[The White House Feigns ignorance of some CIA programs, in order to maintain its deniability. There has never been even one anti-Iranian operation anywhere that was not controlled or monitored by the CIA. Even if it was true that the Jundullah outfit that attacked in Iran was really not a Pakistani group, even though it was based in S. Waziristan, the CIA knew of their actions and aims beforehand and chose to let them happen, just the way they “let 911 happen.” Every Sunni terrorist outfit, especially all those described as being “al Qaida related” are CIA sponsored, using Saudi money, under ISI direction, facilitated by the Mossad.]
By M K Bhadrakumar
Conventional wisdom suggests that the terrorist strike by Jundallah in southeastern Iran on Sunday might have had the backing of the United States or Britain. But Jundallah today holds “fatal” attraction for a number of foreign powers that are interested in disorienting Iran’s policies.
Both Washington and London scrambled with unusual speed to not only disclaim any hand in the strike that killed seven senior commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as well as 42 other people, but to condemn it in strong terms.
On Sunday, a US State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, was instructed to issue a categorical US denial. “We condemn this act of terrorism and mourn the loss of innocent lives. Reports of alleged US involvement are completely false,” he said.
In London, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said, “We reject in the strongest terms any assertion that this attack has anything to do with Britain.” She said Britain condemned the incident in restive Sistan-Balochistan province in the southwest as a terrorist attack and that “terrorism is abhorrent wherever it occurs. Our sympathies go to those who have been killed or injured in the strike and their families”.
The fact is that the attack was staged with careful timing. For one thing, the next major step in the diplomatic process involving technical-level discussions was to take place in Vienna on Monday to work out the details of a plan to ship a majority of Iran’s stockpile of lightly enriched uranium out of the country to be enriched in Russia to a higher grade.
Torpedoing nuclear talks?
Both the US and Iran have reasons to seek progress at the talks in Vienna. US President Barack Obama has a personal stake in the outcome.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, said on Monday the talks on Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had got “off to a good start”. Delegates from Iran, the US, Russia and France talked for two-and-a-half hours and agreed to meet again on Tuesday morning. “Most technical issues have been discussed,” ElBaradei said.
According to details revealed by Time magazine, quoting US administration officials, “Obama personally weighed in three times during secret, multiparty negotiations with the Iranians over the last four months – in what has become not just a test of Iran’s nuclear intentions but also a test of Obama’s effort to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” Tehran is suspected by many of developing a nuclear weapons program, a charge it denies.
The backroom talks began as early as June when Obama astutely seized the opening provided by Iran’s acute need of specially manufactured plates of enriched uranium to produce isotopes for caner treatment, X-rays and insecticides to offer to Tehran via the director general of the IAEA hat the US could arrange for the manufacture of the specialized plates by using Iran’s low-enriched uranium stashes produced in its Natanz plant.
Obama personally got Moscow and Paris to agree to the idea of Russia accepting the low-enriched uranium from Iran and to enrich it to the level needed to power Iran’s research reactor so that in a follow-up step, France could turn it into the specialized plates that are used to produce isotopes.
As Time put it, “What followed was a careful set of high-level negotiations between Iran, the IAEA, Russia, France and the US to iron out the details.” At the meeting at Geneva on October 1 between Iran and the key Western powers, Russia and China, “US negotiator, William Burns, had a one-on-one conversation with his Iranian counterpart to confirm the amount of uranium involved in the deal, and they agreed to the October 19 meeting to determine the details of the transfer.”
Clearly, Obama must be out of his mind to have his intelligence agencies mount a terrorist attack on Iran which would torpedo his own gameplan to address the Iran nuclear file at the present sensitive juncture.
Not only that, General Stanley A McChrystal and Richard Holbrooke, the two key US officials involved with Afghanistan, have gone out of their way in recent weeks to stress the importance of Iran’s cooperation. Most certainly, a covert operation of the magnitude mounted against Iran on Sunday by US special forces based in Afghanistan ran the high risk of provoking Tehran to retaliate.
McChrystal, the top US general in Afghanistan, from all accounts has a highly logical mind and intellect. He would know what he could do without earning Iran’s wrath. Despite Tehran’s serious doubts about the efficacy of the US’s manipulation of the Afghan presidential election result, it has sat on the fence and watched the goings-on. If Tehran wanted to make trouble for the US in Afghanistan, it could have easily done something else.
All in all, therefore, Tehran has been extremely circumspect about jumping to conclusions regarding the strike on Sunday. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei avoided leveling any direct charges against Washington. He confined himself to saying, “The enemies should know that such animosities … cannot stain the unity of religions and tribes. Those who violate the lives and security of the people will be punished for their treacherous deeds.”
Similar restraint is also noticeable in the statements by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, and Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. Curiously, Larijani, a key official dealing with national security, also suggested that the motive behind the terrorist attack was to disrupt Shi’ite-Sunni ties. “Such cowardly acts will not have any effect on the trend of solidarity between the Shi’ites and Sunnis,” he said.
