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Checkmate: Iran Published by the Sunday Independent of London

And the situation is even more precarious than it appears.

Shortly after the Gulf War in 1991, Germany gave Israel two of its diesel-powered Dolphin-class submarines.  The Israelis agreed to purchase a third at a greatly reduced price.  In November of last year, Germany announced that it was selling two more subs to Israel at a price tag of $1.2 billion USD.  Defense analysts have suggested the Dolphin-class boats are a means for Israel to have a second strike capability from the sea if any of its land based defense systems were hit with nuclear weapons.  Unfortunately, the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war is geopolitically afoot and Israel and the American president might not be willing to wait until after the first shot is fired.

Initially, Israel was expected to arm its submarine fleet with its own short range, Popeye missiles carrying conventional warheads.  At least three mainstream publications in the US and Germany, however, have confirmed the subs have been outfitted with American made Harpoon missiles with nuclear tips.  The Dolphin-class boats have a capacity to each carry twenty four missiles.  Although Israel has not yet taken delivery of the two new subs from the Germans, the three presently in its fleet have the potential to launch seventy two Harpoons.  The respected commercial intelligence business Stratfor in Texas claims the Harpoons are designed to seek out ship-sized targets on the sea but could be retrofitted with a different guidance system.  According to independent military journalist, Gordon Thomas, that has already happened.  He has reported the Harpoons were equipped with “over the horizon” software from an American manufacturer to make them suitable for attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities.  Because the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf make the Israeli subs easily detectable, two of them are reported to be patrolling the deeper reaches of the Gulf of Oman, well within range of Iranian targets.

If, in fact, Israel has US nuclear weaponry pointed at Iran, the position of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, becomes more politically supportable by his people.  Iranian leadership sees Israel’s moral and political stance as untenable.  In spite of the fact that Israel has been developing nuclear material at the Dimona site in the Negev Desert since 1958, the country has never formally acknowledged it has a nuclear arsenal.  Defense analysts have estimated, however, Israel is the fifth largest nuclear power on the planet with much of its delivery systems technology funded by US taxpayers.  To complicate current diplomatic efforts, Israel, like Pakistan and India, has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty even as it insists in the international discourse that Iran be stopped from acquiring what Israel already has.

Israel, though, might be the political and military solution to the Iranian crisis for the Bush and Blair administrations.  Heightening tension, Israel’s defense minister said publicly earlier this week that the country has not faced a threat as grave as Iran since Hitler even as the Iranian leader has suggested Israel needs to be “wiped off the face of the earth.”  Before his health failed, Der Speigel reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had ordered his country’s Mossad intelligence service to go into Iran and identify nuclear facilities to be destroyed.  American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has also written that the US military already has special operations teams inside Iran picking targets and working to facilitate political unrest.  It is precisely this same type of tactic by the US and the UK, used more than a half century ago, which has led us to the contemporary nuclear precipice.

In 1953, Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, led the CIA’s overthrow of Iran’s democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.  Responding to a populace that had grown restive under imperialist British influence, Mossadegh had plans to nationalize the vast oil fields of his country.  At the prompting of British intelligence, the CIA executed strategic bombings and political harassments of religious leaders, which became the foundation of Mossadegh’s overthrow.  Shah Reza Pahlevi, whose strings were pulled from Downing Street and Washington, became a brutal dictator who gave the multi-national oil companies their desired access to Iranian reserves.  Over a quarter century later, the Iranian masses revolted, tossed out the Shah, and empowered the radical Ayatollah Khomeini, whose ascension triggered the subsequent takeover of the US embassy and the capture of dozens of American hostages charged with spying. 

More than simply history, though, has given Iran the ability to create its current checkmate with the West.  Including reserves, the Iranian army has 850,000 troops, which seem adequate to deal with strained American forces in Iraq, even if US reserves were to be deployed.  Regardless, America clearly cannot invade and occupy.  Iran’s response would likely be an invasion of the Southern regions of Iraq, which are populated, as is Iran, with Shiites who could be enlisted to further destabilize Iraq.  There are also reported to be thousands of nuclear facilities and uranium gas centrifuges in deep underground locations in Iran and it is militarily and strategically impossible for all of them to be eliminated.        
But the Israelis might be willing to try.

An attack on Iran by Israel would give Bush some political cover at home.  The president could argue, as he always has, Israel has a right to protect itself.  But what if the Israelis’ actions endanger America?  Israel cannot attack without the US being complicit.  The American built jets flown by the Israeli Air Force do not have the range to reach Iran and return without flying through Iraqi air space, which would require US permission.  And America’s Harpoon missiles would be delivering the warheads.  These would blow up Iranian nuclear facilities and also launch an army of Iranian terrorists into the Western world.

But George Bush is still without a respectable presidential legacy.  And he might be willing to risk everything to mark his place in history as the man who stopped Iran from getting nukes.  The greater fear, though, is that he becomes the first person to pull the nuclear trigger since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

And then his place in the history books will be assured.   

James C. Moore is the author of three books about the Bush administration.  His latest, “The Architect,” will be published in September by Random House of New York.