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The Iranian Navy won fulsome praise last month for its "generosity and professionalism" from a surprising source: U.S. Navy Captain Christopher Noble. Noble is responsible for protecting Iraqi oil terminals from Iranian harassment in the northern Persian Gulf. He and his commanders were pleased with the professional behavior ("which does not reflect the extremist regime") of Iran's navy in the center of the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz in the south, compared to the sailors of the Revolutionary Guards who do their plotting in the north. Translation: The Americans have no quarrel with the Iranian army, but only with the regime and the Revolutionary Guards. And when the conflict comes, Washington will spare the army and give it a role in the new regime.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Saturday in Singapore that Iran is "the leading terrorist state" and that it helps the Hamas and Hezbollah. There is a proliferation of reminders in military journals about Iranian-backed terror: the attack on the marines barracks in Beirut in 1983 and on the U.S. Air Force in Saudi Arabia in 1996. Someone in Washington is preparing the ideological groundwork for an action against Iran on the terror clause, in addition to the nuclear one. It is also a hint of a possible division of labor when the time comes: the Americans against Iran, the IDF against Hamas and Hezbollah.

There are three stages on the American ladder. The first is an internal change of policy. The second is an internal "regime change" with external help. As hopes emanating from the first two stages fade, an external effort will be required to change the nuclear capability.

Two weeks ago, U.S. President George W. Bush met with Rumsfeld, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. Peter Pace, and Gen. John Abizaid of Central Command. Given the absence of the commander of forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, who is subordinate to Abizaid but often reports directly to Bush and Rumsfeld, one can conclude that the discussion focused on Abizaid's third front (the second is Afghanistan).

Three years ago, Abizaid warned that a nuclear Iran would threaten not only friendly countries in the region (e.g. Israel, Saudi Arabia), but also American forces stationed there, including the 130,000 in Iraq alone. To cause damage to the American compound in Baghdad, the "Green Zone," the Iranians don't have to wait to complete the development of their Shihab series of ballistic missiles that can reach Israel; all they need is a Scud, which they rained on the Iraqi capital during the war in the second half of the 1980s. Lately, Iranian experts returned to the old missile launching grounds to prepare to renew the fire.

The Americans are also preparing their missiles - Trident ballistic missiles fired from submarines. These missiles have had nuclear payloads until now. Now the strategic command is trying to adapt cement or metal payloads to them, without explosives, like the "rock rockets" Iraq fired at Dimona in 1991. During reentry into the atmosphere, when the missile is traveling at about six kilometers a second, the heat that develops at the missile's tip is sufficient to destroy its target (the nuclear facilities or the Iranian leadership), without damaging to the surroundings.

What is hidden in the mountain tunnels and underground may not be destroyed, but will be buried and impossible to retrieve. Every launch would involve two missiles, enough to reach the target, but not enough to make the Russians panic due to fears that they are under a nuclear attack. The quick trip from the submarine to Tehran or Isfahan will enable quick "closings of the circuit" from certain identification, through a Bush decision, to the strike. Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, unlike Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, won't have time to get away. The American readiness to talk with Iran if it suspends its uranium enrichment process is not new flexibility in Washington's basically skeptical positions.

Without an Iranian concession, even if Condoleezza Rice and Manucher Mutaki do speak, the results are going to be similar to those of the James Baker dialogue of the deaf with Tarik Aziz a week before Bush Sr.'s attack on Iraq in January 1991.