Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cold War: What a covert effort to sabotage a nuclear program looks like

Through the New York Times, the Obama administration has been broadcasting the fact that it has continued Bush's program to use covert actions to slow Iran's nuclear program and to destabilize the country by supporting separatist fighters.
Another possible problem for Iran is the Western sabotage efforts. In January, The New York Times reported that President Bush had ordered a broad covert program against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including efforts to undermine electrical and computer systems that keep the nuclear program running. The Obama administration has been silent about the progress of that program, one of the most heavily classified of the United States government.
The result was a compromise: limited covert action carried out by proxy, in the case of the Baluch, through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate or, I.S.I., and in the case of the Kurds by the C.I.A. in cooperation with Israel’s Mossad. My knowledge of the I.S.I.’s role is based on first-hand Pakistani sources, including Baluch leaders. Evidence of the C.I.A. role in providing weapons aid and training to Pejak, the principal Kurdish rebel group in Iran, has been spelled out by three U.S. journalists, Jon Lee Anderson and Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker and Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times, who have interviewed a variety of Pejak leaders.
The latest attack on an Iranian physicist as he left his home in Tehran - in this environment of the US not even seriously pretending it is not involved seems likely to me to lead to increases in covert hostilities on both sides that are in the interest of neither side.

The United States is planning to surge troops into Afghanistan. I'm confident saying Iran will oppose US efforts in Afghanistan more than it has to this point. I'm not quite comfortable saying Iran will lean on Afghanistan enough to ensure that Afghanistan is in worse shape from the US point of view in January 2011 than it is today.

Looking at the timing of this attack, it comes as there have been grumblings that progress was being made on entering formal negotiations over Iran's nuclear program without an Iranian suspension. Interestingly, Israeli press began releasing reports that Iran has already suspended and had stated so quietly in Iranian papers. I don't trust these reports as news, until more information comes out, maybe there is some basis to the story, maybe there is not. The release of the stories would embarrass any Iranian in private talks with the West. I assume that was the point of the release, to embarrass Iran away from negotiations with the US.

This attack is beginning to form a pattern along with the October attack on Revolutionary Guards in Balochistan. And like the earlier attack, this attack has the potential to raise the price Iranians demand for cooperation and convince Iranians that the West is not a suitable negotiating partner.

There is a fundamental misalignment of interests. The US' direct interests lies in reaching a way to live with Iran with minimal hostility. The United States is not threatened by an Iranian nuclear capability the way Israel is. As long is Iran will not relinquish its right to nuclear technology, Israel's interest lies in maximal hostility between the US and Iran.

One way to break that would be for Iran to inform Israel, through the US that these attacks increase the amount of uranium Iran will require in its domestic stock for any long term arrangement. If the attacks are not counter-productive for Israel, Israel has the resources to ensure they continue even contrary to the preferences of the US.

In the meantime, the attack happened, and now that it is part of the real environment, the situation will change accordingly. Iran has nearly no choice but to respond, and US positions in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most favorable places for an Iranian response. The response will be covert, we may never hear of it, we certainly will not see a conclusive tie to Iran, but it will happen and may continue a downward spiral in US/Iranian relations.


Lysander said...

Iran's position has grown worse, not so much due to the election, but because Iraq is much calmer for US troops there. They no longer need fear an insurgency and Iran's threat to assist it. Afghanistan is still a problem, but it is not like Iraq where 100+ US soldiers were killed monthly in the first half of 2007. I have little doubt that that reduced Iran's leverage.

Also, I'm not sure if the extent of Iran's influence in Afghanistan, while significant, matches Iraq.

Still, if Iran fails to respond, things will only get worse for it. If it cannot respond covertly, it should make absolutely no concessions on its nuclear program, except the minimal tactical moves required to keep Russian/Chinese support. I get the impression that Iran thinks if it makes a reasonable offer, the US will eventually respond in kind. I hope they will have learned by now that no such thing will happen. The US has no intention at all of reaching a compromise. Almost certainly, the US objective is to stall Iran's program until regime change occurs.

Iran should plan accordingly.

One idea, I'm not sure if its possible, is Iran could try a color revolution of its own. In Iraq or Afghanistan for example, triggered by some egregious action of blackwater or NATO. Iran almost certainly has close tribal contacts in the Uzbek, Tajiki and Hazara communities in Afghanistan. And certainly plenty of influence in Iraq.

Arnold Evans said...

You saying Iran's position is worse makes me take the possibility seriously.

I'm pretty sure Americans are going to die because of this most recent attack. As unfortunate as that is.

The US is still asking for Iran to forgo enrichment so there's no possibility of a deal.

If the attack applied pressure, it was towards Iran actually building a weapon so that it would be a fait accompli.

My take on Iraq/Afghanistan is that there are not 100 deaths per month but, until now, I thought that wasn't necessary.

I'm pretty sure the killed in action rate can be ramped back to that level between the two countries, if Iran makes that political decision.

What we've seen is that Bush ramped down the tension and Obama has raised it again.

The Times articles were the Obama administration which is quasi-openly signaling that it is conducting covert operations like this one.

I had thought these operations could have been partly Israel or parties acting on Israel's behalf outside of Obama's control, but the New York Times articles are essentially the Obama administration taking credit.

So, contrary to the letters to Khamenei, Obama wants confrontation with Iran. He'll get it, and we'll see what form it takes.

The Iraqi elections in March look like they are going to be conducted in an atmosphere of hostility between the US and Iran. From that point, there is a real possibility of a return to 2007.

A sustained period of early 2007 levels of violence would be tremendously politically damaging to Obama. I think that Iran had assumed it had made its point and didn't have to go further after they and Bush agreed to ramp tensions down.

It looks like they assumed wrong. And I really cannot understand what Obama's motivation is.

Anonymous said...

I don`t think we should rule out the possibility of the israelis being behind this sort of thing,I imagine for them the prospect of us iran negptiations/acceptance of enrichment is a nightmare,one they desperatly want to avoid and this is one of the few options they have,but its a stupid and reckless one.The other thing of course is that the us may have a lot less control over it proxies than they think,it might be easy to incite these elements but not so easy to get them to stop.Personally when it comes to irans opertunites in iraq I`m somewhat reminded of kruschevs remarks about berlin being the testicle of the west and all he had to do was squeeze,I`m sure it wouldn`t take more than 1 or 2 quick hard squeezes for the us to get the message.The danger of course is that you could get into a cycle of tit for tat but this will achive nothing for the us in the long or short term so long as they remain in iraq or afghanistan the us position is not a good one,but it seems that they cannot bring themselves to deal with iran unless from a position of strength,so they seem to be stuck sitting there hoping for something like regime change to solve their problem or else possibly resorting to dangerous half baked schemes like this that could back fire or blow up in their face