Iran: Halliburton out, Air Force in?

In a little-noted but potentially ominous move, Halliburton has announced that is pulling out of Iran, where it has long maintained oil industry maintenance services, exploiting loopholes in the sanctions. The company’s CEO Dave Lesar said "the business environment currently in Iran is not conducive to our overall strategy and objectives." (AFP, Jan. 29)

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told French lawmakers in Paris that Iran has reached a "point of no return" on its nuclear program. (AFP, Jan. 30) Mohammeed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was more cautious. In a barely-disguised dig at the White House, he told the World Economic Forum in Davos he is impatient with those who "believe" Iran has a nuclear weapons program: "We cannot work on the basis of belief, we have to work on the basis of fact." (Gulf Daily News, Jan. 30)

Most ominous still are further reports of actual US military missions already underway in Iran. Citing anonymous administration officials, UPI reports that the US Air Force is "playing a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse" with Iran, flying into Iranian airspace from neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan in order to spook Iranian military authorities into activating air defense radar systems, allowing US pilots to grid the system for future targeting. Cdr. Nick Balice of US Central Command denied the claims. UPI also cited claims by (anonymous) intelligence officials that the US is sending Iraq-based militias across the border into Iran for reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering under the command of Army Special Forces troops. Named were both Kurdish militias and Mujahedeen-e-Kalq (MEK), an Iranian armed opposition group which (ironically) is on the State Department terrorist list and was protected in Iraq by Saddam Hussein. (UPI, Jan. 26)