The situation between Iran and the US has become dangerously complicated by power games between Tehran and each of Israel and the interim government of Iraq. A highly-placed source consulted by APS says no one, not even the Bush administration in Washington, knows how this situation will play out in the next few months which will be critical to all concerned.
Iraq's Kurdish Deputy PM Barham Saleh, in Tehran last week to prepare for a visit by his boss PM Iyad Allawi, on Aug. 29 said he took a message of friendship to Iran, which had been angered by charges it was stirring up tension in Iraq. While the Iranian side refused to put the Iraqi flag during the talks with Saleh, Tehran had cautiously welcomed Baghdad's interim government as a step towards full democracy and sovereignty.
Tehran has been irked by accusations it was involved in the recent Shiite uprising in Najaf. Iraq's Defence Minister, Hazim Al-Sha'lan, has accused Iran of fomenting unrest among the Iraqi Shiites by sending arms and spies across the border. Sha'lan said Iran was Iraq's worst enemy. As Saleh was returning to Baghdad, however, President Mohammad Khatami said the US needed Iran's help in stabilising Iraq.
More complications came from three developments: Rebel Shiites on Aug. 27 ended a confrontation with US forces in Najaf in which their leader, young mullah Muqtada Al-Sadr, emerged as a winner (see RIM in this week's Diplomat Package). US officials on Aug. 28 confirmed that the FBI was investigating whether a Pentagon mole funnelled classified material about Iran to Israel (see overleaf). While for weeks Iran and Israel have exchanged threats and barbs over Tehran's nuclear programme, the government of Ariel Sharon is raising the heat over this issue to win more focused attention from the international community as well as deter Iran from going the next step in enrichment activities at the Bushehr reactor.
Iran's determination to pursue its uranium enrichment programme was underlined by a confidential report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on Sept. 2 by the Financial Times which said Tehran planned this August and September to convert 37 tons of yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride - the material spun in centrifuges to make enriched uranium, which can then be used to make nuclear weapons or as fuel in reactors. The report came as the US sought support for a tough resolution on Iran at a governing board meeting of the IAEA on Sept. 13. Washington wants the nuclear controversy to be referred to the UN Security Council, a move that would raise diplomatic pressure on Iran. But the US is likely to face strong opposition from other members of the IAEA board. Some European countries believe the question of referral to the Security Council should be deferred to a November meeting of the IAEA board.
Hints of Israeli contingency planning have provoked strong words from Tehran, including threats to destroy the Dimona complex where Israel's own nuclear programme was developed in the 1960s. Israel believes Iran is only months from crossing new thresholds, and two to three years away from producing an atomic bomb. An Aug. 17 announcement that Bushehr will not be operational until 2006 may be intended to bring this round to a close.
Acute agitation stirred in the Iraqi Shiite community by Sadr's challenge to the interim government and US policies has created opportunities for Iran, which has ties to every major Iraqi political and sectarian faction. But in each of Qom and Najaf the ayatollahs are divided on the perspective for Iraq. The moderates in Qom, led by Grand Ayatollah Abol-Fazl Lankarani, agree with his former aide, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani of Najaf, that the Shiite religious leadership should be above politics and the affairs of state. Sadr draws his authority from the Qom-based Ayatollah Kathim Haeri, who once served as an aide to his father, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq Al-Sadr (killed by Saddam's regime in 1999), and wants to establish in Iraq a theocracy similar to that of Iran and at war with both Israel and the US.
From Tehran's standpoint, Sadr is best suited to bring the US down a notch, and thus make the US less likely to work directly for regime change in Iran. President Khatami on Aug. 23 said Iraq's interim government risked losing popular support because of its backing for military operations against Sadr's rebels in Najaf, and made clear that responsibility for all the stresses on the Shiite community falls to the US occupying forces and their "collaborators". Iranian MP Mahmoud Mohammadi, who belongs to the traditionalist hardliners of the theocracy said: "Muqtada Al-Sadr is an anti-occupiers figure and Iran should support him".
So the stakes for the US are high. But the Bush administration, distracted by the campaign season with presidential elections due on Nov. 2, is for now pursuing an overt political strategy, trying to keep like-minded Western states in a loose coalition to press for full Iranian compliance with its IAEA and nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations.
Some experts point to the possibility of a US paramilitary attack, alone or secretly co-ordinated with Israel, to delay or disrupt any imminent Iranian activities that would constitute a point of no return in its nuclear programme. They say whether this should take place before or after Nov. 2 might depend on the opinion poll ratings of President George W. Bush during the next two months.
