Thursday, November 1, 2007

Preparing the Public for War

Iranian political leaders and military commanders are increasingly warning the nation of an upcoming war with the US. Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani today warned Iran of “unprecedented” US threats.

“The movements and the presence of US forces and their supporters in the region are unprecedented, as is the creation of a menacing climate of fear," Rafsanjani told military commanders in Tehran (IRNA, 1 November).

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, referring to US threats, said yesterday millions of Iranians are ready to sacrifice themselves fighting the country's enemies (IRNA, 31 October).

The Iranian military is reporting a substantial increase in the number of US sorties over the Iranian border in recent days. On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the US sorties run counter to international rules and warned that the Iranian military would give a crushing response if the country’s territorial integrity is violated.

Islamic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC) Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari warned that the United States would find itself in a quagmire deeper than Iraq if it attacked the Islamic Republic (IRNA, 30 October). The Deputy Commander of IRGC Naval Force, Brig. Gen. Ali Fahdavi, warned the US of IRGC’s ability to disrupt oil flows in the Persian Gulf and the narrow Strait of Hurmuz, “The area of Persian Gulf and strategic Strait of Hormuz is such that a small operation can have a big outcome” (Fars News Agency, 29 October).

The recent warning by Iranian leaders, and especially by the political leadership, of an impending war with the US is a new development. The political leaders, including Ahmadinejad, had been insisting that the US would not attack Iran. Ahmadinejad famously said in September that his mathematical calculations based on his skills as an engineer proved that US forces would not launch an attack.

The Iranian leaders are now taking the attack seriously. Many Iran analysts believe that when Russian President Vladimir Putin’s met Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran recently, he gave the supreme leader a message that the US attack on Iran is imminent unless the Iranians retreat on the nuclear front. Putin reportedly wanted Iran to immediately suspend its uranium enrichment activities. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a surprise visit to Tehran on Tuesday to bring home to Ahmadinejad the reality that if Iran fails to comply with the UN Security Council demand to stop uranium enrichment by the end of November, Moscow will have no grounds for protecting it.

A major power struggle is underway in Tehran on how to deal with the realities of a US attack if Iran does not suspend its uranium enrichment program. The day after Putin left Tehran, the IRGC commanders threatened to fire 11,000 missiles at US targets in the region if Iran is attacked. Their warning was seen by Iran analysts as a direct response to the message carried by the Russian president. Ahmadinejad and the hardliners were in no mood to compromise. Ali Larijani, the chief nuclear negotiator and the number three politician in Tehran, resigned in disagreement.

Rafsanjani and the traditional conservatives are open to a limited compromise on nuclear front, like suspending the enrichment for a year or two, to avoid a military conflict and the possibility of a regime collapse in its aftermath. The reformists, out of the government and now acting as loyal opposition, decried Ahmadinejad’s nuclear policies in the recent Mosharekat party congress and warned of a military attack if compromises are not accepted. Khamemei, the supreme leader, has generally sided with the hardliners.

The attempt by the government to prepare the public for war points to a hardening of positions over the nuclear program and US-Iran relations. It does not bode well for peace in the region.

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