U.S. v. Iran: Winds of War or Psychological Warfare?

By Haggai Carmon

Did Brigadier-General Mehdi Moini, who commands Iran’s Islamic Revolution’s Guards Corps (IRGC) in the Iranian West Azerbaijan province, fail to read events through, or was he conducting psychological counter-warfare? Moini was interviewed by the Iranian television channel Press TV, following media reports on the presence of American and Israeli forces in Azerbaijan along the borders of his province in northwest Iran. In that region, Iran has a 550-mile border with Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Moini said that IRGC mobilized its troops in the area and that his forces’ move has frustrated the enemy’s attempts to destabilize the western Iranian province. Moini claimed that while the enemy was damaged in the course of his movements, no Iranian base was compromised. Moini failed to identify the enemy, but claimed, “Certain Western countries” are muddying the water in Azerbaijan “by provoking ethnic and religious strife in the region and inciting terrorist groups, they seek to destabilize our province.”

Ethnic and religious strife? Really?

Is the real reason for the rumored presence of U.S. forces in Azerbaijan, “to destabilize western Iran?” Is General Moini reading his maps correctly? It would be interesting to hear his explanation about the reported concentration of U.S. forces, and its allies’ warships, in the Persian Gulf, near Iran’s southern borders, more than a thousand miles away from his province. Would he call it “a fishing expedition?”

Is General Moini that naive?

King Solomon, the wisest of all men, said in Proverbs 27:22, “Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar with a pestle among groats, yet will not his foolishness depart from him.”

The Jewish Sages offer an interpretation of the verse: Although the fool acknowledges that he’s being ground in the mortar, he claims that the hulled grains around him are the target of the pestle, while he just happens to be there.

Since neither Moini nor his employers are fools, his remarks can be interpreted as a response in-kind to what Iran sees as psychological warfare, rather than a genuine threat.

Whether Iran misreads what the naked eye can see, or says one thing while readying itself for a military clash, if the reports on troop concentration in southern and northwestern Iran are accurate, then they reflect a serious and ominous step toward a potential military confrontation with Iran.

The rapid deterioration of U.S. and NATO relations with Turkey accelerated its pace when news about troops’ concentration in Azerbaijan started developing. Has Azerbaijan’s choice demonstrated the U.S.’s increased concern that Turkey is turning east toward Iran and therefore cannot be relied upon should U.S.-Iran hostilities commence?

There is no doubt that the region is simmering. Recently, there were separate visits to Israel by the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Leon Panetta and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Arab sources claimed that the meetings in Israel focused on Iran’s nuclear program. Did these visits and the concentration of troops imply preparations for an imminent military confrontation with Iran? U.S. government officials routinely deny any current U.S. plans to attack Iran, but should the Iranians believe U.S. declarations or read their own intelligence reports regarding the West’s military presence in the region?

Should the Iranians have a genuine cause for concern? Given the data, you can decide for yourself: There are more than 30 U.S. military installations encircling Iran on all sides, from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in the north, to Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan in the southeast, and Afghanistan and Pakistan in the northeast. Just last month there were extensive naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea of U.S., British, French and other nations’ forces.

French Rafale F3 fighter jets carrying the nuclear-tipped ASMP/A missiles trained ‘touch and go’ landing on the USS Harry S. Truman, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier; U.S. pilots flew French Super Etendard fighter jets, landing them on the French Charles De Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier; French pilots flew U.S. F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, landing them on the USS Harry S. Truman.

The U.S. Navy’s deployment near Iran is significant. It includes USS Nassau, an amphibious assault ship carrying AV-8B Harrier attack planes, AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters, CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters and 3,000 U.S. Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The U.S. force also includes USS Mesa Verde, carrying 800 U.S. Marines and USS Ashlan. These warships join the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, which includes 12 warships. The U.S. naval force is deployed in the Persian Gulf near Chahbahar, not far from the Iran-Pakistan border where the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s naval base is located. West of this location, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Strike Group is patrolling.

There were reports that the U.S. was moving 387 bunker-buster bombs, as well as 195 smart Blu-110 bombs and 192 huge 2,000 pound Blu-117 bombs, from California to the U.S. base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, in preparation for a possible attack on Iranian nuclear installations that are deep in the ground and protected by several meters of enforced concrete.

There were reports that Greece allowed Israeli jets to train in its air space, which coincidentally – or not – is the same distance from Israel as Iran, a necessary training should Israel target Iranian nuclear reactors. Other Iranian sources report that Israel has concentrated fighter jets in Azerbaijan, and previously there were persistent rumors that Israel maintains military satellite monitoring equipment in Azerbaijan, and is allowed to run listening devices near the Iranian border and on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Last month, Egypt allowed an Israeli Dolphin nuclear submarine to cross the Suez Canal toward the Persian Gulf.

In parallel, there are reports that a significant number of Iranian tanks and antiaircraft artillery were redeployed near the Iranian border with Azerbaijan and took additional preparations should hostilities break.

One unintended consequence of the massive naval force deployment in the Gulf is the surprise cancellation of the Iranian plan to send a ship with aid to Gaza. Under the U.N. Security Council’s recent resolution, all Iranian ships are subject to stop and search. Perhaps the Iranians planned to stock the ship with more than just bags of flour and rice?

There is no doubt that the U.S.’s and allies’ moves are meant to signal to the Iranians that they mean business. Either the Iranians abandon their nuclear armament plans, or the West will destroy their facilities. In such a showdown, reminiscent of the high noon duel in Hollywood Westerns, the parties must remember – before the situation develops into a full-fledged, regional war – the foreshadowing saying attributed to the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

This op-ed was originally published in The Huffington Post on 7/12/2010

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