Saturday, January 29, 2005

Provoking Iran

After Seymour M. Hersh's revelation that "[t]he [George W. Bush] Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer" (Seymour M. Hersh, "The Coming Wars: What the Pentagon Can Now Do in Secret," The New Yorker, January 24, 2005), more frightening news. Two newspapers on the left and right ends of the political mainstream report that the US Air Force is flying its combat planes into Iran's airspace, "templating" Iran's air defense positions, and daring Teheran to shoot US planes down -- an act that simultaneously prepares for the next war, serves as a provocation, seeks to create a pretext for war (if the planes are shot down), and (if nothing else) escalates its ongoing psychological warfare against Teheran:
  • The U.S. Air Force is playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Iran's ayatollahs, flying American combat aircraft into Iranian airspace in an attempt to lure Tehran into turning on air defense radars, thus allowing U.S. pilots to grid the system for use in future targeting data, administration officials said.

    "We have to know which targets to attack and how to attack them," said one, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    The flights, which have been going on for weeks, are being launched from sites in Afghanistan and Iraq and are part of Bush administration attempts [to] collect badly needed intelligence on Iran's possible nuclear weapons development sites, these sources said, speaking on condition of strict anonymity.

    "These Iranian air defense positions are not just being observed, they're being 'templated,'" an administration official said, explaining that the flights are part of a U.S. effort to develop "an electronic order of battle for Iran" in case of actual conflict.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    A serving U.S. intelligence official added: "You need to know what proportion of your initial air strikes are going to have to be devoted to air defense suppression."

    A CentCom official told United Press International that in the event of a real military strikes, U.S. military forces would be using jamming, deception, and physical attack of Iran's sensors and its Command, Control and Intelligence (C3 systems).

    He also made clear that that this entails "advance, detailed knowledge of the enemy's electronic order of battle and careful preplanning."

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    The air reconnaissance is taking place in conjunction with other intelligence collection efforts, U.S. government officials said.

    To collect badly needed intelligence on the ground about Iran's alleged nuclear program, the United States is depending heavily on Israeli-trained teams of Kurds in northern Iraq and on U.S.-trained teams of former Iranian exiles in the south to gather the intelligence needed for possible strikes against Iran's 13 or more suspected nuclear sites, according to serving and retired U.S. intelligence officials.

    Both groups are doing cross border incursions into Iran, some in conjunction with U.S. Special Forces, these sources said.

    They claimed the Kurds operating from Kurdistan, in areas they control. The second group, working from the south, is the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, listed by the State Department as a terrorist group, operating from southern Iraq, these sources said.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, U.S. forces seized and destroyed MEK munitions and weapons, and about 4,000 MEK operatives were "consolidated, detained, disarmed, and screened for any past terrorist acts, the report said.

    Shortly afterwards, the Bush administration began to use them in its covert operations against Iran, former senior U.S. intelligence officials said.

    "They've been active in the south for some time," said former CIA counterterrorism chief, Vince Cannistraro.

    The MEK are said to be currently launching raids from Camp Habib in Basra, but recently Pakistan President Pervez Musharaff granted permission for the MEK to operate from Pakistan's Baluchi area, U.S. officials said.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    A former senior Iranian diplomat told United Press International that the Kurds in the Baluchi areas of Pakistan can operate in freedom because the Baluchis "have no love for the mullahs of Iran."

    In fact, in the early 1980s, there were massacres of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the area by Baluchi militants who wish to be independent, he said.

    Both covert groups are tasked by the Bush administration with planting sensors or "sniffers" close to suspected Iran nuclear weapons development sites that will enable the Bush administration to monitor the progress on the program and develop targeting data, these sources said.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    "This looks to be turning into a pretty large-scale covert operation," a former long-time CIA operator in the region told UPI. In addition to the air strikes on allegedly Iranian nuclear weapons sites, the second aim of the operation is to secure the support in Iran of those "who view U.S. policy of hostility towards Iran's clerics with favor," he said.

    The United States is also attempting to erect a covert infrastructure in Iran able to support U.S. efforts, this source said. It consists of Israelis and other U.S. assets, using third country passports, who have created a network of front companies that they own and staff. "It's a covert infrastructure for material support," a U.S. administration official said.

    The network would be able to move money, weapons and personnel around inside Iran, he said. The covert infrastructure could also provide safe houses and the like, he said.

    Cannistraro, who knew of the program, said: "I doubt the quality of these kinds or programs," explaining the United States had set up a similar network just before the hostage-rescue attempt in 1980. "People forget that the Iranians quickly rolled up that entire network after the rescue attempt failed," Cannistraro said. (Richard Sale/UPI, "Cat and Mouse Game over Iran," Washington Times, January 26, 2005)

  • The US is increasing the pressure on Iran by sending military planes into its airspace to test the country's defences and spot potential targets, according to an intelligence source in Washington.

    The overflights have been reported in the Iranian press and the head of Iran's air force, Brigadier General Karim Qavami, declared recently that he had ordered his anti-aircraft batteries to shoot down any intruders, but there have been no reports of any Iranian missiles being launched.

    "The idea is to get the Iranians to turn on their radar, to get an assessment of their air defences," an intelligence source in Washington said. He said the flights were part of the Pentagon's contingency planning for a possible attack on sites linked to Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme.

    "It make sense to get a look at their air defences, and it makes the mullahs nervous during the EU negotiations [over the suspension of Iranian uranium enrichment]," said John Pike, the head of, an independent military research group.

    The flights come after reports of American special forces incursions into Iran. However, former US intelligence officials have said they believe the incursions are being carried out by Iranian rebels drawn from the anti-Tehran rebel group, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, under US supervision. (Julian Borger, "US Jets 'Flying over Iran to Spot Potential Targets,'" The Guardian, January 29, 2005)
I hope that Teheran will keep its cool and forbear replying to the provocation. Washington lacks ground troops to conduct a full-fledged invasion, and as Cannistraro suspects, its attempt to create "a covert infrastructure in Iran able to support U.S. efforts" (Sale, January 26, 2005) will come to naught.

Washington can very well launch air strikes against Iran, though, and US activists must be prepared to come out into the streets.

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