While Wednesday's test-firing by Iran of nine
medium- and long-range missiles was strongly denounced by Israel and the United
States, there appears to be a growing consensus here that the chances for war,
at least between now and the US elections in November, have actually receded
in recent days.
The State Department charged that the launch of the missiles, some of which
are capable of reaching or striking Israel as well as other US allies, was "provocative."
A White House spokesman said they violated UN Security Council resolutions and
demanded that Tehran "stop the development of ballistic missiles, which
could be used as a delivery vehicle for a potential nuclear weapon, immediately."
The Iranian tests followed warnings Tuesday by a top aide to supreme leader
Ayatollah Ali Khameini that Tel Aviv and US forces in the Gulf would be targeted
if Iran came under attack. They appeared to be the latest in a series of moves
by Iran and Israel, in particular, to show that their escalating military threats
are not hollow.
Last month, Israel carried out a major exercise involving more than 100 warplanes
over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece that US officials depicted as a
rehearsal for a possible bombing raid on Iran's nuclear facilities.
The exercise followed an interview by Israel's deputy prime minister, ret.
Gen. Shaul Mofaz, in which he warned that an attack was "unavoidable"
if Tehran failed to heed UN Security Council demands that it suspend its uranium
The subsequent visit to Israel by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
of the US Armed Forces, Adm. Michael Mullen, was taken by some analysts here
as a sign that Washington and Tel Aviv were coordinating their plans.
At the same time, the disclosure by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh
several days later that top Congressional leaders had secretly approved a 400-million-dollar
covert action plan directed against Tehran as well as a push by the powerful
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to get Congress to approve
a resolution urging Bush to mount a naval quarantine of Iran added to speculation
that war was indeed on the horizon.
But while those events, as with Wednesday's missile launches, which sent the
price of oil up two dollars, grabbed the headlines, the back pages suggest a
somewhat different story that, in advance of a period of intensified diplomacy,
all sides are seeking to gain as much leverage as possible.
That diplomacy, of course, is likely to center around the latest proposal,
submitted last month by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana,
by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany to offer
a range of incentives, including security guarantees, if Iran agreed to freeze
its uranium enrichment efforts.
While Tehran's written response was reportedly disappointing, diplomats here
and in Europe believe that the offer, combined with the latest financial sanctions
imposed by the European Union (EU) and rumors of war, has strengthened those
within the Iranian leadership who favor a deal.
They are hopeful that when Solana meets with his Iranian interlocutor, Saeed
Jalili, later this month, they will at least make progress in devising a formula
for a temporary freeze on both enrichment and the imposition of new sanctions
that will satisfy the Bush administration's precondition for joining the other
five powers in direct talks with Tehran over its nuclear program. and other
They have been encouraged in these hopes by a number of statements by key advisers
to Khameini, who is regarded as the ultimate decision-maker, most notably former
foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati who was quoted as saying earlier this month,
"Because we know that America and certain other enemies are acting against
Iran's national interests and wish Iran not to accept the (European) package,
it is expedient to accept it." Velayati also warned against senior officials
an apparent allusion to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad making "provocative"
statements at such a critical juncture.
Since then, Ahmadinejad himself has been uncharacteristically quiet, although,
during a news conference in Malaysia Tuesday, he ridiculed the notion that the
US and Israel will attack Iran. "I assure you that there won't be any
war in the future," he said, even as the Revolutionary Guard was preparing
Wednesday's missile tests.
If the doves in Tehran appear to be gaining ground, their US counterparts,
led by the Pentagon, seem in an even stronger position, at least for now. In
a press conference a week ago, Mullen not only repeatedly stressed the destabilizing
effects of an attack on Iran. He also effectively called for direct talks with
Iran without even mentioning the administration's demand that Tehran freeze
"There is a need for better clarity, even dialogue at some level,"
he said, adding later, ."..when I talk about dialogue, I [mean] very broadly,
across the entirety of our government and their government..."
In the same press conference, Mullen also indicated his opposition to an Israeli
attack, suggesting that it would inevitably engage US forces. "I've been
pretty clear before that, from the United States' military perspective in particular...
opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us,"
he said. ."..(D)estabilizing acts, destabilizing events are of great concern
to me," he added.
Confirming Mullen's opposition to an Israeli attack, Anthony Cordesman, a senior
Middle East defense specialist at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies (CSIS) with close ties to the Pentagon brass, told an audience in Israel
Monday that Mullen had been sent Israel last month by the administration to
deliver the message that the Jewish state does not have a "green light"
to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and that Washington would not support it
if it did.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, a senior State Department official charged with
the day-to-day management of the Iran portfolio, while not ruling out military
action, repeatedly stressed that it was a last resort and that existing sanctions
were having the desired effect.
"While Iran seeks to create the perception of advancement in its nuclear
program., real progress has been more modest," said Undersecretary of State
for Policy William Burns, who noted that Tehran had still not perfected the
enrichment process. "Iran is not 10 feet tall," he told a Congressional
committee. "Nor is it even the dominant regional actor."
He also elaborated on the areas in which the US and Iran might engage directly.
"Careful consideration suggests that in certain contexts, we should have
overlapping interests with Iran for example, in a stable, unified Iraq
at peace with its neighbors, in a stable Afghanistan, and in stemming narcotics
trafficking." US policy, he said, was aimed at "triggering a strategic
recalculation in Iran's thinking."
(Inter Press Service)