So here’s a proposal in this period of deepening crisis: The United States and Iran should explore the possibility of direct contact through the sort of back channel that nations use to communicate urgent messages — namely, their intelligence services. Through this contact, each side could communicate its “red lines” in the crisis — for the United States, the insistence that Iran’s nuclear program remain peaceful; for Iran, presumably, an end to sanctions and a recognition that Iran is a significant regional power.
My nominees for this back-channel contact would be two people who have been circling each other warily for the past half-dozen years: Gen. David Petraeus, director of the CIA, and Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. These two are said to have communicated indirectly in the past about red lines in the Iraq conflict, when Petraeus was commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Suleimani was de facto chief of Iranian activities in the country.Frankly, that such a back-channel contact might not be up and running scares the hell out of me. Meanwhile, the rhetoric, and the facts on the ground, are being ratcheted up: terrorist assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist; Iranian demands for retribution and threats to engage in reprisals; the US moving more forces into the Gulf, as a McClatchy report describes:
U.S. officials are divided over how much to publicize the deployments. Regional allies tend to dislike public discussion about their cooperation with Washington. But the Pentagon wants Iran's rulers to understand that the U.S. still has adequate forces available in case of a crisis.
They include the Army's 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade, which shifted to Kuwait from Iraq when the last U.S. forces left last month. The brigade, which has more than 4,500 soldiers and is equipped with tanks and artillery, has been designated a "mobile response force" for the region, according to Col. Scott L. Efflandt, the brigade commander.
A National Guard brigade from Minnesota has been in Kuwait since August, and a combat aviation brigade arrived in December. Another major unit is heading to Kuwait shortly, though officials would not provide details.
Another approach occurred to me this morning: a humanitarian mission of American and Israeli concerned citizens willing to go to Iran and set themselves up as "human shields" near Iran's nuclear installations. This would require, of course, the permission and assistance of the Iranian government. And once they were there, things could go wrong in various ways (like the Iranians turning them into hostages, or the Mossad picking them off).
But, as they say, desperate times sometimes require desperate measures.