This brings us to Saudi Arabia, whose relations with Iran are passing through a period of mutual antipathy bordering on hostility. Tehran has alleged that Iranian hajj pilgrims are being maltreated by Saudi authorities and that Saudi intelligence is accountable for the mysterious disappearance of an Iranian nuclear scientist who was on pilgrimage to Mecca recently.
Saudi newspapers with links to the establishment have carried in recent months extremely vituperative attacks against the regime in Tehran, often at a personal level directed against the Iranian leadership. They have almost gone into mourning now that the turmoil on Tehran’s streets following the disputed presidential election has receded. Ahmadinejad has alleged that his opposition kept up links with Riyadh in trying to bring about “regime change” in Tehran.
Saudi Arabia has two great worries over Iran. First, that Obama is pressing ahead with the normalization process with Tehran – a “thaw” was visible at the Geneva talks on October 1- and Tehran has begun responding to US overtures. The worst Saudi nightmare is coming true.
King Abdullah, who had refused to visit Damascus, landed there two weeks ago on a three-day visit in a desperate attempt to bring Syria into the Arab fold and to “isolate” Iran. Riyadh is worried that Iran’s status as a regional power will get a massive boost if the normalization process with the US advances, and that can only be at the cost of Saudi Arabia’s pre-eminence in the region. Riyadh helplessly watches a beeline of other Persian Gulf states reaching out to Tehran for accommodation.
In other words, Riyadh has a vested interest, which is no less than Israel’s, to disrupt the US-Iran nuclear talks. Ironically, alongside the reports on the terrorist strike on Sunday, Iranian news agencies were quoting “sources privy to the Vienna talks” that the Obama administration was “considering official acknowledgement and endorsement of uranium enrichment in Iran”. These “informed sources close to the talks in Vienna” said the US had “in a series of secret meetings informed its European partners of Washington’s decision on acceptance of uranium enrichment in Iran”.
Riyadh humbled in Yemen
Saudi Arabia’s second concern is that as the civil war in Yemen has entered a crucial phase, Sana’a has sought Iranian mediation. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has announced plans to visit Yemen. The supreme leader’s foreign policy advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, has already been there.
Yemeni government forces and Houthi Shi’ites have been engaged in a war in the northern parts of the country after Yemeni government armed forces unleashed Operation Scorched Earth on August 11. Sana’a claims the Houthi fighters are trying to restore the Zaidid imamate (office of an imam) system, which was overthrown in a 1962 coup. But the Houthi Shi’ites who make up around 40% of the population say they are defending their minority rights.
Observers view this as a Saudi-Iranian proxy war. The large-scale Saudi assistance to the Sunni-dominated Sana’a government has not helped the latter to crush the Houthi fighters and Sana’a is now compelled to seek Tehran’s good offices. It is a huge setback to Saudi prestige and the entire region is watching.
Iran’s stature vastly enhances as it steps in as the peacemaker in the strategically vital country. A recent Iranian statement said:
The Islamic Republic of Iran has invariably stressed the importance of Yemen’s territorial integrity and independence, sovereignty and the independence, sovereignty and national unity of the country. Iran, alongside the Republic of Yemen, is exerting efforts within the context of peace, security and stability. We believe that increasing tension and debates that lead to bloodshed do not serve peace, stability or national unity in Yemen. We hope to see national unity, security and stability in the republic of Yemen, through measures and the wisdom of the leadership and government of Yemen.
Thus, Tehran makes a point in claiming that Jundallah has links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the two entities with which Saudi intelligence has historically had dalliance of one kind or anther – more so the Taliban. Significantly, the Jundallah leadership has been interviewed by al-Arabiya television. In a December interview, the Jundallah leader, Abd el Malik Regi, threatened attacks on Tehran if the Iranian government didn’t grant the country’s Sunnis “full rights”.
Pro-Saudi media organizations and the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center have consistently white-washed Jundallah as a purely “homegrown” Iranian group which does not enjoy any outside help whatsoever.
What merits attention is that the Jundallah’s core cause is the championing of the rights of Iran’s Sunni minority ever since the organization launched its violent campaign in 2005. Evidently, like any terrorist organization, Jundallah also has evolved through shifting alliances in its search for external patrons.
An ABC News report in April 2007 alleged secret US (and Pakistani) encouragement to Jundallah. But it also said, “US officials say the US relationship with Jundallah is arranged so that the US provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order [from Obama as of today].” The tribal sources told the ABC that money from foreign sources were being funneled to the Jundallah leadership through “Gulf states”.
Curiously, a raid mounted on a safe house by Pakistani security forces in January 2008, while searching for a kidnapped Iranian diplomat in Peshawar, stumbled on cadres of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni fundamentalist outfit that is notorious for its brutal attacks on the Shi’ite community in Pakistan. The Saudi patronage of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a well-known fact.
There is reason to believe, on careful analysis, Saudi-Iranian hostility has spilt over into Iran’s eastern Sistan-Balochistan province.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.