Ill-assorted figures this week cited 2013 as the year in which the United States was expected to go to war on Iran. Among them was Iran’s atomic commission director Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, and players in the US-Iranian war game staged at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, whose heads are close to US President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
This apparent US-Iranian concord was unusual but not fortuitous, say DEBKAfile analysts.
On the part of Washington, it had a distinct purpose, which was to demonstrate to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that an Israeli attack before the US presidential election would be superfluous.
The message was played out in the Saban institute’s war game: The player representing Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the Americans are tired of the fight and they are led by a weak man with no stomach for the struggle.
The script then proves him wrong: On July 6, 2013, Iranian agents coming in from Venezuela blow up a hotel on the Caribbean island of Aruba killing 137 people, many of them American holidaymakers including nuclear physicists. It was clearly a revenge attack for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.
The next chapter of this scenario had President Obama, portrayed as reelected in November, ordering Iranian Revolutionary Guards headquarters in eastern Iran to be bombed, 40 Iranian security installations shut down by cyber warfare and Tehran warned that US intelligence had the names of Iranian agents in 38 countries and their lives were at risk.
Iran purportedly responds by blocking the Strait of Hormuz, through which the world receives a third of its oil. The players representing the US government then slap down a 24-hour ultimatum for Iran to halt its nuclear program or else face the destruction of all its facilities, along with the entire Iranian military deployment in the Persian Gulf.
Tehran fails to comply and the US and Iran are at war.
This scenario implicitly made the point that since the US election was only weeks off and America would most likely go to war with Iran next year anyway, Israel had no need to jump the gun before November, 2012.
This was most likely the answer Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak received too when he met with Chicago Mayor and Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for lunch at City Hall Thursday, Sept. 20.
The only known result of their conversation was a gift by the mayor to the minister of a six-pack of Chicago’s famous Goose Island 312 beer. Whether Barak shared it with Netanyahu and whether the beer was to their taste was not revealed.
Apart from this message, the Saban Institute war game notably hinged on two basic premises while skipping a third.
The first was that American and Iranian leaders both acted on wrong strategic and intelligence assessments of the other’s intentions and therefore miscalculated each other’s responses. Had they realized this, the war might have been avoided.
A second working assumption was that Iran had scattered half of its stocked enriched uranium in dozens of places across the country to reduce their vulnerability to attack, while keeping the other half in one place. This was taken to signal qualified Iranian willingness for a diplomatic resolution of its controversy with the United States.
Where the Saban war game erred was in leaving the Syrian factor out of the equation.
DEBKAfile’s military sources point out that Syrian President Bashar Assad is using the same strategy as Iran for his chemical and biological arsenal. Half has been distributed and placed in the care of an estimated 20 Syrian army units; the other half reposes at fixed storage sites – a device indicating to Washington and Moscow that he is open to negotiating an end to the war before deciding to loose his weapons of mass destruction against Syrian rebels.
The Washington think tank’s war game fails to take into account that Iranian and Syrian steps are so closely synchronized that Syrian already looms large as the most likely venue for the approaching core event of a conflict pitting the US and Israel against Iran. Syria and Iran have become almost interchangeable against their shared foes.
Elite units of Iran’s al Qods, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) external arm, are being airlifted into Syria and Lebanon, as the IRGC chief Gen. Ali Jafari, disclosed Sunday, Sept. 16.
Iranian troops are now deployed on Israel’s northern and eastern borders.
Israel responded Wednesday, Sept. 19, with a snap military exercise, the largest the IDF has staged in many years, on its borders with Syria and Lebanon.
Not all the Israeli units taking part in the drill returned to home basewhen the drill was over. Substantial military strength, estimated at two divisions, is therefore building up and facing the Iranian troops across the border in Syria and Lebanon.
Indeed, that same Wednesday saw more than one telling event in the same incendiary context: Iran’s foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi paid an unscheduled visit to Damascus for talks with Assad on his way home from a meeting in Cairo with Egyptian, Turkish and Iraqi foreign ministers. They gathered on the initiative of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi for another go at resolving the Syrian disaster. Saudi Arabia which is deeply committed to backing the rebels was pointedly absent.
Iran played ball with Egypt for the purpose of lining up its diplomatic ducks for the war to come by putting together a potential Muslim bloc to stand against the US-Israel-Arab grouping. Tehran is looking ahead to the inevitable propsect of peace negotiations taking off amid the fury of war - or as soon as it ends.
Shortly after the Israeli drill, US intelligence officials accused Iran of “secretly transporting large quantities of weapons and military personnel, almost daily, under the cover of civilian aircraft – via Iraqi airspace – to aid embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”
The accent on “almost daily” confirmed that a major buildup of Iranian military strength is in progress in Syria. Typically, Iran is disguising its actions by using civilian aircraft.