Implications Of An Israeli Spy Probe In USA: Word leaked on Aug. 28 that for more than a year the FBI has been investigating a Pentagon official for possibly providing Israel classified information - including a draft of a presidential directive on US policies towards Iran - through Israel's main lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Whether true or not, the revelations could sour relations between the US and one of its closest allies in the war on terror.
The US has long passed Israel information to help prevent attacks on its homeland and Israel has shared intelligence from Arab speakers who operate in parts of the world where the US cannot. It should not be unusual for friendly allies to go one step further and spy on Washington. On Aug. 30, the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) quoted Jim Walsh, an international security expert at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, as saying: "If they are found to be spying on us, it wouldn't be a shock. But the closer the friendship, and the more sensitive the information, the more likely it is to leave an impression on the personal relationships. People will feel betrayed, particularly government leaders".
The Pentagon suspect is Lawrence Franklin, a Farsi-speaking Iran analyst at the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and a former colonel in the Air Force Reserves. He is being proved for allegedly passing on sensitive papers to AIPAC, which then supposedly handed them on to the Israeli government.
Franklin works in the office of William Luti, who reports to Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defence for policy. According to the New York Times (NYT) of Aug. 30, FBI officials had earlier expressed an interest in interviewing both Feith and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary. Feith and the work done under him have been the focus of intense criticism over the past year. Feith and his policy branch have been under scrutiny also because of the role they played in formulating the Pentagon's Iraq war strategy.
A Pentagon statement says it is fully co-operating with the FBI probe, which it insists is "limited in scope". Israel, for its part, is vehemently denying complicity in any espionage act. Premier Ariel Sharon said: "Israel does not engage in intelligence activities in the US". AIPAC said: "Any allegation of criminal conduct by AIPAC or our employees is false and baseless".
Speculation will continue until a conclusion is reached. In 1987, a US Navy intelligence analyst, Jonathan Pollard, admitted to selling state secrets to Israel. The SCM quoted Danny Yatom, a former chief of the Mossad, as saying: "I think this will escort us for many years to come. There was one attempt made by Pollard, and since then there is still an assessment that Israel will try again whenever it is pushed into a corner". In addition, experts say the relationship between the US and Israel has become so lax - because of the cozy ties at the moment - that there was bound to be this sort of problem. "The Israelis have always had more access than other friendly countries", said Patrick Lang, former head of Middle East intelligence at the DIA, adding: "The liaison relationships between the Israeli and American services are highly developed, codified, and have functioned for many years".
With CBS News on Aug. 27 pointing to Franklin's ties to Wolfowitz and Feith, both leading architects of the war on Iraq "for the future security of Israel", the NYT on Aug. 30 said a little more than a year ago, one policy advocated by Pentagon officials would have relied on covert support for Iranian resistance groups to destabilise Tehran's theocracy. In internal deliberations, some even raised the possibility of a military strike against an Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz.
American policy towards Iran now is of critical importance to Israel, which is increasingly concerned by evidence that Tehran has accelerated its programme to develop a nuclear weapon. The Bush administration has become concerned that Israel might move militarily against Iran's nuclear complex.
One of AIPAC's priorities is stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear arms and other unconventional weapons. The 65,000-member group is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, cultivating close ties in Republican and Democratic administrations alike. The NYT on Aug. 30 said former colleagues had known Franklin as a Soviet analyst at the DIA who transferred to the Middle East division in the early 1990s. He learned Farsi and became an Iran analyst, developing extensive contacts among Iranians who opposed the Tehran government.
Wolfowitz and Faith are part of a neo-conservative (neo-con) camp backing Israel's Likud. It was on the basis of a policy line presented by neo-cons in 1996 that then Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - more recently Sharon - dropped out of the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
Friends of Franklin's, like Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, were on Aug. 31 reported by the NYT as saying the accusations against him were baseless. The NYT quoted officials as saying the FBI might never fully understand the role of two AIPAC figures who they believe were in contact with Franklin. "Nor are they likely to be able to determine completely whether Israel regarded the entire matter as an informal intelligence operation or as a casual relationship that Franklin himself might not have fully understood". Investigators do not know, for example, whether Israeli intelligence officers "tasked" AIPAC intermediaries to seek specific information for Franklin to obtain, which would make the case more serious and cause Bush much trouble. Israeli officials might have passively accepted whatever classified material AIPAC officials happened to get from Franklin.
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|Publication:||APS Diplomat News Service|
|Date:||Sep 6, 2004|
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