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Analysis: Is U.S. planning to hit Iran?

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Amid all the uncertainties plaguing the Middle East there are at least three sure things.

First, Iran will continue to build its nuclear weapons despite cries of protests from the Europeans and the United States. Second, the Bush administration will not allow the Islamic republic to pursue its nuclear dream. President George W. Bush has repeatedly stated that he is leaving "all options on the table, including the military option." And third, Iran will continue to build its nuclear weapon system, despite it being bombed by the United States.

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In other words, President Bush is very likely to take action against the Islamic republic in order to stop the ayatollahs from reaching the point where they can start deploying their nuclear missiles. But bombing Iran's nuclear facilities offers only a short-term deterrence, not a long-term solution.

The story behind the story about the escalating rhetoric among Jerusalem, Tehran, and Washington is what Professor Raymond Tanter calls "a race of three clocks."

Tanter, who served on President Reagan's National Security Council as a senior staff member, currently is adjunct scholar at The Washington Institute for Near east Policy and co-chair of the Iran Policy Committee, a lobby group trying to convince the Bush administration that change in Iran needs to come from within -- through the resistance.

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Tanter says "One timepiece is European-led negotiation to persuade Iran to give up its desire to acquire a complete nuclear fuel cycle from which it can build the bomb." That track has so far not yielded any results. In fact, many analysts believe Tehran in using the European track and the negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, as a delay tactic to buy the ayatollahs more time.

"The second clock," says Tanter, "is Iran's effort to develop the bomb."

This is the only clock that truly counts with Iran firmly in control of the dials, making them move as it wishes, but a clock in which the hands are inexorably moving forward, come what may.

"The third clock is regime change in Tehran," Tanter says. He explains: "Diplomacy is slowing down, Iran's bomb making is accelerating, and regime change is stymied so long as Iranian exiles and dissidents are considered terrorists rather than freedom fighters."

By astutely conducting their policy in spurts of stop and go, trying to make the EU and the IAEA believe they are sincere, the regime in Tehran is purposely dragging its heels, playing for time while it continues to build its bomb and the delivery mechanisms that go with it. While the U.S. government supports international diplomacy, hoping it will prevail over the use of force, President Bush is not ruling our military strikes.

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Military strikes, says Tanter, can only delay bomb making for a short time, if at all. It offers the short-term solution. The Americans can blow up one or two facilities, but the Iranians will build another. Then another.

There is only one thing that can stop the bomb-making altogether, says Tanter. That is "regime change from within. Not military strikes from outside Iran. In order to achieve that you need to empower and support regime change by supporting Iranian exiles and dissidents operating inside the country."

Despite the recent story in the German magazine Spiegel's on-line edition that "the growing likelihood of the military option is back in the headlines in Germany thanks to a slew of stories that have run in the national media here over the holidays," Tanter remains skeptic when it comes to the military option.

Furthermore, he debunks hyped-up reports in the Turkish press that too much was read into CIA Director Porter Goss' Dec. 12 visit to Ankara, where he is reported to have asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide support for a possible 2006 air strike against Iranian nuclear and military facilities. More specifically, Goss is said to have asked Turkey to provide unlimited exchange of intelligence that could help the Americans with their mission.

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While in Turkey, CIA chief Goss reportedly handed Turkish security officials three dossiers "that purportedly contained evidence that Tehran is cooperating with Islamic terror network al-Qaida."

In return for Turkey's support, possibly by allowing overflight rights to American bombers across its territory, and cooperating on the intelligence front, the Bush administration would give Ankara the "green light" to strike against the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK facilities inside Iran.

Several sources believe that hard line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent anti-Israeli antics -- claiming that the Holocaust never happened, that "Israel should be wiped off the face map," and that Israel should be relocated in Europe, near Germany or Austria -- only serves to drive home the point that a nuclear weapon in the hands of such a leader would be dangerous, not only to Israel, but to the security of the entire region.

But, on the other hand, the American president should not ignore another certainty in the Middle East. That a strike on Iran will produce a great number of uncertainties, particularly regarding Iran's response and the fact that the 138,000 U.S. military personnel stationed so close to the Islamic republic could become prime targets for Iran and its allies in Iraq.

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Happy New Year.

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(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)

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