U.S. beefs up force to calm Gulf fears; Iran alarms Arab states

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

The Pen­tagon be­gan build­ing up its mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Per­sian Gulf, in­clud­ing de­fen­sive Pa­triot mis­siles, af­ter friendly Arab states pri­vately ex­pressed alarm over Iran’s in­creas­ingly bel­li­cose pro­nounce­ments.

Some in the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan to fear that un­less Wash­ing­ton re­as­sured the Gulf states, it would lose their sup­port at a crit­i­cal junc­ture in the Iraq war. With­out the sup­port of Jor­dan, Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates and other pre­dom­i­nately Sunni Mus­lim coun­tries, achiev­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in Iraq would be much more dif­fi­cult, de­fense sources said.

“The threat Iran rep­re­sents is grow­ing. It’s mul­tidi­men­sional. And it is, in fact, of con­cern to ev­ery­body in the re­gion,” Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney said on Jan. 14 on Fox News.

Pres­i­dent Bush on Jan. 10, in an­nounc­ing a new strat­egy for Iraq, laid out what the ad­min­is­tra­tion con­sid­ers a tough, two-pronged move against Tehran’s rad­i­cal regime. He said the U.S. would ac­tively tar­get Ira­nian sabo­teurs in Iraq. Hours later, Amer­i­can com­man­dos raided an Ira­nian of­fice in Ir­bil, north of Bagh­dad, and took five Ira­ni­ans into cus­tody.

The sec­ond prong in­volves send­ing two air­craft car­ri­ers to the re­gion, plus the anti-mis­sile Pa­tri­ots, mil­i­tary train­ing and new equip­ment. This move was aimed not just at send­ing a mes­sage to Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad. More im­por­tantly, de­fense sources said, it was meant to calm jit­tery Gulf coun­tries.

“This is all de­signed to de­ter Iran and as­sure our al­lies,” one source said. “They are very wor­ried about Iran and its nu­clear pro­gram.”

Mr. Ah­madine­jad has threat­ened to de­stroy Is­rael, and his regime is widely per­ceived to be de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons.

But the sources in­sisted that the Gulf es­ca­la­tion is not a first step to- ward war with Iran. “That’s non­sense,” one source said. “No de­ci­sion has been made about mil­i­tary pro­grams.”

A sec­ond source said that tak­ing Ira­nian sabo­teurs cap­tive in Iraq gives the U.S. “lever­age” with Iran. Sud­denly, the regime wants some­thing from the U.S. — the re­lease of its peo­ple. But it is not a ne­go­ti­at­ing tool, the source said. Rather, it just shows the regime there is a cost for its med­dling.

Some in the Pen­tagon think Iran is at war with the U.S., us­ing Shi’ite mili­tia prox­ies to at­tack Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers. Iran’s alQuds, a spe­cial-op­er­a­tions arm of the regime’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards, is sup­ply­ing the Iraqis with weapons, money and train­ing, U.S. of­fi­cials said.

Be­cause war with Iran was not an op­tion on the ta­ble, the sources said, the next best move was to be­gin cap­tur­ing Ira­ni­ans.

“I think the mes­sage that the pres­i­dent sent clearly is that we do not want them do­ing what they can to try to desta­bi­lize the sit­u­a­tion inside Iraq,” Mr. Cheney said. “We think it’s very im­por­tant that they keep their folks at home.”

A de­fense source said the ad­min­is­tra­tion, af­ter months of intelligence as­sess­ments, has con­cluded that Iran’s in­ter­ven­tion in Iraq was based on de­ci­sions made at the high­est gov­ern­men­tal lev­els in Tehran and not a rogue op­er­a­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.