Iran is winning the shadow war to acquire nuclear weapons, in part because the U.S. and its allies ignore the true center of gravity.
"Center of gravity" is a military term for the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act. Iran???s center of gravity is its supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei and his Islamist ideology.
Rather than target the regime for replacement, the Obama administration made Iran???s nuclear program the center of gravity. That decision plays into the chief mullah???s hands and makes a shooting war more likely.
Khamenei confirmed as much at a recent meeting with Islamic leaders. ???They [the Americans] clearly say that Iranian officials should be compelled to reconsider their calculations through the intensification of the pressure and the sanctions,??? he told the Tehran Times, adding that he is ???more confident about the correctness of the path we have followed and the path that the revolution has put before us.???
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands Khamenei???s revolutionary path. Netanyahu had said Iran is governed by a ???fanatical regime??? that sees itself on a sacred mission of global Islamic domination requiring nuclear weapons, and destroying Israel is just one step on that path.
Consider how Obama???s five-front shadow war focused on the Iranian people and its nuclear program plays into the ayatollah???s hands.
First, America is leading a psychological war to influence Iranian public opinion, hoping to force the regime to abandon its nuclear program. It isn???t working.
On several occasions in the last two years, the U.S. and Israel have dialed up Iranian anxiety by suggesting a military strike was imminent.
Last week, for example, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the U.S. and Israel are now on the same page about the Iranian nuclear program. Earlier that day, reports surfaced that a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate indicates Iran has made significant progress toward creating nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu dismissed the idea that a nuclear-armed Iran could be contained. And a week ago U.S. secretary of defense Leon Panetta restated America???s intention to attack if Iran develops a nuclear weapon.
Each time these threats surface, Iran denies its nuclear intentions, pointing to its right to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
During the eight year Iran-Iraq war, America imposed withering economic sanctions on Iran, yet the nation survived, and by inference it will weather this storm as well.
The second front in this shadow war is a covert objective to assassinate Iranian nuclear officials, according to press reports. In January, an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated with a ???terrorist bomb blast??? in northern Tehran when an unidentified motorcyclist attached a magnetic explosive device to the scientist???s car.
The Iranian regime demonizes the West and Israel for waging a covert war on Iranian soil. Last week Iranian state television broadcast purported confessions by suspects connected with the killings of the Iranian nuclear officials. The broadcast showed those suspects re-enacting the assassinations, along with alleged pictures of the suspects at a training camp outside Tel Aviv.
Third, according to New York Times reports, Obama ordered attacks using the Stuxnet cyberweapon on Iran???s computer systems at Natanz, Iran???s largest uranium enrichment facility.
Iran was also targeted by a cyberweapon called Flame that swept up information from computers of high-ranking Iranian officials. And recently a new virus, Gauss, stole financial information from customers of Lebanese banks, which Iran and its terror proxy Hezbollah use.
Iran responded to these attacks by announcing the creation of a military cyberunit to defend its networks. Iranian Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran???s Passive Defense Organization, said Iran was prepared to fight its enemies in cyberspace and Internet warfare. Once again, Iranian officials present themselves as defending their sovereign rights from foreign aggressors.
Fourth, the U.S. and United Nations have launched an economic war that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called ???the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.???
The impact of those sanctions is discernable. Iran is exporting far less oil than it was a year ago, and its currency has plunged more than 40 percent against the dollar since 2011. Banking sanctions are making it difficult to import goods and control inflation.
Tehran responded to the latest sanctions by threatening to disrupt traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, and tested missiles capable of targeting the entire region.
Iran???s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, defended his nation???s defensive response and dismissed the impact of sanctions. ???We have been subject to sanctions for 33 years and these sanctions are ??? not a problem,??? he said.
Understandably some Iranians disagree. Abdollah Nuri, a former interior minister of Iran, called on Khamenei to hold a referendum on the fate of the country???s nuclear program, warning that the ???ill-effects, disadvantages, and pressure??? from sanctions have passed the acceptable limit. But it is unlikely such dissent will spark widespread unrest.
Finally, the diplomatic war has failed to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Dennis Ross, Obama???s former adviser on Iran, concluded that the latest negotiations with Iran had become a trap, allowing Iran to continue enriching nuclear fuel without slowing its program.
This did not surprise Netanyahu. ???Neither sanctions nor diplomacy has yet had any impact on Iran???s nuclear weapons program. This is a regime that has broken every rule in the book,??? he said.
Iran now has enough enriched uranium for at least six bombs. Its well-defended underground Fordow enrichment facility accelerated production of 20 percent uranium, and recently the regime announced its intention to enrich uranium to 60 percent for a future nuclear-powered ship.That is dangerously close to bomb grade material.
Iran is winning the five-front shadow war with the West, and as a result is much closer to being a nuclear-armed state.
The only way to prevent this is to replace the center of gravity. Short of invasion or assassination, the only alternative to removing the regime is to encourage an uprising similar to what took place in Egypt, which may include arming Iranian rebels.