Editor’s note: This examination of the Iranian threat and what the world’s options are first appeared as the cover story for the November 2009 issue of Townhall Magazine. To subscribe to Townhall Magazine and receive a free gift, click here.
In the spring of 1945, when a liberated survivor of a World War II Nazi death camp was asked what he had learned from his ordeal, he replied, “When someone says he wants to kill you, believe him.” During the holocaust, in what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the “tragedy of powerlessness,” millions of European Jews walked, obedient and docile, all the way into the gas chambers. This fact painfully permeates the modern Israeli psyche to the extent that it gives rise to a kind of national mantra—never again. Today, it is incomprehensible for those outside Israel to understand how Israelis must be feeling, knowing that there is a new Nazi-like state poised to attempt Israeli annihilation.
APPEASEMENT AND THE FALL OF CIVILIZATIONS
In 346 B.C., prior to the conquest of the Greek mainland by the armies of Macedon, Greek ambassadors agreed to a treaty called the Peace of Philocrates. After years of negotiations, the terms of the treaty allowed Macedon to absorb still more land—two very small city-states, Phocis and Alos. It proscribed that the Greeks stand by while their fellow Greeks of two small states were absorbed in the fashion of the ancient world, where many members of the leadership were executed and many of the women and children sold into slavery. Gone were the final two buffer states standing between central Greece and the invading armies from the north. With these two remaining obstacles out of the way, Macedon could prepare for the all-out invasion.
In the same way that Hitler coerced France and England to give up their alliances with Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1938, Athens and Thebes threw Phocis and Alos to the dogs. With their defeat by Macedon at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 B.C., the ancient Greeks became a subject people, their freedom not regained until the conclusion of their war of independence against the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1820, more than two millennia later.
Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama sent an unpublicized letter to the Iranian government. The letter was exposed when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly wrote back, “We say to you that you are in a position of weakness. Your hands are empty. You can no longer promote your interests from a position of strength.” Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the U.N., commented, “What the administration saw as a magnanimous gesture was seen as total weakness by the regime in Tehran.”
For thousands of years, the attempt at appeasement is a recurring factor in the fall of civilizations. When appeasement is attempted by a state that is confronted by an outside aggressor, the attempt is not only fruitless but it is a signal to the aggressor that the time to strike is now.
Our president’s recent cancelation of missile defense treaties with two close allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, must look to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Ahmadinejad like a kind of doubling down on naked appeasement and perhaps an entry into our own Peace of Philocrates.
The Mullahs running the regime in Tehran are apocalyptic Shiites. They are fervent believers in the cult of the Twelfth Imam who disappeared down a well in the Iranian city of Qom in 874. They believe that, although invisible, he is not absent from this world; that the Hidden Imam will return; that all infidels will be vanquished, including the Sunni Muslims; and that Shiite Islam will impose its dominion over the earth in the aftermath of a great apocalypse.
Ahmadinejad’s chief spiritual advisor, the Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, is considered to be Shiite Islam’s premier authority on the Twelfth Imam and has proclaimed that Ahmadinejad is the “chosen” of the Hidden Imam, the person “designated for his return.” Ahmadinejad, himself, has said he is in communication with the Twelfth Imam.
Pre-eminent Middle Eastern Scholar Bernard Lewis has stated that the concept of “mutually assured destruction” may not be a deterrent but rather an incentive for the Iranian regime. Given that the heads of this regime believe they can accelerate the coming of their messianic figure through a great conflagration, they may choose war over peace. According to its rhetoric, we are attempting to negotiate with a regime that claims to seek Armageddon.
ROGUES IN THE CIA
In December 2007, the U.S. intelligence establishment, led by the CIA, published a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stating that the Iranian government had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. This sent shock waves through the intel agencies and around the world.
As Aaron Klein, writer for the Jerusalem bureau of WorldNetDaily, wrote, “[The ’07 NIE] could only be viewed by Tehran as an American white flag.” Moreover, the report stated they had “moderate” confidence that Iran had not restarted its nuclear program as of mid-2007.
