The Transatlantic Intelligencer describes an interview given by Susan Osthoff on German public television. (Hat tip: Pajamas Media). Apart from the atmospherics (Osthoff gave the TV appearance in a burka) the interview was devoid of additional detail. Osthoff said what she feared most was being mistaken for a "Jewish intelligence officer"; what she desired most was to see Iraq "like it was", that is to say, as it was under Saddam. Nothing much was said about whether Osthoff was ever a BND (German intelligence) officer as earlier reported by UPI. In a related development ABC said that "German spies in Baghdad helped U.S. warplanes strike at least one target during the 2003 Iraq war despite Berlin's statements it was not involved in the conflict". On that occasion, the information provided by German intelligence led to less than perfect results. "He cited a April 7, 2003 air raid on a Baghdad suburb where Saddam Hussein was thought to be staying that had been conducted after a BND officer confirmed limousines were parked outside a building. At least 12 civilians were killed in the attack."
That was then. The question is whether Western intelligence will do better now. A blog called In From the Cold, authored by a person who describes himself as a former professional intelligence analyst, lays out his assessment of whether or not Israel will strike Iran.
From Tuesday's edition of the Glasgow, Scotland, Herald. The paper's defense correspondent, Ian Bruce, has details on Israeli plans to launch a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Sources tell Mr. Bruce that the raid could be carried out by early March--before the Israeli elections.
This story has made the rounds repeatedly in recent months. But Mr. Bruce's account appears more credible than other stories on the subject, most notably a recent report in the Jerusalem Post. For one thing, the Herald story doesn't appear to be based on second and third-hand information. Additionally, Mr. Bruce's report contains a key detail that mirrors recent intelligence reporting on the subject. And no, I won't say what that detail is.
However, I still believe the chances of an Israeli strike (over the near term) are slight, unless Tel Aviv receives clear, unambiguous evidence that Iran has--or is about to acquire--working nuclear weapons. The consequences of an Israeli attack would be monumental--for Israel, the U.S. and the entire region. An Israeli strike on Tehran's nuclear sites could well be followed by an Iranian strike on Israel's population centers, using a SHAHAB-3 missile carrying biological or chemical weapons. Assuming that an Iranian warhead gets through Israel's missile defenses (and inflicts heavy casualties), the Israelis would likely respond in kind, or up the ante and go nuclear. The pressure on an Israeli Prime Minister to respond to an Iranian missile attack would be overwhelming, and quite likely, irresistible.
(Belmont Club readers are invited to speculate on what detail in the Herald account lends credence to the report). One other item, which indirectly bears on the subject of intelligence and Iran is this snippet from the Confederate Yankee.
The NY Times notes more friction in the Iraqi insurgency between local insurgents and those loyal to al Qaeda:The discussion dragged on for seven hours, he said, but did not go well. The local insurgents demanded that the foreigners from Al Qaeda leave Iraq.
"They said, 'Jihad needs its victims,' " Abu Lil said. " 'Iraqis should be willing to pay the price.' "
"We said, 'It's very expensive.' "
The meeting ended abruptly, and Abu Lil and his associates walked out, feeling powerless and angry.
"I wished I had a nuclear bomb to attack them," he said. "We told them, 'You are not Iraqis. Who gave you the power to do this?' "
The difference between the anecdote related by the Confederate Yankee and the information related by the Herald is the difference between post-war and pre-war Iraqi intelligence. What principally accounts for the difference is access. With large numbers of American personnel in Iraq and in contact with the enemy, even ordinary journalists are able to acquire information which allows them to reconstruct verbatim discussions, which prior to OIF would had to be provided by agencies like the CIA or the BND courtesy of agents like Susan Osthoff (if indeed she were an agent). Here's another anecdote, care of Blackfive, which again illustrates the level of resolution that results from own forces being in contact on the ground.
We had captured a weapons cache in Afghani, a BIG one and as we piled the weapons up the next door neighbor tribal leader showed up and “told” me he was taking those weapons from the feuding tribe we just confiscated them from. Being surrounded by 2 infantry Platoons he had these two girlie men (no kidding they were out of a very bad B movie) charge their AK’s as in an act to threaten us. I told my terp to translate to them “you just made a very bad mistake and you could have been killed “ as my Marines drew in on them as they charged their weapons. So after detaining him and his two girlfriends we sat them in a safe distance away from the pile of weapons on an adjacent hill but high enough for them to watch the fireworks show.
But unlike Iraq, where there is a wide footprint along which to gather information, US contact with Iran occurs along slender and relatively secret channels. We glean what is possible from reading tea-leaves. For example Ace of Spades reports on the deployment of the 122nd Fighter Wing to 'Southwest Asia'.
Where could they mean? Southwest Asia? That's sorta between Iraq and Afghanistan, I guess.Members of the Fort Wayne-based 122nd Fighter Wing are scheduled to leave for Southwest Asia about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday from the unit’s headquarters on Ferguson Road. It represents the wing’s largest single deployment since it was called to Chambley, France, in 1961 during the Berlin Crisis. This deployment is in support of ongoing operations in the U.S. Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF) area of responsibility, which includes Southwest Asia. The unit will deploy fighter pilots, as well as maintenance and support personnel.
Ace of Spades to its credit refuses to speculate on the destination of the 122nd's F-16s, though a fair number of readers might guess this deployment was related to Iran. But would anyone bet a potential nuclear war on intelligence at this level of resolution, given the experience in Iraq?
My own guess is that US -- and Israeli --policy towards Iran is constrained by the knowledge that the only lasting way to keep the Bomb from extremist Mullahs isn't an air strike, but regime change. If the objective is to keep Iran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, air strikes, however effective, can only delay the process of acquisition. But only regime change, either through an internal upheaval or an outright invasion, can put an end to the ambitions of the Mullahcracy in Teheran. In from the Cold rightly observes in his comments section that even air strikes aren't likely because diplomacy is not dead.
Unfortunately, diplomacy in this matter is not dead. I still expect the Russians will try to resurrect their deal, with support from the Europeans and the United States. Iran will use this period to "study" the offer, while continuing enrichment activities at Natanz, Esfahan and clandestine locations.
Will this matter get referred to the U.N. Security Council. Probably--but I don't see that happening until later this year, and then, there's the little matter of getting the UNSC to develop a consensus, let alone a course of action. Meanwhile, the Iranians keep chugging along with their nuclear program. And, if the UN does act, I don't expect much more than mild economic sanctions; afterall, the Russians and Chinese are making billions in deals with Tehran, and they don't support anything that will jeopardize those deals.
And diplomacy will continue, not because it has any prospect of success, but from want of an alternative. Iran knows better than anyone that Israeli lacks the ability and the US probably lacks the will to mount a regime change. In this context diplomacy acquires a different significance. It's playing for time, hoping that the regime in Teheran will slip up somehow and provide an opportunity for effective action. That slip-up, if it occurs, can only be induced by taking Iran to the brink. The objective of diplomacy is probably to stress Iran to the max, such as by staging wargames on its margin, threatening to refer the matter to the UN Security Council (which means to the United States, which alone provides the teeth to the Security Council), etc, not in the expectation that Teheran will crack, but in the hope that exploitable fractures will occur.
The unknown factor in all of this is the extent to which US assets in Iraq have been useful in penetrating Iran. It is well known that Iran has been sending agents into Iraq; it is also well known that intelligence operations are two-way streets. I have long believed that the US went into Iraq hoping to find the key to Iran. We'll find out when we try to turn the lock.