Are U.S. and Iran headed for war?
Despite hard-line rhetoric on both sides, analysts say diplomacy is the far more likely outcome.
(Page 2 of 2)
For it is up there – where Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei makes all final decisions – that the real political battles are being fought. The powers of Ahmadinejad's rival Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a regime stalwart considered a "pragmatic conservative," expanded a month ago when he was elected speaker of the Assembly of Experts, a body with the power to dismiss Mr. Khamenei.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
At the same time, a new commander of the IRGC was named, prompting leadership changes that this week saw the Basiji volunteer militia put under IRGC command. Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said the forces would "mold our structure to meet current threats."
The "main responsibility" of the IRGC, General Jafari said last week, would now be to counter "internal threats" – long the first mission of the Basiji. [Editor's note: In the original version, General Jafari's name was misspelled in this paragraph.]
"The fact that Ahmadinejad has been very successful to portray us as a threat to the world has made lots of people unhappy up there," says the Iranian analyst of elite circles. "So more and more, people are turning their backs on Ahmadinejad, and coming closer to Rafsanjani – or what Rafsanjani used to symbolize, moderation and working with outsiders."
That trend became clear during elections last December, in which Ahmadinejad's arch-conservative allies were trounced, adds the analyst: "It shows in the clerical establishment and with voters, there is a tendency away from radical, hard-line, young romantic crazy guys who want to turn the world upside down."
Ahmadinejad's US visit was billed by some as "a way of breaking down barriers between the US and Iran," says Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University who was the principal White House aide for Iran during the 1979 revolution and hostage crisis. "And if you go back and listen to all the mentions of peace and justice and harmony – all these things that we mostly ignored in his speeches – one interpretation is it was intended to create a new atmosphere."
"Did he make any inroads into American opposition to him, and/or Iranian policy? No," says Mr. Sick. At a dinner, he personally pressed Ahmadinejad about how the imprisonment of several Iranian-Americans had chilled direct person-to-person contact."I came away with a sense that this is a man who is supremely and dangerously self-confident, [who] feels he has the answers and he doesn't have to listen to expert advice."
Despite the mutual hostility, however, the US top brass, chief among them Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Adm. William Fallon, chief of the Central Command, have called for diplomacy.
"There are a lot of people in the Pentagon in very high positions – not to mention the CIA and State Department – that actually believe that [war] would be lunacy and a total catastrophe to American national interests," says Sick.
Still, Iran's alleged activities in Iraq have caused the White House to shift from plans for a "broad bombing attack" on nuclear and military targets in Iran to "surgical strikes" on IRGC elements deemed a source of attacks in Iraq, Mr. Hersh writes.
Bush told Amb. Ryan Crocker in Baghdad in early summer that he was thinking of such a strike, Hersh reports. He quotes a former intelligence official saying: "There is a desperate effort by [Vice President] Cheney et al to bring military action to Iran as soon as possible."
But while the Iranians appear to have been "putting their money on every number of the roulette wheel ... it is categorically different from the level of support that they provide, say, Hizbullah," Pollack says.
"No advanced antitank guided missiles. No advanced surface-to-air missiles. You don't see the kind of complete integration of Iranian personnel in Iraqi militia hierarchies the way that you did in Lebanon," he adds. "There do seem to be some limits, so I assume it is because the Iranians don't want to get into a fight with the US."