In truth, for a brief period in 2003, the Iranian regime saw Saddam Hussein removed from power by the U.S. and did briefly suspend its nuclear weapons program. But when the Mullahs saw the U.S. and international Left begin to batter the Bush administration, they felt secure in rapidly restarting their weapons program.
Given what we now know about the Iranian nuclear program, the partisan CIA operatives of the Left who authored the ’07 NIE were successful at preempting a possible Bush administration attack on the Iranian sites. Senior members of a rogue element inside the CIA knew that Bush, after six years of constant attacks by the American and international Left, would feel too constrained to open a new Iranian front in the War on Terror if official intelligence did not unequivocally support the mission. For them, limiting Bush’s wartime successes was more important than protecting the U.S. and its allies from a nuclear-armed Iran.
IAEA FINALLY COMES CLEAN
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, has been exposed as having long-suppressed information relevant to the Iranian weapons programs.
In early September, despite the fact that ElBaradei spent years denouncing the Bush administration for its ill treatment of Iran, he was repudiated by the IAEA’s own report, which contained startling specificity. It stated that the Iranians have 1,508 kilograms of enriched uranium. The metric for producing a deliverable nuclear weapon is 700 kilos (albeit requiring further enrichment in order to produce a nuclear weapon). The bottom line is, according to U.N.’s own data, Iran is in the final stages of producing two nuclear weapons. And just weeks ago, the Obama administration released intelligence revealing the existence of a new uranium enrichment facility in the city of Qom, which experts conclude can have only one purpose—weapons production.
Asked about when the regime will have a deliverable nuclear weapon, Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and a former undersecretary of Defense, told this reporter in a recent interview: “Nobody outside the Iranian program knows for sure. But there’s one thing that’s clear—it’s coming sooner or later. My guess is that it’s sooner. I recently attended an [Electromagnetic Pulse] conference where I learned new information that I can only describe as mind-boggling and terrifying. It could be next month, six months or, at the very outside, two years. But very soon, these guys are going to have the means to do incalculable damage, to bring about their long-stated ambitions of wiping Israel off the map and bringing about a world without America.”
In a second report, the agency concluded that, with Russian help, Iran has made huge strides in marrying its development of its long-range, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) arsenal with its nuclear weapons program. And if that is correct, the September move to cancel the missile defense treaty with Poland and the Czech Republic would be a direct threat to the mainland of the United States. Buckling to Russian pressure, Obama decided to install in the North Sea and in the Mediterranean less-robust ship-based systems that are capable only of intercepting short-range missiles.
And just days after President Obama announced the abandonment of former Soviet bloc-based missile defense, Iran conducted a third missile test, showing they could hit Israel, parts of Europe and U.S. bases in the Mideast, according to Associated Press reports.
Russia’s assistance and the White House’s current attitude are only two of several considerations that cause analysts to question the likelihood of whether Israel can successfully accomplish a strike on Iranian nuclear sites.
“To assess that probability, you need to know that there are many elements in play,” Gaffney told me. “There are the distances involved, vastly greater than their previous missions [over Iraq and Syria]. There are defenses being upgraded by the Russians as we speak and over-flight issues [in Iraq]. There’s the probability that the United States would detect the operation commencing and might disclose the fact of it, making it all problematic.”
And Iran’s lies and duplicity about its nuclear development make it even more difficult. “Despite how good Israeli intelligence has been, they may not even know where all the sites are,” Gaffney noted. “And the target sets are dispersed widely, hardened, some underground, some in immediate proximity to civilian population centers, mosques and hospitals.”
All things considered, Gaffney, who hopes the attacks do not have to take place given the undoubted loss of innocent Iranian lives that would result, says, “Unless the regime itself is eliminated, I would assign it a probability of 30 to 40 percent in terms of a success ratio.”
A NUCLEAR UMBRELLA FOR IRANIAN TERRORISM
Iran is already the chief proliferator of terrorism globally; therefore, once Iran gains nuclear weapons, it will be able to wreak terrorist-born havoc upon the West with impunity.
After 9/11, NATO forces took down the regime in Afghanistan, sending a message to states such as Libya: If you are harboring terrorists who attack the U.S. or our NATO allies, we will remove you. But as Ambassador Gold explains, “Let’s imagine that by 2011, when Iran has nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems, an Iranian-supported organization attacks the United States. Can we respond as we did in Afghanistan? We can’t. Under the scenario where Iran becomes a nuclear power, terrorism becomes vastly easier to commit.”
In addition, author and veteran Iran watcher Ken Timmerman contends, “Engagement with Iran was never going to work, because Iran has spent the past 25 years and billions in lost trade in order to acquire nuclear weapons. It was never an adult policy. The Iranians are flaunting their rejection of Obama’s peaceful overtures.”
In the Wall Street Journal, Mark Helprin noted that Iran will not give up on its nuclear weapons program, because it is central to its plan to use “nuclear intimidation to turn Europe entirely against American interests in the Middle East.” Putin and Ahmadinejad have a common objective: ejecting America from the region.
Moreover, the Iranians are adept at taking an offer of negotiation and then sitting at the negotiating table while accelerating their nuclear program. That’s what they did with the Europeans, and it’s what they have planned for the Obama administration.
As Gold points out, the Iranian infiltration and sponsorship of the Palestinian political and military apparatus is really a front for the Iranian effort to achieve supremacy across the region. The so-called Israeli-Palestinian peace process is therefore the theater of the absurd. While Obama demands that Israel stop building new condos in the West Bank, he neglects to demand that the PLO recognize Israel’s right to exist or that it officially renounce terrorism. He fails to explain how it has anything to do with the looming threat of Iran.
Klein explains that Israelis increasingly see the American demands for no new Jewish settlements as a pretext for constraining Israel. They fear that the true motive is to blame Israel for the failure of the peace process, allowing the Obama administration to wash its hands of Israel once a war with Iran begins.
It’s this feeling of abandonment by the U.S. that many observers, such as Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, believe will cause Israel to decide that it must strike Iranian nuclear sites sooner rather than later. On Sept. 15, Stephens wrote: “No less critical in determining Israel’s time table is the anticipated delivery to Iran of the Russian S-300 anti-aircraft batteries: Israel will almost certainly strike before those deliveries are made, no matter whether an Iranian bomb is two months or two years away.”
Israelis now realize that, with every concession that they have made over the past four decades, the Iranian proxies of Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah have moved, like feral beasts, ever closer to their kill. Moreover, the Israelis know that the driving force behind the Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian terrorist brigades, all of whom signal that they are bristling for war, is Iran. And they have not forgotten that the first Iranian to say that Iran should “wipe Israel off the map” was former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a man our American foreign policy establishment labeled a “moderate.”
Israelis understand that they are a “one-nuke” state, meaning that a single nuclear weapon detonated over Tel Aviv would wipe out the country’s infrastructure and kill virtually everyone in the country. In order to make their intentions crystal clear, the Iranian government, in military parades, posts the threat of elimination on billboards attached to tractors towing missiles capable of striking Israel.
IF ISRAEL ATTACKS THE IRANIAN SITES, WHO BENEFITS?
The short answer to the above question is: Western Europe, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, India, the oppressed Iranian people and, most especially, the United States. This is a large list of beneficiaries, given the fact that the Israelis would no doubt be universally condemned for their attack, should it occur.
Despite having somewhat “Westernized” Sunni Muslim governments, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan contain populations of radical fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden of Saudi Arabia and Ayman al Zawahiri of Egypt. They would undoubtedly receive brazen overt support from an emboldened nuclear-armed Iran that will feel secure in moving to destabilize and overthrow the Sunni governments in its attempt to gain hegemony over the whole of the Islamic Middle East.
Khomeini, like Hitler, published his master plan for world conquest. For the Iranian regime, even the somewhat Westernized Sunni states are infidels, so armed with nuclear weapons, Iran could begin the rapid advance toward its long-stated goal.
