What did Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani told Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran the other day? The Qatari Foreign Minister had traveled to Tehran to deliver a message from his Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifah Al Thani, to Ahmadinejad.
However, according to the official media in Tehran, the Qatari minister had come to relay three messages:
*** Qatar remains solidly behind the Islamic Republic in the next
round of its duel with the Security Council in March.
*** Qatar appreciates the leadership role that the Islamic Republic is seeking in the region and in the Muslim world at large.
*** The United States has already been "definitively defeated" in the Middle East and would be in no position to attack Iran and "impose its designs" on the region.
Whether or not the sheikh said those things, we may never know for sure.
What matters is that the radical Khomeinist faction in Tehran believes that the Qatari visitor said those things.
Hours after receiving the Qatari visitor, Ahmadinejad attacked those who say he is leading the country to war.
"What war?" he asked. " Some people say we are heading for war? Gentlemen, what war? The warmongers (i.e. the United States) are in retreat. They say we shall pay a heavy price for resistance. What price? What price have we paid?"
The president's official spokesman Hussein Elham was even more self-confident when he talked to reporters 24 hours later. He claimed that Iran's neighbours were solidly behind it while the president had also recruited new allies all over the world, notably in Latin America.
Ahmadinejad is persuaded that the current tension represents nothing but "psychological warfare" against the Islamic Republic.
The president is even more dismissive of the "war talk" in private. In a recent visit to Caracas, he told the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that the Americans were threatening "pre-emptive war" in the hope of forcing the Islamic Republic into "pre-emptive surrender."
"Why should we stop when we haven't hit any bump on the road?" Ahmadinejad quipped in his talk with Nicaragua's new President Daniel Ortega.
It is clear that the radical president has banked his political career, may be his life, on refusing to bow to outside pressure and, if necessary, even welcome a military confrontation with the United States.
He has his timetable, starting with plans to announce, perhaps as early as 11 February, that the Islamic Republic has manufactured enough centrifuges to produce a nuclear warhead but would not do so for the time being.
Ahmadinejad has also decided to test the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq by ordering Tehran's clients there to turn the heat on the US and allied forces. Last week's attacks in Karbala and Basra, Iraqi Shi'ite cities that had been quiet, were part of that scheme.
Another part of his plan provides for a coup by the Lebanese Hezballah with the help of a segment of the Maronite community led by Michel Aoun. According to Tehran sources, when and if Iran is attacked, Hezballah will form a Committee of Public Safety headed by Aoun , and seize control of Beirut.
Ahmadinejad also believes that American public opinion would not allow President George W Bush to take military action against the Khomeinist regime. Tehran's official media make a point of publicising the views of Bush's opponents to the maximum.
A recent interview conducted with the anti-Bush businessman George Soros, for example, was given maximum exposure by the official Islamic Republic News Agency. In it, Soros claimed that Bush was so unpopular that he dared not travel to most of the states. Another star of the Tehran media is Congressman Denis Kucinich, an anti-Bush Democrat who, for reasons unknown, is presented as "a Republican leader". Another anti-Bush militant, the linguist Noam Chomsky, is presented as "the West's greatest philosopher", and copiously quoted in support of the Islamic Republic's resistance to "Imperialism."
The official media has also made much of a nonbinding Congressional resolution presented by a number of Republicans. The resolution demands that President Bush consult the Congress before taking military action against the Khomeinist regime. What Tehran has not noticed is that the resolution makes an exception: the president could take military action if the Islamic Republic attacks American or allied forces.
Well, the Islamic Republic is, in a sense, already attacking American and allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Apart from American public opinion, Ahmadinejad counts on the fears of Iran's neighbours as a factor that would prevent conflict.
According to IRNA, Ahmadinejad told the Qatari minister that Iran's neighbours should "recognise their best interests" and side with the Islamic Republic.
In a questionable interpretation of the charter of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OCI), Ahmadinejad claimed that any attack on a Muslim nation should be regarded as an attack on all Muslim nations.
Ahmadinejad hopes that Qatar and Oman will split the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) while Syria, Libya and the Sudan will prevent the emergence of a pan-Arab position against the Khomeinist threat.
Ahmadinejad also counts on France and Russia to split the Security Council and isolate the United States. President Jacques Chirac's decision to open a direct channel to Ahmadinejad by sending a special emissary is seen as a sign that France would oppose US plans for further sanctions against Iran. The Islamic Republic is also redoubling its efforts to persuade Russia's President Vladimir Putin to invite Ahmadinejad to Moscow before the next session of the Security Council in March.
Nevertheless, the president has issued a list of threats through Hussein Shariatmadari, Editor of the daily Kayhan, and a key spokesman for the radical Khomeinist faction.
"The Americans must be made to understand the horrible consequences of any foolish act on their part," Shariatmadari wrote in an editorial last week.
He then listed a series of warnings:
*** The Islamic Republic would attack American and allied troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
*** The Islamic Republic will stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, depriving the global market of 24 million barrels each day
*** A storm of missiles will be unleashed against Israel, turning that country into "an earthly hell before they go to the real hell."
*** Arab countries allied to the US will see their very existence endangered.
*** The peoples of Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and "parts of Arabia" will be invited to state uprisings against their governments to take revenge from their rulers.
What does all this remind you of? The obvious answer is " Saddam Hussein and his delusions in 2003. The late Ba'athist leader was also confident that Arab divisions, Western rivalries, and the peculiarities of the democratic system in the United States would , in the end, shield his regime against any attack.
Remakes of old movies, like " The Return of Tarzan", are seldom successful. The same is true of a return of Saddam Hussein, this time with a beard and a blouson.
Accusing the radical faction of insouciance, the conservative faction within the regime believes that the threat of war should be taken seriously.
Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the standard-bearer of the conservatives, has told several meetings that unless the current trajectory is corrected, the regime was heading for war with the United States. Rafsanjani's warning has been echoed by his protégés among the political mullahs, including former President Muhammad Khatami and former Speaker of the Islamic Majlis Mahdi Karrubi.
The question is : will they be heard before it is too late?