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Petraeus’ Iran Obsession

Seven weeks ago, as exclusively reported in CounterPunch, President Bush signed what was formally designated as a “lethal finding” authorizing stepped-up covert actions on various fronts against Iran.  The campaign was to cover a wide area of operations, from Lebanon to Afghanistan, wherever the hated Ayatollahs challenged American power.  So far, according to former officials with knowledge of the finding, the results have been in line with most other U.S. initiatives in the region, i.e. the strengthening of Iran.

In Lebanon, the ambitious effort to get the Siniora government to hit at Hezbollah by ripping up the latter’s  fiber-optic communications system (immune to US/Israeli electronic interception) ended with the U.S. surrogates in headlong retreat in the face of Hezbollah’s efficiently swift occupation of Beirut, not only withdrawing their earlier demarche, but caving in to longstanding political demands by the Iran-allied group.

Washington may be drawing a little more encouragement from reports of activity inside Iran itself.  In the north, PJAK, the U.S.-assisted Iranian Kurdish group killed six Iranian Revolutionary Guards within the last few days, while the bombing of the Martyrs Hossenieh mosque in Shiraz on April 12 that killed twelve people is now being blamed by the Iranians on U.S. funded groups.

Whatever spice such bloodletting adds to President Bush’s morning intelligence briefing, these pinprick attacks are essentially insignificant, especially when compared to the recent arrest in Pakistan of  six leading lights of  Jundullah, the \ U.S.-sponsored Balochi Jihadist group in south-west Iran.  According to one former U.S. intelligence official recently returned from Pakistan, these include the group’s leader, Abdel-Malik Regi.   Despite urgent representations from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, the Pakistanis are fully intent on handing the prisoners over to the Iranians, who will promptly hang them.  Given Pakistan’s immediate and pressing need for supplies of Iranian natural gas, American pleas on behalf of the arrestees never stood much of a chance, a telling indicator of the general shift of power in the region.

Among by-products of this development may be a truncated term of office as Commander of CENTCOM for the master military politician, General David Petraeus.  Petraeus, according to well informed members of the army fraternity, had had his eye on the Nato command.  As supreme commander in Europe he could perform as statesman and proconsul without the embarrassment of presiding over several wars where the US is headed for defeat.  His reputation thus further enhanced, he could retire at a suitable moment and commence his campaign for the White House in 2012.  (He is certainly smart enough to know that whoever gets the job this time will enjoy four years of catastrophe on numerous fronts.)  However, the hurried termination of Admiral Fallon following his public denigration of Bush’s policy of confronting Iran meant that Petraeus had to stay in the middle east, even if he hands in his papers in time to get clear before the going gets really rough.

In the meantime, it would therefore make sense for Petraeus to lean against any expansion of hostilities with Iran.  However, those who have encountered him recently in private conversation report that he appears obsessed with the notion that Tehran is responsible for any and all U.S. setbacks in Iraq, and must be punished for it, soon.

ANDREW COCKBURN is a regular CounterPunch contributor. He lives in Washington DC. His most recent book is  Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall and Catastrophic Legacy.