March 30, 2007
The capture by Iran of fifteen British sailors and marines while they were inspecting a trading dhow in international waters for smuggled goods could be the spark that ignites the next war.
Whether that happens or not will not depend on us, or on the Brits. It will depend on President Ahmadinejad, his backers in Tehran, and Iran’s Supreme Leader.
Clearly, Ahmadinejad and his supporters have been planning this sort of thing for some time.
One week before the kidnapping of the British hostages, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards weekly newspaper, Sobh-e Sadeq, published these incendiary remarks from Reza Fakr, a writer said to have close links to Ahmadinejad:
“We’ve got the ability to capture a nice bunch of blue-eyed blond-haired officers and feed them to our fighting cocks. Iran has enough people who can reach the heart of Europe and kidnap Americans and Israelis.”
At the time, the Revolutionary Guards were seeking to ”retaliate” for moves by multinational forces in Iraq to crackdown on Iranian intelligence networks in Iraq, including the capture of five Iranian intelligence operatives in Irbil on the night of Jan. 10-11, 2007.
But they had already exacted tit-for-tat retribution in the attack on Karbala on January 20, when what now appears to have been an Iranian snatch team posing as American security guards kidnapped five U.S. soldiers inside an Iraqi army base.
That attack went awry, and the Iranians slaughtered all five Americans instead of taking them hostage.
My sources in Iran tell me that the IRGC leadership realized it was going to be too hard to go after U.S. forces, given stepped up protection measures the Americans instituted after the Karbala incident. So they sought British targets as a substitute.
This hostage-taking was no accident. It didn’t just “happen.” It was part of a centrally-planned and organized strategy to step up tension with the West.”
As we learned on Wednesday, the Iranians most likely sent their snatch teams into international waters where the Brits were conducting maritime inspections to catch smugglers. In fact, the initial GPS coordinates the Iranians themselves released showed that they captured the Brits 1.7 miles beyond their territorial waters. Then conveniently “altered” those GPS coordinates in subsequent communications with the British government.
So what can the Iranians possibly hope to gain? Are they miscalculating? Do they simply believe that Tony Blair is a “wimp” and won’t respond? That they can tweak the noses of the Brits, perhaps even compel them to withdraw their forces from Iraq?
This is what I heard earlier this weak from an eminent, former CIA analyst of Iraq at a forum on Iranian policy sponsored by the Center for Naval Analysis.
Judith Yaphe believes the Iranians are “rational” and calculating, but may have “over-reached.” (She also believes that Iran is seeking a stable, unified, but weak Iraq, something that simply defies the facts).
Yaphe “advised” the Baker-Hamilton commission – no surprise there. She has been consistently wrong on everything involving her area of expertise for over twenty years. Her views tend to parrot those of the Saudis and the Jordanians, who have shown little insight into the psychology or eschatology of Iran’s current leaders.
A far better interpretation was offered by the CNA’s own Alireza Nader. He believes the Iranian hostage-taking was “Iran’s way of saying, don’t mess with us, because we can mess with you.” He also noted that it was timed just the day before the March 24 vote at the UN Security Council on the latest sanctions resolution on Iran.
But instead of convincing the Brits to walk away from the UN Security Council resolution, the Iranian regime’s actions only hardened Britain’s resolve.
So what’s happening here? How could the Iranians be so stupid as to miscalculate so totally the Western response?
The answer, of course, is that Ahmadinejad and his supporters don’t think as Westerners think. They aren’t making cost-benefit analyses. They aren’t looking at their “bottom line.”
The only bottom line that counts for them is the perpetuation of their regime. They believe that by attacking Britain and America they can rally their supporters, rally the faithful beyond Iran, and launch their worldwide jihad to “destroy America” and “wipe Israel of the face of the earth” – the two goals Ahmadinejad set for his presidency.
In the April issue of Newsmax magazine, which will be on newsstands next week, I run through a detailed, blow-by-blow scenario of what a six-day military confrontation with Iran could look like.
One thing is very clear: the spark that could ignite such a confrontation could come from any number of different sources.
It could be a kidnapping such as this one. It could be an attack on a U.S. warship by Iran, using its Russian and Chinese-supplied bottom-tethered sea mines. Or it could be something completely different.