Egypt has been battling Iranian-backed terror for decades. In the Gazan city of Rafah, which sits on the Gaza- Sinai border, there is a tunnel under almost every house that touches the border, where newly trained terrorists from Syria and Iran arrive back at their base in Gaza. But the movement is two-way: From these tunnels, Iranian-armed fighters enter Egypt and link up with indigenous insurgents to mount operations such as the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Sadat.
Last April, Egypt rolled up a huge cell of terrorists poised to attack Israeli tourists and Egyptian institutions. In June, it allowed passage through the Suez Canal of an Israeli Dolphin-class submarine capable of launching nuclear weapons and headed to the Persian Gulf, signaling Egypt’s willingness to cooperate with Israel in stopping Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.
Saudi Arabia, too, is no stranger to the threats from Iran. In “Countdown to Crisis,” author Ken Timmerman recounts the following, which was derived from telephone intercepts, the transcripts of which were delivered to Congress: “On June 25, 1996, the most powerful officials of the Islamic Republic gathered solemnly at the home of President Rafsanjani … a few minutes past 10:00 p.m. the telephone rang, and Rafsanjani snatched it up. A hush fell over the room. Rafsanjani listened, nodding his head. Then a great smile spread across his face. ‘The package was delivered,’ he said. … The room broke into cheers before he could replace the receiver.”
The cause for celebration among the Iranian elites was the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen and one Saudi national and injured hundreds more. While bin Laden has long advocated for the overthrow of the House of Saud, Iran has been active in plots to attack the regime through its indigenous jihadists.
So it came as little surprise to many analysts that in July the Sunday Times of London reported that Netanyahu was assured by the head of the Mossad that Saudi Arabia would turn a “blind eye” to Israeli jets flying over the Kingdom during a raid on Iran. Such a move by the Saudis could be necessary if the Obama administration denies Israel’s request to fl y over Iraqi airspace, cutting off the shortest route to Iran—an act Gaffney sees as likely.
Gaffney told me that the administration “may have already denied fl y over rights” since it “would find an attack so inconsistent with its engagement policy.” When I asked specifically about the Times report, Gaffney said, “It wouldn’t surprise me entirely that [the Saudis] would allow that to happen. … There is no doubt that they’re terrified about a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Most of the Arab states will benefit because, as a Bahrainian senior diplomat told Ambassador Gold, Iran is an octopus whose tentacles now reach into every corner of the Middle East. The Arab world views a nuclear-armed Iran as an urgent threat to their security. Moreover, the Iranians themselves have declared the independent Arab kingdom of Bahrain an Iranian province. Gold states, “They are already, in advance of having a nuclear arsenal, making claims to territory ruled by the Arab states.”
India, which has large Muslim populations and has recently endured terrorist attacks in Bombay, too, will benefit from a weakened proliferator of terrorism. And Pakistan stands to gain from a wounding of Iran that would distract from the Mullahs’ aid to al Qaeda in Pakistan’s Waziristan Province.
In the West, Europe and the United States will benefit from the interruption of the Iranian nuclear program by Israeli attacks, because obstruction by the American Left—culminating in the Obama White House’s decision to nix American missile defense systems scheduled for Eastern Europe—has left vital U.S. allies and the Unites States itself vulnerable to long-range missile attacks.
With the help of Russia, China and North Korea, Iran has the capability to launch ICBMs already. Once they have weaponized uranium, the game changes.
If Israel interrupts the regime’s nuclear weapons manufacturing capability, the United States may dodge yet another serious bullet—an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon. In a seven-year study commissioned by Congress and delivered in the spring of 2008 to the House Armed Services Committee by commission Chairman Dr. William Graham of the Claremont Institute, it was revealed that a terrorist group could move a barge near the U.S. and, from the safety of international waters, launch a nuclear-tipped missile and detonate it at apogee, in our atmosphere. In the blink of an eye, our electrical grid would be destroyed, crippling “military and civilian communications, power, transportation, water, food” and virtually every other vital infrastructure. The report warns that America would be reduced to a “pre-industrial society” where barter was the only form of commerce and where “9 out of 10 Americans would not survive the first year after the attack.”
