“Obama, and the world, in 2012, after he fails to deal with Iran”

May 10, 2009

* “If only Obama could have made a different decision in the summer of 2009”
* Iran believes it is a rising superpower while the U.S. is a “sunset” power. The message is simple: “The Americans are going, and we are coming”



1. Quite unlike other threats
2. Two clocks ticking
3. Iran wasted over a million lives without batting an eyelash
4. Iran targets U.S. allies Egypt, Lebanon, Bahrain, Morocco, Kuwait and Jordan
5. “Obama in 2012, after he fails to deal with Iran” (By Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz)
6. “As the U.S. retreats, Iran fills the void” (By Amir Taheri, Wall Street Journal)


By Tom Gross

This dispatch, on the Iranian nuclear threat, is split into two for space reasons. The other part, titled “Why Israel will bomb Iran” (& “The myth of meaningful Iranian retaliation”), can be read here.

I have written and lectured extensively in recent years on this issue. Below I attach two articles by leading commentators in the field, but before that, here are a few more observations of my own to add to those I have made in previous dispatches:

* I stand by my previous assessment that the Islamic Iranian nuclear program (and the near inevitable nuclear arms race that will follow if the program is not stopped) remains the single biggest threat to world stability in the medium and long run, even greater – as I have previously explained – than the economic downturn or the Taliban advances in border regions of Pakistan.

* Seeing the weakness of the entire world towards Iran, Sunni Arab countries have already begun exploring the possibility of developing nuclear programs of their own – the most recent indication of this being the revelation last week by IAEA inspectors that they had found traces of weapons-grade uranium northeast of Cairo.

* The threat of a nuclear arsenal in the hands of the only government in the world (Iran) that promotes suicide bombing as a matter of state policy (by its client militia in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere), and celebrates “martyrdom of its fellow Muslims” in such attacks, is a threat quite unlike any the world has ever seen. The combination of weapons of mass destruction and jihadist ideology poses a problem of much greater magnitude than that when secular dictatorships and semi-dictatorships, such as Russia, China and North Korea and Pakistan, possess nuclear bombs.

* Iran claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but as the father of Israel’s (alleged) atomic project, Ernst David Bergman, said: “There is no such thing as two distinct nuclear paths – one for peaceful purposes and another for military aims. It’s all the same path.”


* After the bombing of the Iraqi reactor in 1981, many critics of the attack claimed that Saddam Hussein would be able to rebuild his reactor in three to four years, but this never happened.

* Two clocks are ticking in regard to the Iranian nuclear threat, one in Jerusalem and one in Washington. To judge by what we know of Israeli and American intelligence outlooks, these clocks do not show the same time. Naturally, because of its geographical proximity, its small size, and repeated threats to wipe it off the map, Israel feels itself threatened by Iran in a more immediate way than America does.

* History teaches Jews that threats against their collective existence should always be taken seriously, and, if possible, preempted.

* The primary Iranian threat against Israel comes not from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but from the country’s supreme leader (and ultimate controller of the regime’s nuclear project), Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who in March once again expressed his genocidal hatred of Israel, describing it as a “cancerous tumor that must be destroyed.”


* In addition to posing an existential threat to Israel, a nuclear Iran could mean the end of American influence in the Middle East. Tehran, not Washington would dominate oil in the region.

* During its eight-year war with Iraq, Iran (to quote Benjamin Netanyahu) “wasted over a million lives without batting an eyelash. It didn’t sear a terrible wound into the Iranian consciousness. It wasn’t Britain after World War I, lapsing into pacifism because of the great tragedy of a loss of a generation. You see nothing of the kind.”

* A nuclear Iran would likely lead to a huge rise in the levels of support for radical Islamist movements throughout the Middle East, Asia and Western Europe. Muslims from London to Bali would conclude that the day of victory for Islam over the infidel world is now within reach. Acts of suicide terrorism, particularly in Europe, would probably increase.

-- Tom Gross



In the first article attached below, Ari Shavit, one of the most respected commentators at Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, outlines just some of the nightmare short-term scenarios that might well occur if Iran is allowed to go nuclear. It is written as though surveying the scene at the end of Barack Obama’s first (and possibly) only term as president. I strongly suggest you read his article in full.

In the second article below, Amir Taheri, probably the leading exiled Iranian commentator in the world, warns of how the Iranian regime, convinced that the Obama administration is preparing to retreat from the Middle East, is intensifying its goal of regional domination. It has targeted six close American allies – Egypt, Lebanon, Bahrain, Morocco, Kuwait and Jordan – all of which are experiencing economic and/or political crises.

