By Boris Volkhonsky
On Tuesday, as reported by The Washington Post, the U.S. intelligence officials in their testimony to the Congress indicated that Iran has crossed a threshold in its adversarial relationship with the United States.
According to the testimony, Iran is prepared to launch terrorist attacks inside the United States. Until recently, the U.S. officials said that they had seen no intelligence to indicate that Iran is actively plotting attacks on U.S. soil. But Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said the thwarted plot to assassinate Saudi ambassador to the U.S. “shows that some Iranian officials — probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.”
The plot Mr. Clapper is referring to was “revealed” by American spy agencies in October 2011. One Iranian, clearly provoked by an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, was arrested and charged with plotting to hire Mexican drug dealers to kill the ambassador. No other evidence of Iran’s leadership’s tie to the plot has ever been presented. In fact, it remains unclear whether any such plot ever existed.
But the U.S. intelligence officials feel free to further elaborate on the information and are making further statements regarding the alleged plans by Iran to carry out attack on the U.S. soil.
In fact, until now there have been numerous incidents indicating that terrorist attacks, most probably inspired from outside, take place in Iran itself. A number of mysterious murders of Iranian nuclear scientists have not yet been fully investigated, but Iranian officials claim that the plots originated either in the U.S. or Israel. Also, several cyber attack affected Iran’s nuclear installations.
All this falls into one line. The U.S. demonstrates is resolution to put an end to Iranian nuclear program as a minimal task, or to change the existing regime in Iran as its ultimate task. And even though Iran has never threatened to invade or strike the U.S. territory, such threats are constantly voiced by the U.S. officials, including President Obama who, in his State of the Union address, raised the threat of military intervention into Iran, saying he would “take no options off the table.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a recent interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” program said that Iran was probably one year away from being able to build a bomb. He added that it could take a year or two beyond that to develop the ability to deliver a warhead by missile.
“That’s a red line for us, and it’s a red line, obviously, for the Israelis,” Panetta said. “If we have to do it, we will do it,” he added, without elaborating on what “it” means.
Now, the question is to whom all these statements are addressed. Obviously, Iran seems resolute in pursuing its nuclear program, constantly stating that it is an entirely peaceful one. Iran has never threatened to strike the U.S. (unlike the U.S. which “takes no options off the table” and “will do it,” if it “has to do it”). If ever Iranians threatened to use force against the U.S. and Western interests, it was only in response to sanctions. More so, most observers treat the threats to block the Hormuz Strait as unfeasible as and much more harmful to Iran itself than to anybody else.
But one should never forget the main addressee of any foreign policy statement coming from the highest echelons of power in the U.S. And that is the American electorate. While the outcome of November 6 elections is much less obvious than Obama, as any other incumbent President, would like to see it, it is a matter of vital importance for him to show that he is ready to pursue a strong arms policy – whatever his Republican rivals might be saying.
In this context, the U.S. intelligence officials have only picked up the dominant tune, and are trying to dance to it.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies