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Iran's weakened hard-liners crave a US attack

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From the rhetoric of President Bush to his dispatch of Patriot air-defense systems and a second carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf, there are growing signs that the Bush administration is showing its willingness to solve the Iranian nuclear crisis with a preemptive military attack. The already tense US-Iran relationship is now a tinderbox.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was correct in stating recently that Iran is "acting in a very negative way" in the Middle East. The Islamic Republic trains and supports Hizbullah and Hamas. It provides aid and explosives to Iraqi Shiite militias who attack American soldiers. Most alarming, it seems determined to develop a nuclear bomb. This panics moderate Arab states and poses an existential threat to Israel. The ruling mullahs in Tehran terrorize their own citizens, especially pro-democracy groups.

Bombing Iran, however, will not resolve any of these dangers – it would exacerbate them. But where military strikes would fail, containment and comprehensive negotiations would succeed.

Contrary to conventional accounts, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is neither the most powerful official in Iran nor is he loved by the Iranian people. The authoritarian regime is not united behind Mr. Ahmadinejad and his policies, but divided and uncertain about who will prevail. The real kingpin in Iran is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and his failing health has launched a succession struggle. On one side of this fight are Ahmadinejad, a cabal of leaders from the Revolutionary Guards, and the Basij (the militia-cum-gangs that terrorize the regime's opponents). On the other side is a loose coalition united by their disdain for Ahmadinejad's gross economic mismanagement and reckless hubris. This includes Iran's bulging generation of young people, along with businessmen, technocrats, reformists, allies of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, and even the conservative Motalefe Party.

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