Dec 16, 2010

Year-End Analysis of Iranian Threat

Joel C. RosenbergBy Joel C. Rosenberg

Will Israel launch a preemptive military strike against Iran to stop the current regime from building nuclear weapons, and if so, how soon? That’s a question I have been asked throughout this fall’s book tour for The Twelfth Imam.

As we end 2010, my sense is that the Stuxnet computer virus (which has infected more than 30,000 Iranian computers and brought Iranian enrichment of uranium almost to a standstill for the time being), the recent assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, the near assassination of another top Iranian nuclear scientist, and the effect of new economic sanctions are all having a significant impact. Anything is possible, of course, but some experts I’m talking to believe that there is a little more breathing room, and an Israeli strike would be generally unlikely before the fall of 2011, at the earliest. That is speculation, to be sure. The threat is very real. But some progress has been made against Iran this fall, and for this we should thank the Lord and the hard work of U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies.

Last Thursday and Friday, I attended a conference on “Confronting The Iran Threat,” organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Below I report on their on-the-record assessments of the current Iranian regime, the Twelfth Imam, the Green Movement, and the prospects for war.

Most interesting for me was the opportunity to have a private lunch with one of the more interesting speakers at the event, a gentleman named Uri Lubrani, who at the age of 82 serves an Iran advisor to Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon. Lubrani previously served as an Iran advisor to the Israeli Ministry of Defense and was Israel’s Ambassador to Iran before the revolution in 1979. He knew the Shah personally. He warned Israeli officials in Jerusalem that a revolution was coming. And he actually flew out of Tehran international airport on February 1, 1979, just hours before the Ayatollah Khomeini arrived back in Iran to crowds of millions shouting, “The Holy One has come! The Holy One has come!”

My personal conversation with Lubrani was off-the-record. But here are several of the comments he made to the conference attendees:

  • Assessing the Iranian President’s character: “Ahmadinejad is not…a clown. He is a clever, sophisticated, son-of-a-b—-.”

  • Assessing Ahmadinejad’s statements that he is in contact with the Twelfth Imam: “I believe Ahmadinejad really believes what he says. As mayor, he paved a road from the [Jamkaran] mosque to the capital so the Twelfth Imam could travel straight to Tehran.”

  • Assessing the Twelver End Times theology held by the Ayatollah Khamenei: “You have a totally irrational [religious] philosophy that is driving the Ayatollah’s regime in Tehran.”

  • Assessing Russia’s growing ambitions in the Middle East and growing alliance with Iran: “Russia is aspiring to be important in the world again.”

  • Assessing Turkey’s swing away from the West and towards Russia and Iran: “I detect in their rhetoric that they want to be a Middle East power…. They believe the Ottoman Empire should be resurrected.”

  • Assessing the Iranian threat: “Iran is on the warpath, and has been for some time.”

  • Assessing the need for the West to launch preemptive military strikes against Iran in the near term: “I’m against military action [at the moment]. I think it would be counterproductive…. The Iranian people are the West’s greatest ally.” Lubrani urged U.S. and Western leaders to do more to support the “Green Movement,” the pro-democracy movement in Iran. He is hopeful that there can be an overthrow of the Iranian regime by these pro-democracy forces before the need for military force arises.
One of the panels at the conference was entitled, “Increasing Threats, Diminishing Options: Should The Military Option Be Employed Against Iran.” The speakers were Israeli Major General Yaakov Amidror, former head of the IDF’s Research & Assessment Division; Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic who published the first interview with Netanyahu upon becoming Prime Minister in March 2009 (“Netanyahu To Obama — Stop Iran, Or I Will”), and wrote an influential cover story in September 2010 entitled “Point of No Return” on whether Israel will hit Iran soon; Reuel Marc Gerecht, former CIA operative; Ken Pollack, former Director for Persian Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council, now with the Brookings Institution; and moderator Cliff May, former NYT reporter and now President of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Key points made during the panel:
  • General Amidror: “Technically, Israel will be ready [to strike Iran] if and when the decision will be taken…. [but] no one is eager for war with Iran…. If war with Iran comes, “American planes will be used — the question is will it be American pilots or Israeli pilots flying those planes…. It would be a dirty one, a long one, one no one wants to be in…. We want to postpone as long as possible…. If you ask me for my assessment — and that’s what I for 25 years, doing assessments — I believe it is almost impossible to stop Iran without military force.”

  • Jeffrey Goldberg: Noted that he had written in his last article that there was a better than 50 percent chance of Israel hitting Iran by summer 2011. Now he believes the initial apparent success of the Stuxnet computer virus in slowing down Iran’s nuclear program, and “active programs to deny Iran of its nuclear scientists” (ie, assassinations), have worked to “elongate the timeline.” He believes Israeli officials now believe they have a little breathing room and that all things being equal, the “timeline” for an Israeli strike against Iran would now be “the end of 2011.”

  • Reuel Gerecht: “I’m skeptical that many of the worst case scenarios [about a U.S. or Israeli-led war against Iran] are likely…. Hezbollah would respond with everything they have [ie, missile attacks against Israel]…. I’m seriously doubtful that you’d see much of a [negative] reaction throughout the Middle East…. Main Iranian reaction would be terrorism [against Israeli and Western interests]…. The repercussions are quite sustainable, especially compared to the Iranians having the Bomb.”

  • Ken Pollack: “I’m a skeptic on the use of force against Iran… because I don’t think the math works out…..Will a strike work? I remain very skeptical…..I would give more credit to the [Obama] administration for sanctions that I would have expected.” He said evidence suggests the economic sanctions against Iran are having more impact on Iran’s economy — and creating more division within Iran’s government — than he’d expected. Worried that an Israeli strike against Iran would unify the Iranian government at a time when currently it is splintering.
During the Q&A session, I asked Jeffrey Goldberg to assess whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would order a preemptive military strike against Iran if diplomacy, sanctions, covert actions and other measures weren’t enough and Israel were endangered by another Holocaust. Goldberg replied, “Netanyahu doesn’t like to make decisions… but I think he would feel as if he failed Jewish history if he failed to stop Iran [from getting the Bomb] if nothing else works.”

Related Links
Iran said to have cut Hizbullah aid by 40% - Jerusalem Post
Iran's opposition Green Movement stays below ground - Christian Science Monitor
Iran in secret talks on nuclear swap in bid to end sanctions -
Stuxnet Worm Delays Iran's Nuclear Program - Christian Broadcasting Network
The Twelfth Imam - Joel C. Rosenberg (Book)