Did Mahmoud Blink?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just cancelled his planned appearance before the UN Security Council meeting, which  is expected to vote for sanctions against Iran.

We predicted a week ago that his appearance in New York in front of the "infidel enemies"  might trigger a psychological crisis for someone as zealous and perhaps paranoid as Ahmadinejad. The prospect of losing face before the world, with no good way out, might confront him with an untenable dilemma. It might trigger an outburst, a spontaneous lecture to the Satanic forces of the world --- i.e., everybody except the Mullahs --- or some other unplanned action.

What to make of his cancellation? If it holds --- and everything is fluid right now --- a good guess is that some of the adults are taking over in Tehran. Ahmadi-nejad is technically subordinate to the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has personally spoken out in recent days. The pragmatists have criticized Ahmadi-nejad openly in their factional newspapers for being unnecessarily confrontational, and failing to improve the economy. They probably are jealous of Ahmadi-nejad's parading his ego in front of the world. And if the Security Council goes ahead with sanctions, some of the wealthy Mullahs may start feeling the pain.

Chances are that the decision to stop Mahmoud's trip to New York was made by  the Supreme Guide, with the support of the pragmatists.

At the same time the Russians are beginning to pull their technicians out of the Bushehr nuclear plant in a dispute with the Mullocracy that is said to be about money, but is more likely to be about nukes. The Russians can't be thrilled with an out-of-control jihadist nuclear power on their Southern border.

When the Israeli Air Force bombed Saddam's nuclear reactor in 1981, the French had withdrawn all of their technicians.  The Israelis worked with French intelligence to avoid casualties, and destroyed Saddam's nuclear program in essentially one strike. That is not going to happen with Iran's dispersed nuke effort, with more than 1000 sites. But if the Russians withdraw their people, the Iranians know perfectly well that the Bushehr plant can be hit with immediate multiple attacks from US and Israeli forces.

Since the Saudis and other Sunni Arabs are now clearly aligned against Iran, the quality of intelligence about the regime has probably improved in recent months. And finally, no less than five senior officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards have just defected to the West, a major blow to the prestige and security of the Mullah regime. Since such sources are more valuable in place than after defection, it is quite possible that they defected because they saw that the balloon was going up.

So if anybody blinked, it was probably not Ahmadi-nejad himself, who is a martyrdom fanatic, but his boss Khamenei and the pragmatists. The regime may also fear a military attack in the near future. The apparent penetration of the IRGC officer corps will take months to resolve, and Ahmadi-nejad may need to stay in Tehran to keep his own backers from collapsing.

For the civilized world this is not a time to weaken. Paranoids in charge of nukes cannot be acceptable to any sane nation within missile range.  The West and the Sunni Arabs cannot afford to settle for a nuclear Iran under the control of a kami-kaze cult.  Since the Arabs know the Iranians well, they are less likely to deceive themselves about their zealotry than Europe and even the American political class. Israel can hardly be in doubt about the danger. As for Russia, Putin is a KGB type who will err on the side of being tough-minded when push comes to shove.

We are in a period of great danger, but the correlation of forces may be starting to shift against the Mullah threat.

James Lewis blogs at http://www.dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/
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