The Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States have been in loggerheads ever since the Islamic revolution in 1979 when the Shah of Iran was toppled within a few months of mounting social unrest. The Iranian regime's nuclear program has been a hotbed of controversies with the U.S. and Israel accusing Iran of harboring ambitions to master the technology needed to weaponize the program for the purpose of producing nuclear weapons.
The saga of the Iranian nuclear program seems to have taken a sharp turn towards actual military confrontation between the two countries involved with a new International Atomic Energy Agency report that states Iran has indeed been working on certain military aspects of the program including efforts to develop the detonation mechanism for a nuclear device.
Psychological warfare continues
Dark clouds of war and military confrontation have been hovering above Iran since at least 2003 when the country's nuclear program emerged as a potential danger particularly for Israel and a host of Arab countries in the vicinity of Iran. Recently, leaks to the media by sources in Israel including the former chief of Mossad, Israel's external intelligence agency, brought in word of the far-right prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Natanyahu, trying to win the approval of some key cabinet ministers for a strike on Iranian nuclear sites.
In hindsight and in retrospect, it appears that these leaks to the media and the heightened threats of military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites over the past several weeks have been more in the long tradition of Israeli and Western psychological warfare primarily intended to intimidate Iranian leadership and mobilize the world public opinion including the members of the board of IAEA to bring further pressure on Iran.
For over thirty years and from the American "gunboat diplomacy" of maintaining an extensive navy presence in the Persian Gulf and in close vicinity of Iranian territorial waters to periodic statements of American politicians threatening to "nuke" and "annihilate" Iran, the regime in Tehran and its feared Revolutionary Guards Corps have learned well what looks like a real threat and what is shallow bluffing.
This time, the Iranians, having discerned the Western and Israel's bluffing, stayed calm and even called the bluff while the rest of the world readily bought into what was clearly a part of a broader psychological warfare against the defiant regime in Iran.
The U.S., Israel and a host of other Western and Arab governments might indeed have a point or two in accusing Iran of harboring intentions of going nuclear. As far as the reality of politics inside Iran and the attitude of real centers of decision-making in Iran are concerned, safeguarding the "Nizam" (the Islamic revolutionary state) against internal and external threats takes precedence over virtually everything else.
It has indeed been a long-held notion of the regime's real decision-makers over the years that mastering the technology of producing nuclear weapons (even if not actually making a bomb) is an absolute necessity for the larger goal of safeguarding the "Nizam". The public position taken by the regime might be to the contrary but crossing the nuclear "threshold" and being able to make a bomb as and when needed is, without a shade of doubt, a sacred objective vigorously pursued by the regime.
Two inescapable realities
Here in Afghanistan, we are confronting two facts and inescapable realities: one is that the regime in Iran is indeed pursuing nuclear ambitions that, as discussed, go beyond energy generation and civilian purposes.
A day might well arrive that Afghanistan, its government and people, find themselves neighbor to yet another nuclear state; this should find its due place in Afghan government's and its security partners' strategic calculations in terms of its implications for the regional balance of power and Afghanistan's preparedness to respond adequately. However, by any estimate, Iran is still years away from mastering the full spectrum of technologies needed to be able to assemble a bomb.
The second inescapable fact is that many 'hawkish' elements in the U.S. military and outside among American politicians and other powerful interest groups such as the Big Oil are indeed serious about the idea of overthrowing the regime in Iran as they did in Iraq, here in Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere.
A regime change in Iran has for years been on the drawing boards of the U.S. military and NATO. At least since 2005, the U.S. and its NATO partners have been at advanced stages of preparations for a potential conflict with Iran.
For years, several contingency plans have been developed by the U.S./NATO and being actively rehearsed visualizing an array of conflict scenarios from limited "surgical" operations to take out nuclear sites to all-out ground invasion of the type seen in Iraq in 2003.
For now, the probability of a potential conflict with Iran seems subdued given America's engagement in Afghanistan and elsewhere, a full-blown economic crisis and a moderate Obama in the White House. However, there is absolutely no guarantee that this trend will continue. A war with Iran, if not during this administration, remains a very probable likelihood.
American plans to set up long term/permanent military presence inside Afghanistan have now moved into the final phase after endorsement by the government of Afghanistan and the traditional Loya Jirga. One aspect of the American military presence inside Afghanistan would be its implications for the American war plans in relation to Iran.
American military bases inside Afghanistan, among other things, complete a ring a militarization of Iran's immediate periphery by the U.S./NATO. The government of Afghanistan needs to be mindful of this and make good on its promise of never allowing Afghan soil to be used against its neighbors although it is difficult to see how a government that cannot even guarantee the security of its capital fulfill such a lofty promise.
For now the American and Western agenda in relation with Iran is to move ahead on the path of increasing the sanctions and tighten the economic noose on Iran. A damning bill in the U.S. Congress to place under sanction Iran's Central Bank could not get through the House of Representatives. But it still shows American resolve to tighten the screws on the regime in Iran.