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Commentary Last Updated: Dec 28th, 2007 - 00:31:44

Iran, US engaged in a lethal Chess game
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 28, 2007, 00:18

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One of the hottest 2008 imponderables is whether or not the tension between Washington and Tehran will erupt into conflict. It�s an open secret that the Bush administration has long had a plan to bomb Iran�s nuclear facilities, and there was a time not so long ago when it appeared that plan was close to implementation.

However, the recent publication of a US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) strongly suggesting Iran abandoned any thoughts of developing nuclear weapons in 2003 put a temporary lid on the rumor mill.

Then Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, by the way, is also Time magazine�s �Person of the Year,� came along and spoiled it all.

When the NIE was published those of us who consider another war in this region to be anathema were celebratory. The US has shot itself in its own foot, we thought. Its own intelligence agencies have jointly decided that Iran�s nuclear activities constitute no immediate threat. So without a smoking gun and sans international approval that war plan will surely be destined for the shredder, we deduced.

Now Putin has come out with a message that says, �not so fast, Dr. Watson." Asked about the impact of the NIE, he had this to say: �If this CIA report has been published simply to divert the Iranians' attention from the real preparations for military action, something that is theoretically possible, then I believe that this would be very dangerous because any military action against Iran would represent yet another very big mistake . . ."

In other words, Putin believes the intelligence assessment could potentially be nothing more than a red herring designed to keep Tehran off guard in the event of a surprise attack.

Unless the Russian leader knows something we don�t, then his statement is a mere personal opinion. It could also have been stated deliberately to drive a further wedge between the US and Iranian governments, set to hold another round of talks on Iraq.

Relations between Washington and Moscow are decidedly chilly these days and Putin is no doubt keen to protect his turf in the Middle East. Russia is not only set to supply Iran with low-enriched uranium fuel for the Bushehr plant it helped Iran to build, it is also equipping Tehran with what it calls �defensive weapons� with the goal of maintaining the regional balance of power.

On the other hand, Putin�s assertion could be spot on. As any military strategist worth his salt knows, there�s nothing better than an element of surprise. It certainly worked for Egypt and Syria when they invaded Israel in 1973 on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur.

Avi Dichter, Israel�s public security minister, who is incensed at the assessment�s findings and publication, said, �The American misconception concerning Iran�s nuclear weapons is liable to lead to a regional Yom Kippur where Israel will be among the countries that are threatened.� Dichter appears to be suggesting that a nuclear-armed Iran would be akin to launching Armageddon. Other Israeli officials have echoed the same theme. Now here�s where it gets interesting.

Israel appears open to discussing a military pact with the US, meaning an attack on one would equate to an attack on both. Its purpose would be to bolster Israel against Iran.

A feasibility report drawn up by an outgoing Foreign Ministry official and presented to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urges Tel Aviv to act now before the demise of the Bush era. It praises George W. Bush as being the most Israel-friendly US president ever and says Congress supports Israel �wall to wall." Who could argue with that?

In truth, Israel has reservations about entering into such a pact for fear of having its military hands tied. But from the American perspective it would be a bonus en route to carrying out any anti-Iranian plan the Pentagon still has up its sleeve. Moreover, it would allow the US to get involved were there to be another war between Israel and Lebanon, for example.

Who knows! It could even extend to Gaza, which Israel is currently bombing on a daily basis. Put simply, it would provide yet another open door for America to further its regional influence.

For their part, the Iranians are going all out to shore up friends and to some extent their diplomatic efforts are paying off. For the first time, the Iranian president was invited to participate in a GCC summit and he was also welcomed to Saudi Arabia to perform the Haj. Further, the countries in this neck of the woods have been outspoken to the effect they don�t want another war -- a clamor that has become louder since the NIE was made public.

There is a suggestion that George Bush�s sudden interest in a Middle East peace process is nothing more than a cynical exercise to lure the Arab states back into his camp just as the road map was used prior to the invasion of Iraq. If so, it�s a case of �once bitten twice shy." This time around they�re not buying.

In this ongoing and protracted game of chess, there are two teams at play. On the one side of the table is the US and Israel and on the other is Russia and Iran. Parts of the game are being held in the open with other sessions behind closed doors. Which side will eventually be checkmated is anybody�s guess. What�s certain is the game is high stakes for both teams but different for each partner on the same team. The US and Russia are hungry for hegemony. But for Israel and Iran, their very survival could hang on the outcome.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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