Iran's Belligerent Actions

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This column was written by Michael Ledeen.
Sometime in late November or early December, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gathered his top advisers for an overall strategic review. The atmosphere was highly charged, because Khamenei's doctors have diagnosed a serious cancer and do not expect the Supreme Leader to live much more than a year. A succession struggle is already under way, with the apparently unsinkable Hashemi Rafsanjani in the thick of it, even though Khamenei, and his increasingly powerful son Mushtaba, is opposed to the perennial candidate-for-whatever.

Despite this disquieting news, the overall tone of the conversation was upbeat, because the Iranians believe they see many positive developments, above all, the declaration that "it has been promised that by 8 April, we will be in a position to show the entire world that 'we are members of the club.'" This presumably refers to nuclear weapons. Against this cheery background, the assessment of the Iranian leaders continued:

  • The weakness of the Bush administration is notable. Recent public opinion polls show the country seriously divided, and the top Iranian experts on North America have concluded that the president is paralyzed, unable to make any tough decision (and hence unable to order an attack against Iran);

  • 2006 is an election year, and even some Republicans are distancing themselves from Bush, weakening the White House even further;

  • Israel is facing the darkest moment in its history (remember that this conversation took place before Sharon's stroke). Likud is divided, Netanyahu is openly against Sharon, and the Labor party has lost its old guard. No strong government is possible (and hence Israel is similarly unable to order an attack against Iran). Therefore this is a moment for Iran to take maximum advantage;

  • Iranian power and prestige is at an all-time high among the Palestinian terrorist groups, from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah, to secular, even Communist groups. Terrorists who in the past had rejected Iranian approaches now travel to Tehran for support;

  • The Syrians have given Iran final say over the activities of Sunni terrorist groups in their country;

  • Iran now exercises effective control over groups ranging from Hezbollah, Ansar al-Islam, al Qaeda, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jaish-e-Mahdi, and Jaish-e-Huti (Yemen) to the Joint Shi'ite Army of Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and part of Saudi Arabia, as well as Islamic movements in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia;

  • In the four and a half months since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become president, he has brought the extremist group led by Mezbah Yazdi under control, and, notably, he has forced Syria to resist all pressure from the United States;

  • The Europeans are no longer necessary for the Iranian strategy, and can now be "thrown out of our game." They are in no position to do any damage because they are too busy fighting with one another;

  • Khamenei called for two urgent missions. The first was to do everything possible to drive up oil prices by an additional 30 percent by the first week in April. The second was to intensify the propaganda war against the West in the same period. He stressed that it was important to compel the United States to face at least three crises by the April 8.

    • Jaclyn Schiff

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