But what’s clear is this: Ahmadinejad and his faction want war. They believe that war with the West is their ticket to victory.
Even if they lose large portions of their country, or if their nuclear sites are destroyed, they believe that they will emerge victorious. Because in their eyes, this type of war with the West will hasten the return of the Imam Mahdi, the savior figure of the radical hojjatieh sect of Shia Islam in which Ahmadinejad and his faction believe.
But don’t make the mistake some have made in placing all your bets on Ahmadinejad. If somehow the U.S were able to wave a magic wand and get rid of him overnight, we would still be facing a security and political establishment in Iran that is devoted to confrontation with the West, and to the destruction of Israel.
Don’t forget that it was Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the “moderate” former president of the Islamic Republic, who first evoked publicly the possibility of a nuclear weapons exchange with Israel. I quote him in my book, Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.
“The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would destroy Israel completely, while [the same][against [Iran] would only cause damages. Such a scenario is not inconceivable,” Rafsanjani said in a sermon at Tehran University on Dec. 14, 2001.
Decoded, the message is chilling. Iran has no fear of an Israeli nuclear attack, because Iran is a vast country, with deep underground bunkers for its leadership, and clandestine nuclear sites that most likely are not on anyone’s target list. If the Israelis were to attack, or to respond to an Iranian nuclear attack, Iran will suffer great losses. But Israel will cease to exist.
Such is the calculus of a “moderate” leader of Iran’s Islamic “Republic.”
But the Iranian regime does not believe it will fight for its survival in Iran alone. Over the past nine months, since Hezbollah’s infrastructure in Lebanon was devastated by Israeli air strikes last summer (after Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on Israel), the Iranians have been shipping massive quantities of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in preparation for the coming war.
Iran’s clerical leaders and Ahmadinejad believe that they actually defeated Israel last summer during Iran’s first proxy war with Israel. And that they can do even greater damage in the next war, which could come next month, this summer, or next year.
Arieh Eldad, a leader of the opposition National Union Party in Israel’s Knesset, or Parliament, told me this week while on a trip to the United States that he is convinced there is “no way to avoid the next war” in Lebanon.
He sees the massive rearmament of Hezbollah by Iran, with Syrian assistance, as clear evidence of Iran’s strategy to launch another war against Israel. “Hezbollah is becoming stronger every day,” he said.
Eldad believes Israel must “neutralize Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria as a preliminary step, or we will not be able to engage Iran.”
By “engaging” Iran he does not mean economic or diplomatic “engagement,” as the State Department might use the term. He is talking about having Israel’s military take out Iranian nuclear and missile sites.
Now that’s engagement.
Dr. Eldad is a plastic surgeon who headed the burns at Hadassah hospital for twenty years. He has personally treated Palestinian suicide bombers, only to see them come back after their treatment with bombs strapped to their chests to blow themselves up in the very hospital that saved their lives.
The foes that oppose Israel and America do not reason as we do, he says. “When states have missions that are bigger than life, they are not obeying the basic rules of logic that Western civilization obeys.”
He believes the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a state, is following the same logic as a suicide bomber. “If the goal is to kill the Big Satan [America] or the Small Satan [Israel], then your own life is not to be considered under their logic,” he told me. “The Iranian regime is willing to sacrifice millions and millions of their own people to defeat the Big Satan and the Small Satan.”
Because of this, we need to understand that Tehran regime will not comply with sanctions, and does not care about sanctions. “It’s just not the same logic,” he said.
Dr. Eldad’s fear is that Israel will be “left alone” and have to confront a nuclear Iran. And if that day arrives, he warns, “the world should know that we will be ready to destroy the nuclear infrastructure of Iran at whatever the cost it takes.”
“That means we will be ready to use unconventional weapons, because conventional weapons will not be enough,” he added.
These are stakes.
A seemingly simple hostage-taking could be how this begins. A series of mushroom clouds could be how it ends.
In the meantime, the U.S. is conducting naval and air exercises in the Persian Gulf with two carrier battle groups. The message to Iran, one administration official told me yesterday, was clear: Don’t make any false moves.
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Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).