Breaking the code of codes

Lets hope that the military operation in Iran will have a muscular codename. Pratik Kanjilal writes.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2012 02:34 IST
Pratik Kanjilal
Pratik Kanjilal
Hindustan Times
HT columns,Iran

The US-Israel-Iran tournament is on. The curtain-raisers are stunning — sanctions, oil and banking embargoes, assassins attacking nuclear scientists in Iran and Israelis in Delhi. They couldn’t possibly cancel after this build-up, so I’ve quit speculating about the possibility of yet another war in Asia. Now, I wonder what they’ll codename the invasion.

Operation Persian Monarchs is my top choice. In PG Wodehouse’s Blandings books, it’s a sharp game of cards played by Claude ‘Mustard’ Pott, detective and bookie, to part the innocent from their money. Operation Prince of Persia, recalling a popular sword-slinging MS-DOS game, is attractive but doesn’t qualify because it’s three words long. That’s one too many for modern American tastes.

Codenames for military operations used to be just one word long. They gained currency in World War 1 and by the next war, they were so popular that a general couldn’t take a leak without naming it Operation Orinoco or something. But mostly, they remained one word long — one stirring, descriptive word. Like Overlord, the codename for the Normandy landings. Or Barbarossa, the German invasion of the USSR, named for the Holy Roman Emperor who ventured east.

But the Americans know that two is better than one, like Desert Shield (the invasion of Iraq) and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). They also believe that the codename can be anything at all, so long as it isn’t negative. You can have ops called Indefatigable Eagle but not Emasculated Beagle, and Healing Touch but not Doctored Pre-scription. Greedy Rampage is totally out of the question. It would give the game away.

When I tire of speculating about op names, I wonder about place names. What is it about location that attracts the unhealthy interest of coalition forces? Ostensibly, the location of the world-destroying Islamic bomb. It’s currently Tehran, which is probably trying to develop a device. Who wouldn’t in a bomb-crazy world?

But excuse me, isn’t the Islamic bomb actually in Islamabad, a city named for Islam which has had the bomb since 1998? And, through the good offices of AQ Khan, it has sold the blueprints all over the grey market, from Pyongyang to Tripoli.

Pakistan’s nukes are eternally about to fall into the wrong hands. North Korea routinely menaces the US mainland with new missiles. Logically, they should be prize targets. But they are energy-poor, which makes them unattractive destinations for military tourism. Whereas Iran owns a valuable chunk of the world’s oil and gas reserves. It even tried to become the biggest player in Opec by conquering Iraq.

If an energy-rich nation aspires to own a bomb, it’s hard to keep coalition forces away. In 2003, conspiracy nuts had themselves an orgy when the White House accidentally referred to the Iraq war as Operation Iraqi Liberation — in short, OIL. That was fun, but in an energy-hungry world, oil is serious business.

Libya was the last oil-rich, bomb-crazy nation to attract international interest. But the name for the Libya operation was most unsatisfactory — Mermaid Dawn. As mushy as Ylang Ylang. I hope they’ve dreamed up something more muscular for Iran. If not, I strongly advocate my favourite: ‘Mustard’ Pott’s Persian Monarchs. It suggests just the right blend of high-minded power and low-down deceit.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Feb 24, 2012 23:39 IST