Senior Tehran officials are recommending a preemptive strike against Israel to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear reactors, a senior Islamic Republic official told foreign diplomats two weeks ago in London.
The official, Dr. Seyed G. Safavi, said recent threats by Israeli authorities strengthened this position, but that as of yet, a preemptive strike has not been integrated into Iranian policy.
Safavi is head of the Research Institute of Strategic Studies in Tehran, and an adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The institute is directly affiliated with Khamenei's office and with the Revolutionary Guards, and advises both on foreign policy issues.
Safavi is also the brother of Yahya Rahim Safavi, who was the head of the Revolutionary Guards until a year ago and now is an adviser to Khamenei, and holds significant influence on security matters in the Iranian government.
An Israeli political official said senior Jerusalem officials were shown Safavi's remarks, which are considered highly sensitive. The source said the briefing in London dealt with a number of issues, primarily a potential Israeli attack on an Iranian reactor.
Safavi said a small, experienced group of officials is lobbying for a preemptive strike against Israel. "The recent Israeli declarations and harsh rhetoric on a strike against Iran put ammunition in these individuals' hands," he said.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said in June that Israel would be forced to strike the Iranian nuclear reactor if Tehran continues to pursue its uranium enrichment program.
Safavi said Tehran recently drafted a new policy for responding to an Israeli or American attack on its nuclear facilities. While the previous policy called for attacks against Israel and American interests in the Middle East and beyond, the new policy is to target Israel alone.
He added that many Revolutionary Guard leaders want to respond to a U.S. attack on Iranian soil by striking Israel, as they believe Israel would be partner to any U.S. action.
Safavi said that Iran's nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes only, and that Khamenei recently released a fatwa against the use of weapons of mass destruction, though the contents of that religious ruling have not yet been publicized.
Regarding dialogue with the United States and the West, Safavi said Iran's decision would be influenced by the results of the U.S. presidential elections next month, as well as by the Iranian presidential elections in June and the economic situation in the Islamic Republic.
Safavi also said that a victory by U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama would pave the way for dialogue with Washington, while a John McCain presidency would bolster Iran's extreme right, which opposes dialogue. If conditions are favorable following the U.S. election, he said, Iran could draw back from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declaration that "the nuclear case is closed," and put it back on the agenda.
Safavi said he believed that U.S. sanctions on Iran have run their course, and that there would be no point in strengthening them. Tehran would therefore demand "firm and significant" U.S. measures in return for stopping uranium enrichment. He also said Ahmadinejad is not guaranteed victory in the June 2009 elections, particularly given the dire economic situation in Iran. Still, Iranian experts believe his only real competition is former president Mohammad Khatami, who has not yet joined the race.
Safavi said the inflation rate in Iran is similar to that before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but that unrest among civilians today is not as strong. This is because the current government uses oil revenues to help the poor, he said.