US warns Iran: beware Soviet intentions
The United States is calling attention to Soviet and Iraqi threats to Iran as a warning to the Khomeini regime to release the American hostages and improve relations with Washington.
Increased Soviet military readiness north of the Iran-USSR border and bellicose activity by Iran's Arab neighber, Iraq, have been publicized by US administration spokesmen, including US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Public mention of the threats to Iran's peace and stability, even though intended by the US as warning signals, do not make the threats any less genuine, say US intelligence analysts.
Mutual Iraqi and Iranian threats of "holy war" against each others" highly vulnerable Persian Gulf territories and oil installations could also threaten the free flow of oil from the Gulf which President Carter has pledged the United States to defend.
US intelligence evaluations so far do not regard the higher rate of training and new equipment recently given the 12 Soviet divisions stationed north of Iran and Turkey as portending an imminent invasion, Afghanistan-style.
AT least 30 days of a different and more visible kind of military buildup would be required for that.
Fronting on Iran and Turkey is the Soviet Trans-Caucasus military district. This also includes the USSR's southern air defense zone with headquarters at Baku. What has happened, US analysts say, is an upgrading of the 11 Soviet motorized rifle divisions normally stationed there.
Though these divisions are still far below wartime strength, more reservists have been brought in and rotated to augment them. Two of the rifle divisions are on the Iranian border. The remaining rifle divisions and the one elite Soviet airborne division based in the Trans-Caucasus, are split between the Turkish frontier and the interior of the Trans-Caucasus.
Intelligence analysts in at least two US government agencies described the troops as "not poised for an invasion," but possibly getting into a condition to "exploit developments in Azerbaijan or Kurdistan," Iran's two northwestern provinces. Successionists in both are challenging Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's rule.
Both provinces have been invaded by Turkish, czarist, and Soviet troops during the past century, most recently when Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin backed separatist regimes there in 1946.
In Afghanistan, other military experts take issue with US State Department estimates that the number of Soviet troops inside the country recently rose from 80,000 to 110,000. These experts believe the number inside the borders has risen slightly -- perhaps to 85,000 -- with another 30,000 positioned nearby.
Soviet energy needs are believed to play a growing role in events in the area. The improvement in training of Soviet forces in the Trans-Caucasus coincided with the breakdown of Iranian-Soviet talks on increased Iranian supplies of natural gas through the Iran-Soviet pipeline.
Several weeks after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it was announced in Kabul and Moscow that Afghanistan would step up the flow of its natural gas, which it has supplied to the Soviets for over 10 years.
In March, experts from the US Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department, and the Department of Energy reportedly told a closed panel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that declining Soviet energy production would mean that within the next five years the Soviets would seek large amounts of foreign oil from the first time.
With these developments in mind, the US has asked its NATO and other allies to assume a larger share in their own defense, partly to release any US forces and equipment from Europe and the Western Pacific which may be required in the Persian Gulf area.
Australia has responded to the US requests by increasing its Indian Ocean naval patrols and offering the US use of additional Australian port and airfield facilities. US defense officials say there has been a "more or less continuous" degree with Japan about a larger Japanese defense effort in guarding Japan's own oil supply lanes.