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The missile game: Russian chess, American checkers, Iranian roulette

Friday, February 6, 2009   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

UNITED NATIONS — When Iran fired a long-range Safir-2 missile placing a satellite in orbit, the plan was aimed both at prestige and at provocation. Prestige to highlight that while celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iran can put a satellite, called Hope, into orbit. And a provocation to prove that its 1,500 mile range Messenger of Hope rocket can equally someday carry a nuclear warhead which Teheran is busily developing. For now, This is just a test—and a very clear warning.

Given Iran’s looming nuclear capacity and its future ability to deliver warheads to Israel and as far as Europe, the Bush Administration drew up plans for a strategic missile interceptor program to thwart Teheran’s ambitions. The interceptor missiles would be based in Poland and the radar in the Czech Republic—both NATO members. While the U.S. Administration and State Department made it crystal clear this defensive shield was aimed at Iran’s proliferation and political intentions—to blast Israel and any other enemies off the map, the Russians saw the move as a direct military threat and encroachment to their geographic sphere and strategic interests.

Form Moscow’s viewpoint, the American bases and military capacity would be on Russia’s doorstep and based in former Soviet “comrade” countries. But while Washington has spent extraordinary time, effort and treasure to ensure the future deployment, the Kremlin has engaged in inverse efforts to block the operation.

The day after Barack Obama was elected as President of the USA, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev announced that he would be stationing cruise missiles in the Kallingrad enclave (former East Prussia) just alongside Poland and Lithuania. Moscow announced the deployment was to “neutralize, if necessary, the anti-missile system.” And may I say, remind Poland and the Baltics that the bear still sees itself as boss.

Now as a gesture of friendship to the new American Administration, Russia has seemingly dropped plans to deploy its cruise missiles which would directly threaten Western Europe. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the real power among the gilded onion domed spires of the Kremlin, hopes that in return the Obama team will sideline or scrap U.S. plans to place defensive interceptor rockets in Poland to ward off an Iranian missile threat. So the game begins—in geopolitics, Russians play chess and Americans checkers.

Recently Putin stated that, “In Obama’s inner circle they are saying there is no need to rush and it needs to be further analyzed.” And from Team Obama comes word that “We’ll support missile defense if it is proven to work.” There’s the key phrase, and the political escape clause for Washington. Why ruffle the Russians if the system may not even work? Given that there a large does of skepticism towards the very concept of missile defense in the Obama Administration, it appears that the deployment may just be allowed to be sidetracked or fall by the wayside as a political gesture to Moscow.

Thirty years ago when the Ayatollahs were celebrating the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, few observers would have imagined that beyond the regional destabilization coming from a radical regime, that Iran someday would be on the verge of delivering long-range rockets as far as Israel and Europe? Ironically at this very time in early 1979, the United States was attempting to build political support to place cruise missiles in Germany to offset the already deployed Soviet-SS-20 multiple warhead rockets that Moscow had looming over Western Europe.

During this period a huge European “peace movement, ” much of it directed by Moscow’s hidden hand, went into the streets in West European capitals to protest the plans of the Carter Administration. America’s political commitment and credibility was openly being questioned by the West Europeans and Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Schmidt made no secret of his distain for Jimmy Carter’s ineptitude. When Ronald Reagan became President the Pershing missiles were finally deployed despite the backdrop of ferocious leftist opposition.

Today the current American defensive missile deployment plan in Poland is not aimed at Russia. While one can totally understand the Kremlin’s fears about the proximity to its borders, the Russians know full well that the Atomic Ayatollahs have no particular love for them either, and thus should quietly allow the American plans.

Clearly Medvedev would like his recent chess move of dropping the Kallingrad missile plan as a deal for Barack Obama to shelve or scrap what will be described by Washington as a “scientifically unproven, but expensive” interceptor system in Poland. Quid pro quo. Sounds like a deal, some would say a great diplomatic opportunity, but for both the United States and even Russia, the move may allow Islamic Iran the last laugh.

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