It’s no longer possible to pretend we don’t know the intentions of Iran’s rulers. They are telling us — candidly, clearly, and repeatedly. Most recently last Sunday: Addressing a gathering in Tehran, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, vowed the “full annihilation of the Zionist regime of Israel to the end.”
A few days earlier, José Maria Aznar, former prime minister of Spain, during a presentation at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a respected Israeli think tank, recalled a “private discussion” in Tehran in October of 2000 with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who told him: “Israel must be burned to the ground and made to disappear from the face of the Earth.”
Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. who now heads the JCPA, wanted to be certain there was no misunderstanding. He asked Aznar: Was Khamenei suggesting “a gradual historical process involving the collapse of the Zionist state, or rather its physical-military termination?”
“He meant physical termination through military force,” Aznar replied. Khamenei called Israel “an historical cancer” — an echo of Nazi rhetoric he has employed on numerous occasions, the last time in public on February 3.
Khamenei also told Aznar that the goal of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 has remained constant. It is to rid the world of two evils: Israel and the United States. Eventually, there must be an “open confrontation.” Khamenei said it was his duty to ensure that Iran prevails.
With this as context, it is no longer possible to pretend that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is not a priority for Khamenei. The notion that he is merely making — as Reuters charmingly phrases it — “a peaceful bid to generate electricity,” or that he has not decided whether he wants nuclear weapons (notwithstanding his fatwa declaring possession of nuclear weapons a sin), or that he wants them only as a deterrent because he fears foreign aggression, or that he favors diplomatic conflict resolution but requires a series of “confidence-building measures” — all that is wishful thinking and self-delusion, if not blatant disinformation.
Anthony Cordesman, the respected security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, used to be skeptical about the nuclear ambitions of Iran’s rulers. Then he sat down and examined hundreds of pages of evidence compiled by the International Atomic Energy Agency. His report, “Rethinking Our Approach to Iran’s Search for the Bomb,” concludes:
Iran has pursued every major area of nuclear weapons development, has carried out programs that have already given it every component of a weapon except fissile material, and there is strong evidence that it has carried out programs to integrate a nuclear warhead onto its missiles.
Besides being committed to war, genocide, and developing nuclear weapons, Iran’s rulers are the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, and have long been so designated by the U.S. government. They support Hezbollah and Hamas, and collaborate with al-Qaeda — evidence of that is abundant. They have been responsible for killing Americans in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They have violated the most fundamental tenets of international law, by, among other things, seizing the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, ordering the murder of a British novelist in 1989, and plotting to bomb a restaurant in Washington, D.C., last year.
Khamenei’s representatives have agreed to negotiate with the P5+1 — the U.S. and the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany — for one reason only: They want an end to the sanctions that have been debilitating, if not yet crippling, Iran’s economy. The value of Iran’s currency has been plummeting, inflation and unemployment have been spiking, and the regime has been denied many billions of dollars in hard currency. A European oil embargo scheduled to take effect in July could drop Iranian exports by as much as 40 percent.
Testifying before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week, Mark Dubowitz, my colleague at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, warned Congress that Iran’s negotiators will offer concessions that sound meaningful but are not, in exchange for Western concessions that sound trivial but amount to capitulation.
Dubowitz cautioned that it will require vigorous congressional oversight to make sure that Western diplomats do not provide Iran with “sanctions relief in the shadows” — that, specifically, insurance, energy, financial, and shipping-related sanctions that have already been passed into law will fail to be strictly enforced in order to keep “the process” going. That will be seen as preferable to acknowledging diplomatic failure. The major media are likely to miss this — or misreport it.
In his presentation in Jerusalem, Aznar also recalled a meeting he had with Vladimir Putin, in which he advised the Russian president against selling surface-to-air missiles to Iran. “Don’t worry — I, you, we can sell them everything, even if we are worried by an Iranian nuclear bomb,” Aznar quoted Putin as saying. “Because at the end of the day, Israel will take care of it.”
Aznar had told this story in Washington about a year ago, but, at the time, he asked those of us in the room to keep it off the record. I remember that he added incredulously: “But that’s the Russian policy? To let Israel take care of it?”
If, in the days ahead, this becomes the de facto policy of the U.S. and Europe as well, we should not pretend we don’t know that — or that we don’t understand the profound implications.
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.