Thursday, December 3, 2009

Is Iran Going To The Woodshed ?

More evidence is coming to light suggesting that investors should perhaps form a strategy around a massive strike on Iran coming up soon. I began posting on this emerging threat at my blog back in August - see

Art Cashin's Strange Comments - Aug. 21
Silence May Not Be Golden For Iran - Sept. 3
AWACS Prep In Iran Theatre - Sept. 24
Investing In Trouble - Oct. 3
Reading Between The Lines On Iran - Oct. 28

An Oct. 13 article over at discusses STRATFOR's new analysis. This geopolitical intelligence service is very well respected and is not given to alarmist rumor mongering. In late 2008, when there were many signs that a strike was being readied, an Aug 3 story by Reuters read "U.S. Israel attack on Iran Unlikely: STRATFOR Founder". The main reason was the growing financial crisis, which, as I've mentioned before, may have been the only stay of execution for Iran. But now, the well considered opinion reads "STRATFOR: Odds of War With Iran Spiking". Quoting their write-up:
"A new topic has rocketed to the top of STRATFOR's international concerns: the possibility of a war between the United States and Iran. There has been much discussion of this topic for years now, and STRATFOR has tended to dismiss it; there is a great chasm between remedial uranium enrichment programs and having a deliverable nuclear weapon. But events in the third quarter added credibility to the scenario...
The opening weeks of the fourth quarter will be dominated by 11th-hour negotiations primarily between but not limited to Washington and Tehran to see if war can be avoided. Washington and its allies will seek formal, transparent oversight for the entire Iranian nuclear program, and failing that, sanctions on the Iranian sector that is most vulnerable to foreign pressure: gasoline imports."
But STRATFOR doesn't believe gasoline sanctions have any realistic chance of working even if Russia seriously wanted to cooperate (which is doubtful) because the black market opportunities are too uncontrollable and too lucrative. Russia, Israel, Obama, and everybody knows this. They may go through the motions of more meetings and sanctions talk, but the enrichment deal was probably the last chance for a peaceful resolution.

Two news stories that STRATFOR says were deliberate intelligence leaks are of particular interest:
"Two major leaks occurred this weekend [the weekend of October 2-4] over the Iran matter.

In the first, The New York Times published an article reporting that staff at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear oversight group, had produced an unreleased report saying that Iran was much more advanced in its nuclear program than the IAEA had thought previously. According to the report, Iran now has all the data needed to design a nuclear weapon...

The second leak occurred in the British daily The Times, which reported that the purpose of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's highly publicized secret visit to Moscow on Sept. 7 was to provide the Russians with a list of Russian scientists and engineers working on Iran's nuclear weapons program...

The message was twofold. First, previous assumptions on time frames on Iran are no longer valid, and worst-case assumptions must now be assumed. The Iranians are in fact moving rapidly toward a weapon; have been extremely effective at deceiving U.S. intelligence (read, they deceived the Bush administration, but the Obama administration has figured it out); and therefore, we are moving toward a decisive moment with Iran. Second, this situation is the direct responsibility of Russian nuclear expertise. Whether this expertise came from former employees of the Russian nuclear establishment now looking for work, Russian officials assigned to Iran or unemployed scientists sent to Iran by the Russians is immaterial. The Israelis — and the Obama administration — must hold the Russians responsible for the current state of Iran's weapons program, and by extension, Moscow bears responsibility for any actions that Israel or the United States might take to solve the problem."

This adds a new dimension to the Middle East problem - a strike on Iran may now be tantamount to a strike on Russia. The trip to Russia by Netanyahu with the results of Israel's undercover intel on the Russian scientists' work developing Iran's nuclear bombs for them was probably not a "stop this right now" visit. STRATFOR says the Kremlin keeps very close tabs on the whereabouts and activity of these people, and they know they are doing this. Rather this appears to have been a "the jig is up" visit by the Israeli brass. As the STRATFOR piece phrased it:
"Given that this specific charge has been made — and as of Monday not challenged by Iran or Russia — indicates to us more is going on than an attempt to bluff the Iranians into concessions. Unless the two leaks together are completely bogus, and we doubt that, the United States and Israel are leaking information already well known to the Iranians. They are telling Tehran that its deception campaign has been penetrated, and by extension are telling it that it faces military action — particularly if massive sanctions are impractical because of more Russian obstruction.

As the spy game goes, you intentionally blow your cover when you are sure you're not going to be needing it for awhile. In a section of the analysis they titled "A Question of Timing" STRATFOR reasons:

But there is a mystery here as well. To have any impact, the Russian involvement must have been under way for years. The United States has tried to track rogue nuclear scientists and engineers — anyone who could contribute to nuclear proliferation — since the 1990s. The Israelis must have had their own program on this, too. Both countries, as well as European intelligence services, were focused on Iran's program and the whereabouts of Russian scientists. It is hard to believe that they only just now found out. If we were to guess, we would say Russian involvement has been under way since just after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine [late 2004-early 2005], when the Russians decided that the United States was a direct threat to its national security.

Therefore, the decision suddenly to confront the Russians, and suddenly to leak U.N. reports — much more valuable than U.S. reports, which are easier for the Europeans to ignore — cannot simply be because the United States and Israel just obtained this information. The IAEA, hostile to the United States since the invasion of Iraq and very much under the influence of the Europeans, must have decided to shift its evaluation of Iran. But far more significant is the willingness of the Israelis first to confront the Russians and then leak about Russian involvement, something that obviously compromises Israeli sources and methods. And that means the Israelis no longer consider the preservation of their intelligence operation in Iran (or wherever it was carried out) as of the essence.

Two conclusions can be drawn. First, the Israelis no longer need to add to their knowledge of Russian involvement; they know what they need to know. And second, the Israelis do not expect Iranian development to continue much longer; otherwise, maintaining the intelligence capability would take precedence over anything else.

It follows from this that the use of this intelligence in diplomatic confrontations with Russians and in a British newspaper serves a greater purpose than the integrity of the source system. And that means that the Israelis expect a resolution in the very near future — the only reason they would have blown their penetration of the Russian-Iranian system.

Iran, well aware of all this, is behaving as if someone has just told them "the jig is up". They are frantically digging hundreds of new missile silos, held their big air defense drill, and are blustering to the world now that they are planning to build 10 new nuclear facilities, a behavior a European official recently described as "childish". Perhaps the child has just been made aware that he is in for a severe spanking.

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