In short, a single EMP weapon has the potential to destroy the United States. Iran, which has repeatedly stated that “it is both desirable and achievable to bring about a world without America,” has been testing EMP delivery systems and missiles from platforms on the Caspian Sea, according to Graham.
But more than the West, Israel, and the surrounding Arab countries would benefit from an Israeli strike. Consider the citizens under the regime who are not necessarily rooting for a strike but are hoping for a more permanent fix to the Iranian nuclear problem—regime change. An Israeli strike could be the first step in that direction.
There is some good news emanating from Iran. The majority of the Iranian public, especially the educated and the young, hate the current regime. The Iranian elections that reinstalled Ahmadinejad became the tipping point for vast numbers of Iranians who already hated the theocracy. At great risk to their freedom and lives, they poured into the streets, staging massive protests, which turned violent as the regime unleashed its goon squads, the “Basiji.”
While the Iranian regime blocked outside news organizations from covering the August uprisings, Internet savvy Iranians were able to upload dramatic footage. One surprising subtext emerged—Iranian women were taking the leading role. The world saw groups of Iranian women confronting the regime’s thugs and shouting at their male collaborators who had retreated to a position behind them. “Cowards! Come up and join us!” they cried.
As is the case in so much of the Islamic world, women suffer the most from Islamic fundamentalism and have the most to gain in defeating it. From the amateur videos that poured out of Iran, the country appears to be populated with numerous Iranian heroines. Tragically, some have lost their lives in the face of the regime’s barbarous cruelty.
Despite the violence, Iranians continue to protest the thug-ocracy and continue to clamor for freedom. A number of Iranian expatriates who are in daily contact with the in-country resistance, including students, journalists, dissidents and the families of those imprisoned by the regime, agreed to be interviewed for this article.
Though those I spoke with are uniformly hopeful that an Israeli or American attack would not take place, due to the resulting loss of more innocent Iranian lives, several truths emerged that confound the conventional wisdom—including that there is not a groundswell of the Iranian people backing the regime’s nuclear plans.
Hassan Dai graduated from the University of Tehran as a Civil Engineer in 1979, the year the Shah fell. He and his family were able to escape the country several years later and are now in the United States. Today, he heads up Iranianlobby.com, which is a clearinghouse for information primarily aimed at exposing the regime’s attempts to penetrate and influence American policy surrounding Iran. He taps hundreds of high-level contacts inside Iran to populate his site.
“This regime has been killing people for 30 years,” says Hassan. “No other country in the world is doing such things to its own people.”
I asked Hassan if the Iranians would rally to the regime if Israel attacked the nuclear sites, as many international experts have suggested.
“First let me say that I’m against military intervention,” Hassan replied. “But I don’t buy the notion that the Iranian people will support the regime. It is too hated. It is too late for that.”
Hassan told me that the vast majority of the Iranian public, contrary to reports, do not support the nuclear weapons program, that it is not a source of nationalist pride. Hassan said this was fabricated by the Iranian government and merely repeated by the Western media.
Second, he stated that, if Israel attacks, he does not believe that the Mullahs will attempt massive retaliation against Israel, America or the West. Why? “They know that they will lose,” Hassan believes. “They know that a massive retaliation against Israel will cause the U.S. to come in, and that will be the end. So, after the attacks, very quickly the regime will be seen by the Iranian people as weak and fragile.” Moreover, in his view, this tepid response will further discredit a blustering regime and make the fall more likely.
Third, Hassan told me that during the allied invasion of Iraq in 2003, many of his sources from inside the Iranian regime learned that the government sent numerous secret communiqués, through secure diplomatic channels, to the Bush administration asking for “dialogue” and expressing a desire to find a way to “reduce the tensions.” As Hassan put it, “They were afraid.” Hassan’s last point suggests that the talk about bringing the Hidden Imam back through an apocalyptic conflict is just bluster designed to cow the timid.
But the question is: Can Israel and the West take that chance?
Amil Imani, who now does not disclose his location, hosts the Web site Freedom of Iran (AmilImani.com), which openly advocates for the overthrow of the Iranian regime. Like his fellow expatriate, Hassan, Imani is in constant contact with hundreds of people inside the country.
