BRINKSMANSHIP IN IRAN….In the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh reports that the Bush administration is stepping up covert action against Iran:

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

As Hersh acknowledges, operations to destabilize Iran are nothing new. However, this one is bigger and deeper than any of our previous programs, and the question it immediately raises is: are we doing this to prepare the ground for a military strike later in the year? Coincidentally, this week Laura Rozen asked five Middle East experts whether recent actions suggest that either an American or Israeli strike is in the offing, and for the most part they were skeptical:

I still think a strike is still less rather than more likely….Very, very unlikely….The recent war rhetoric coming out of Israel seems more geared towards ensuring that America keeps its military option on the table, than towards signalling that Israel itself is prepared to take military action….I think the likelihood that the US attacks Iran before Bush leaves office to be quite low….

On the other hand, as Danny Postel points out, “One thing we do know is that the intellectual runway is being slicked for an attack….The writing on the wall looks deadly serious to me. I’d rather fall for the hawks’ propaganda than awake one morning to find out that I’d underestimated the threat. But even if it is just posturing, it’s a very dangerous game with potentially cataclysmic consequences.”

Both pieces are worth reading to get a broad picture of what’s really going on. And if you have any questions for Laura’s panel of experts (Daniel Levy, Yossi Melman, Trita Parsi, Danny Postel, and Jacqueline Shire), they’ll be guest posting and taking questions all week over at the Mother Jones blog. Head on over if you want to join in the chat.

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