From DEBKA-Net-Weekly Exclusive Updated by DEBKAfile
Saudi and Iranian buddies
Comment by Ted Belman
In my article Everyone is switching to the radicals, US included on Dec 3, I fully described this. In “Of Moderates and radicals” I put the lie to US alleged attempts to build a coalition of moderates to oppose the radicals. DEBKA agrees. The US was working to blend the moderates with the radicals at Israel’s expense. This, my article, also made clear.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly 328 first revealed on Dec. 7 that a Washington-Tehran understanding is in the making, brokered by Saudi Arabia. According to Washington and intelligence sources, the first steps of the dialogue were made possible by the US National Intelligence Estimate of Dec. 3 affirming that Iran’s nuclear weapons program had been put on hold in 2003. This public statement effectively took the US military option off the table, as stipulated by Riyadh and Tehran.
The Saudis have been offering to mediate the US-Iranian dispute since the beginning of 2007. In early November, DEBKA-Net-Weekly disclosed, the White House announced it was ready to deal. But first, Tehran must undertake to halt its arms smuggling into Iraq, guarantee non-interference in the election of the next Lebanese president later that month and tacitly approve Syrian participation in the Middle East conference at Annapolis on Nov. 27. Furthermore, Iran must guarantee not to torpedo the conference, to which the administration attached the highest importance, by unleashing its terrorist pawns against Israel.
Shortly after DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s exclusive disclosure, the well-connected Saudi journalist Jihad El-Khazen gave his version of the course of events in the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat :
“Here is what happened: The rate of violent acts dropped in Iraq; therefore the American intelligence services discovered that Iran had halted its military nuclear program in 2003. This means that the resumption of violence will make American intelligence services find out that there is a secret military program that is different from the peaceful and famous one.
The Saudi reporter went on to ask: “Is there a deal between the Bush administration and Iran? I cannot categorically assert that a deal was concluded between the two parties through direct negotiations; however, there is an understanding resulting in the 2007 national intelligence report.”
Saudi and American sources told DEBKAfile that President George W. Bush used the Annapolis conference as a piece of theater, which presented a sham moderate Arab front against Iran to disguise the intense work underway on a Saudi-mediated accommodation between Washington and Tehran.
The Bush administration appears to be in the midst of developing a new foreign strategy based on five key elements:
1. The halt of Iranian weapons and road bomb shipments into Iraq for use against US forces;
2. An Iranian instruction to Hizballah to open the way for the election of a Lebanese president, in return for which Washington will not interfere with the formation of a new government with a place of honor for the Iranian surrogate militia.
In other words, the Bush administration is not only engaged in a sellout of the Israeli government but also of the pro-Western Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora.
3. The cessation of Iranian arms and roadside bombs to Afghanistan.
4. The naming of Saudi Arabia as a channel for arbitrating American and Iranian differences.
5. A US pledge to backtrack on its charges that the Iran is engaged in developing nuclear weapons. This pledge was embodied in the dramatically revised US National Intelligence Estimate compared with its estimate of 2005, and effectively lifted not only the American military axe from over Iran’s strategic and economic infrastructure – and possibly regime – but also tied Israel’s hands.
The radical Washington about-face has in the last ten days touched off a chain of repercussions.
DEBKAfile’s sources disclose that Iran’s extremist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began purging the Iranian leadership of his opponents, emboldened by what he perceived as the victory of the intransigent nuclear policy he and the Revolutionary Guards had pursued.
Still in crowing mode, Iran’s oil minister Gholam Hossein Nozari announced Saturday, Dec. 8, the cessation of oil transactions in US dollars. He labeled the greenbacks an “unreliable” currency.
Less than 24 hours after the NIE was released, the Kremlin announced resumption of Russian work to finish Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr and the consignment of nuclear fuel.
In Lebanon, the Hizballah opened the door for the election of chief of staff Gen. Michel Suleiman as president. To buy a stable Beirut government, Washington accepted a pro-Syrian Hizballah sympathizer as president.
The prospects of tough UN sanctions against Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium dimmed dramatically. The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said there is no point in the light of the US intelligence reassessment. Saturday, the Iranian ambassador in Tokyo invited Japanese investors to put their money in Iranian oil production which he said could be expanded by 30 percent. Tehran has clearly lost its fear of international economic sanctions.
Yet Israeli leaders Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak are still touting sanctions for Iran. They hope to gloss over the serious upset in Jerusalem over the Bush administration’s willingness to deal with Iran and Saudi Arabia at the expense of Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.
Damascus-based Hamas and Jihad Islami leaders have begun marathon talks with Syrian and Saudi officials on terms for an informal truce to halt their missile bombardment of Israel from the Gaza Strip. They are anxious to ward off an Israel military operation. By tying Israel’s military hands in the Gaza Strip as well as Iran, the US-Saudi-Iranian understanding will serve to stabilize Hamas’ rule in Gaza.
Moscow has dispatched war fleets to the Mediterranean and the northeast Atlantic.
A flotilla of six Russian warships including a carrier will dock at Syria’s Tartous port for the first time.
Whether this ambitious package can be assembled and tied up is moot for all three parties, the Americans, the Iranians and the Saudis. Even if the talks are brought to conclusion, the package could leak at the seams at any time.
Tehran does not expect the US to withdraw its naval carriers and strike forces from Iranian Gulf shores yet, whereas Washington does not delude itself that Iranian arms shipments to Iraq and Afghanistan, or even Lebanon, will completely dry up overnight.
Both Washington and Tehran have not yet abandoned their fist-shaking stance.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that a new strategic bloc has taken its first steps and the first rumbles are already felt.
For Israel, the impact is more radical than a few rumbles. Its special relationship with the United States has collapsed amid its worst foreign policy debacle in decades. The Olmert government is paying the price for the military and diplomatic mismanagement of the war against Lebanon’s Hizballah of 2006.