Imani revealed something most Americans don’t hear from the U.S. media: As little as 6 to 7 percent of the public are now supporters of the Iranian regime and 60 to 70 percent are in open revolt. He also claims that the younger generation (20- to 40-year-olds), which makes up the majority of the population, is almost universally on the side of the new revolution.
“Students, workers and women’s groups have been in the forefront of fighting the Islamists,” says Imani. “Even among the high-ranking clergy a significant widespread dissention is surfacing. Ayatollahs in the twin holy cities of Qom and Mashhad, for instance, have refused Ahmadinejad’s request to issue jihad fatwa against the Great Satan [the U.S.].”
How long can a brutal thug-ocracy survive when even its leading clerics are beginning to reject its legitimacy?
AHMADINEJAD PROTESTED AT THE UNITED NATIONS
On Sept. 23, Ahmadinejad addressed the U.N. General Assembly and condemned Israel for the crime of defending itself after enduring a massive number of rocket attacks from Hamas in Gaza. He then went on to defend Iran’s right to defend itself, which was an oblique reference to the regime’s unremitting nuclear weapons development. A number of delegations walked out during his speech while thousands of Iranian expatriates demonstrated on the streets of New York.
Roya Teimouri is an Iranian-born American living in California whose family escaped Iran after the fall of the Shah. She is a human rights activist who works with Amnesty International to publicize the imprisonment of Iranians by the regime. She works with desperate families to gain the freedom of Iranian prisoners whose “crimes” may be nothing more than speaking out about the regime in class or dating in a non-Islamic fashion.
While Ahmadinejad spoke inside the United Nations, Roya spoke to a crowd of about 10,000 protesters—Iranians, Jews and Christians—in a park across the street. She began her speech, “My parents gave me the name of Roya. But today my name is Neda [the young woman whose murder by the regime’s enforcers during the presidential election protests was videoed, broadcast around the world and made her the face of the movement]. Ahmadinejad, you are not my president! You are my murderer!”
With that the crowd instantly erupted into the chant “Regime Change for Iran!”
HISTORIC COROLLARIES AND THE UNTHINKABLE
During the first year of our new president’s administration, we have witnessed many seminal events with startling meanings and historic corollaries. At precisely the time that Iranians were demonstrating in the streets throughout Iran, the Honduran military showed fealty to their country’s constitution and removed a rogue president. Manuel Zelaya proclaimed that he intended to run for an unlawful third term and would stand for election where he could easily, like so many strongmen of Latin America past and present, fix the outcome. Our president, for his part, betrayed a reflex-like affinity for absolute rulers. While he said that he did not want “to meddle” in Iranian affairs as thousands of young men and women fought for their freedom and clashed with Iran’s goon squads, he unequivocally sided with the legally ousted Zelaya.
These two events correlate further in that the ousted Honduran president, Zelaya, is backed by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, who referred to President George W. Bush as “Satan” at the U.N. General Assembly and who is a staunch ally and trading partner with Iran. Given this nexus, it’s not difficult to imagine a Venezuelan-Honduran replay of the Cuban Missile Crisis, should Iran become a nuclear power.
As we contemplate the significance of an American president who won’t provide aid to Iranian freedom fighters but would deny tiny Israel fl y-over rights across Iraqi airspace to conduct a mission that may prevent a catastrophic attack on the U.S. mainland, we are reminded of another Democratic president, John F. Kennedy, who on his inauguration day, said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, support any friend and oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
While the probability of an EMP attack on the U.S. grows daily, the recent statements and actions of Obama have made it hard to envision him taking or facilitating military action against Iran.
Further, by his own admission in his memoirs, he has made it clear that he was gestated in the amniotic fluid of the far Left and marinated his whole life in an ideology that believes America (and its allies) must stand down, because we are the primary source of conflict in the world.
So when intelligence regarding an impending attack on Israel, Europe or the American homeland reaches the inner sanctums of the Pentagon, and when pleas from the Joint Chiefs are met with more inaction, more talk about talks, what then?