US storm over Iran gathers pace

The current dialogue between the two countries is believed to be nothing but an attempt by Washington to buy more time for its military machine to get prepared to hit Tehran.

Image Credit:Illustration: Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News
Gulf News

After a short respite, following the last December report by the US intelligence agencies, which exonerated Iran from seeking nuclear weapons, tension seems to have risen again between the US and Iran.

Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defied the West by announcing that his country has begun installing 6,000 new centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant.

Western nuclear analysts say around 1,500 such machines would be needed for Iran to manufacture the minimum amount of highly enriched uranium needed for one crude warhead. The Iranian move angered the Bush administration, which threatened more sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Furthermore, during a hearing before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the American Ambassador to Baghdad, described the Iranian role in Iraq as destructive.

"The security situation in Iraq remained in flux in part because of the destructive role Iran has played with its backing of special groups of Shiite radicals that now poses the greatest immediate threat in Iraq," Petraeus told the influential Congressional Committee.

Iraq and the nuclear issue are two aspects only of a multifaceted tension between the two arch enemies in the region. Iran is also accused of backing the insurgency in Afghanistan, supporting "terrorist" organisations in Lebanon and Palestine, pursuing regional hegemony and by extension threatening vital US interests throughout the region.

Many observers believe that the US is preparing the stage to role Iran's influence back, by military force if necessary. The current dialogue between the two countries is believed to be nothing but an attempt by the US to buy more time for its military machine to get prepared to hit Iran.

The recent regional tour by US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, was seen as a last ditch attempt to bring Arab allies on board for a possible military attack against Iran. It is Cheney's fourth Middle Eastern tour in two years to garner support for US policy towards Iran.

Seymour Hersh, America's most celebrated investigative reporter, claims that in a national security discussion, Cheney made clear that "whatever the Democratic Congress might do to limit the President's authority - to hit Iran's nuclear facilities, the administration would always find a way to work around it".

Cheney seems also to have regained grounds in Washington by isolating the doves of the Bush administration, namely Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, and Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defence, who favour multilateral diplomacy in dealing with Iran's nuclear programme.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates stated clearly that he believes that the consequences of a military conflict with Iran could be quite dramatic and, therefore, he would counsel against military action.

He warned that such an action would have dramatic consequences for the US throughout the Middle. It would also give rise to significantly greater anti-Americanism than we have seen to date and would immensely complicate the US relationships with virtually every country in the region.

Gates was dealt a severe blow recently by the resignation of Admiral William Fallon, the leader of Central Command, which oversees operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Admiral Fallon was known to be close to Gates and has vehemently opposed any military action against Iran. His removal was seen as a clear sign of Cheney's rising influence in Washington.

Cheney believes that if the Bush administration leaves office before striking Iran, no other administration would ever do it. He seems to be racing with time to finish the unfinished business with Tehran and Israel is saving no efforts to make that happen before the end of Bush's tenure. Ahmadinejad seems also to be inviting a US attack by adopting a very provocative policy.

Dr Marwan Kabalan is a lecturer in media and international relations, Faculty of Political Science and Media, Damascus University, Syria.