A prominent U.S. expert, Selig S. Harrison, wrote in La Monde Diplomatique yesterday that the Bush administration has already authorised ‘non-lethal’ action within Iran, and provides separatist groups with training, weaponry and funding via proxy groups. Harrison is director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy and senior scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
La Monde's version of the article was subscription-only, so instead I have a link to the Middle east Online republishing. In the article, Harrison writes:
The battle lines are familiar and clearly drawn in the unresolved policy struggle over Iran within the Bush administration. Vice-President Richard Cheney and his allies in the Pentagon and Congress, prodded by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), not only want the United States to bomb the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, but are also calling for air strikes on Iranian military installations near the Iraq border.Of course, such non-violent measures aren't the only ones. There are proxies willing to do the Cheneyites' work for them - in particular the fighters of the MeK terrorist group - an Islamomarxist band with a messianic leader who believes he is the 12th Imam:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants to test diplomacy first by broadening the US-Iran negotiations on stabilising Iraq that began in Baghdad in May. But, as the price for postponement of a decision on military action, she has agreed to a self-defeating compromise that has directly undermined the Baghdad negotiations: increased covert action to destabilise the Islamic Republic, formalised by a presidential “finding” in April.
...The presidential finding was necessary to permit accelerated non-lethal activities by US agencies. Besides expanded propaganda broadcasts, a media disinformation campaign and the use of US and European-based Iranian exiles to promote political dissent, the programme focuses on economic warfare, especially currency rate manipulation and the disruption of Iran’s international banking and trade.
According to US sources, since the invasion of Iraq US intelligence agencies have disarmed the fighters but have kept the MEK camps near the Iranian border intact, using MEK operatives for espionage and sabotage in Iran and to interrogate Iranians accused of aiding Shia militias in Iraq.The MeK are only the largest group which has received covert backing in an attempt to undermine thew Iranian regime using deniable military proxies.
Dismantling the MEK paramilitary forces would be an effective way to signal US readiness to accommodate Tehran, suggested Abbas Maleki, an adviser to the National Security Council, since it is the only militarised exile group seeking to overthrow the Islamic Republic and is the darling of the Washington lobby for regime change in Iran. Alireza Jaffarzadeh, chairman of the MEK’s front group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, appears regularly on the conservative TV channel Fox News as its Iran expert, rather like the pro-US Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi before the Iraq invasion, rallying Congressional and media support for military action against Iran.
The most readily available means of doing this was to get Pakistan and Israel to arm and finance already-existing insurgent groups in the Baluch and Kurdish areas through well-established US ties with Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.Then there's the funding for U.S. based regime-change outfits like that run by Ken Timmerman. Such groups are receiving around $20 million in taxpayers money to help them run radio stations and push themselves as a Chalabic exiled government-in-waiting.
The ISI channelled weapons and money to an already established Iranian Baluch dissident group, Jundullah (Soldiers of God), which inflicted heavy casualties in raids on Iranian Revolutionary Guard units in Zahedan and southeast Iran in 2006 and 2007. The US made no effort to hide its support for Jundullah. On 2 April 2007, Voice of America radio interviewed its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, introducing him as “the leader of the popular resistance movement of Iran.” Several of my Baluch contacts recently provided detailed proof of Rigi’s ISI ties.
Mossad has built up contacts in the Kurdish areas of Iran and Iraq since it used bases in Iran during the days of the Shah to destabilise the Kurdish areas of Iraq. Against this background, Seymour Hersh’s report that Mossad is giving equipment and training to the Iranian Kurdish group Pejak is credible. Jon Lee Anderson interviewed a senior Kurdish official in Iraq who said that Pejak is operating out of bases in Iraqi Kurdistan to conduct raids in Iran and has “received covert US support." In retaliation, Iran bombarded these bases for two weeks in late August, prompting Iraqi protests.
The most dangerous latent separatist threat facing Tehran is in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, which produces 80% of its crude oil revenue. The Arab Shia of Khuzestan share a common ethnic and religious identity with the Arab Shia across the Shatt-al-Arab waterway in Iraq. Ahwaz, the capital of Khuzestan, is only 150km east of Basra, where British forces in Iraq have been headquartered.
Not surprisingly, in the light of history, Tehran accuses Britain of using Basra as an intelligence base for stirring discontent in Khuzestan.
Backed by British forces and British oil interests, the Arab princes of Khuzestan seceded from Persia in 1897, and established a British-controlled protectorate, Arabistan, which Persia did not recapture until 1925. Although most of Iran’s oil wealth is produced in Khuzestan, separatist groups charge that Tehran denies the province a fair share of economic development funds. So far, the scattered separatist factions have not created a unified military force like the Jundullah and no evidence of foreign help has surfaced. But they periodically raid government security installations and bomb oil production facilities.
...Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns has revealed that “we are working with Arab and European organisations to support democratic groups within Iran,” since getting direct US funding into Iran “is a very difficult thing for us to do” given “the harsh Iranian government response against the Iranian individuals."
One Iranian participant in a US-sponsored workshop in Dubai last year told the Iranian-American journalist Negar Azimi that “it was like a James Bond camp for revolutionaries." Four Iranian participants were later arrested.
But is this all working well for the U.S.? No, says Harrison:
By aiding ethnic minority insurgencies, the United States has enabled Ahmadinejad to cast himself as the champion of the Persian majority. The minorities constitute at most 44% of the population. The largest, the Azeris (24%) have been mostly assimilated, and the rebellious Baluch, Kurds, and Khuzestani Arabs are bitterly divided between advocates of secession and of a restructured federal Iran. Ahmadinejad can also blame external economic pressures for economic problems that are mainly the result of his own mismanagement.According to Harrison, instead of supporting the country’s democratic opposition, US meddling has encouraged hardline leaders to reinforce their positions - and the best way forward for America's national interest is to negotiate with Iran, face to face and in good faith.
Negotiated compromises on stabilising Iraq and Afghanistan are possible, but only if destabilisation stops and not if President Bush takes the military steps implied in his 28 August threat “to confront Tehran’s murderous activities” in Iraq. Even if the pressure is relaxed, a definitive nuclear compromise is unlikely in the absence of changes in the US Persian Gulf security posture, though a suspension of the Natanz facility might be possible if Israel would agree to a parallel freeze of the Dimona reactor. “How can we negotiate denuclearisation while you send aircraft carriers to the Gulf that, for all we know, are equipped with tactical nuclear weapons?” asked Alireza Akbari, deputy defence minister in the moderate Khatami government. “How can you expect us to negotiate when you won’t talk about Dimona?”
The covert and overt pressures so far applied to Iran are just sufficient to infuriate Iranians of all political persuasions, strengthening the hardliners, but are not nearly enough to undermine the regime. The economic pressures are more effective than the covert insurgency aid. Out of 40 European and Asian banks doing business with Iran, though, only seven have cut ties with Iran in response to US sanctions. In any case, Iran is routing its international business though 400 Dubai-based financial institutions, mostly Arab. With trade between Iran and the United Arab Emirates, including Dubai, nearing $11bn this year, US Undersecretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey’s threat of reprisals against firms dealing with Iran, in a speech in Dubai on 7 March, were pointless. The administration is now pushing more sharply-targeted measures against enterprises linked to the Revolutionary Guards and the conglomerates run by clerical interests, but their impact has been limited.