Among recent developments:

* Last month, Egypt announced it had crushed a major Iranian plot and arrested 68 people.
* In Bahrain, the government has arrested scores of pro-Iran militants as Tehran steps up its campaign of mass demonstrations and terrorist operations to try and take de facto control of the emirate. In March, in a speech at Masshad, Iran’s principal holy city, the senior aide to Supreme Leader Khamenei, again described Bahrain as “part of Iran.”
* Morocco has already severed diplomatic relations with Tehran, arresting pro-Iran militants for plotting acts of terrorism.
* Iranian-controlled groups have also been uncovered in Kuwait and Jordan. (Iranian strategists believe Jordan, where Palestinians constitute two-thirds of the population, is a colonial creation and should disappear from the map – opening the way for a single Islamic state covering the whole of Palestine.)
* But in its campaign for regional hegemony, Tehran expects to gain Lebanon as its first prize. Iran is spending massive amounts of cash in the run-up to June’s general election to try and influence the outcome.

Amir Taheri has a new book out on Iran “The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution,” as does Emanuele Ottolenghi (who like Taheri is a longtime subscriber to this email list). Ottolenghi’s new book is titled “Under a Mushroom Cloud: Europe, Iran and the Bomb.”

-- Tom Gross



Obama in 2012, after he fails to deal with Iran
By Ari Shavit
May 1, 2009

Even now, in November 2012, it is hard not to think back with elation on Barack Obama’s first year as president of the United States. In his first 100 days in the White House, the energetic president took a series of daring steps that extricated the American economy from its worst crisis since the 1930s. Immediately after that he put an end to torture, indicted Dick Cheney, convened a Middle East peace conference and made historic reconciliation visits to Havana, Damascus and Tehran.

Obama’s economic and foreign policies were both based on a moral worldview that inspired Americans and non-Americans alike. After years of despair and cynicism, the 44th president proposed a new national and international agenda based on dialogue, demilitarization, justice and peace.

The first signs that something was wrong had already appeared at the end of that first year of grace. Nevertheless, Washington was astounded when, in the summer of 2010, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that he was expelling international inspectors and galloping full-tilt toward the production of nuclear weapons. The shock turned to horror on the eve of Christmas 2010, when Iran’s spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, stated that his country had its first three nuclear warheads – aimed at Riyadh, Cairo and Tel Aviv.

Spring 2011 was dramatic. First a mutual defense treaty and an agreement to collaborate on oil exports were signed between Tehran and the fragile Baghdad government. Then Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai bowed their heads and signed treaties that made them protectorates of the rising Shi’ite state. Saudi Arabia took the opposite approach: In May 2011, it announced that it had purchased nuclear weapons from Pakistan both for itself and for its ally Egypt. But Egypt’s sudden nuclearization failed to appease the Muslim Brotherhood. Mass demonstrations forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign shortly after he suspended the peace agreement with Israel.

By Thanksgiving 2011, the situation was clear. Jordan’s King Abdullah left for exile in London. Hizbullah took control of Beirut and a bloody war of attrition erupted between Israel and the Palestinians. The unrest in western Asia had repercussions on the rest of the international arena: Afghanistan went up in flames, Pakistan collapsed and Russia raised its head. In view of Washington’s helplessness, some European states began to lean increasingly toward China. When the price of oil rose above $200 a barrel, the American economy plunged into another deep recession.

Obama had no chance in the snows of Iowa in 2012. So with Oprah Winfrey wiping a tear at his side, the most promising president ever announced he would not run for a second term.

What went wrong? Where did Obama go astray? In retrospect, the answer is clear and simple. In the summer of 2009, the president had to make the most courageous decision of his life: to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Granted, opting for confrontation would have been incompatible with the DNA of the liberal Democrat from Chicago. Ironically, however, only such a decision could have saved his legacy and advanced the noble values he believed in. Only that decision could have led to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. If Obama had decided three years ago to impose a political-economic siege on Tehran, he would have changed the course of history. The Roosevelt of the 21st century would have prevented regional chaos, a worldwide nuclear arms race and an American decline.

Yesterday, immediately after television networks announced the sweeping Republican victory of November 2012, close friends gathered around the outgoing president. They found him sad but sober. Obama had no doubts: Had he known at the beginning of his term what he knows now, he would have made a different strategic decision about Iran’s nuclear program. If only it were possible to go back, the pensive president told his humbled chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. If only he could have made a different decision in the summer of 2009.



As the U.S. retreats, Iran fills the void
By Amir Taheri
The Wall Street Journal
May 4, 2009

Convinced that the Obama administration is preparing to retreat from the Middle East, Iran’s Khomeinist regime is intensifying its goal of regional domination. It has targeted six close allies of the U.S.: Egypt, Lebanon, Bahrain, Morocco, Kuwait and Jordan, all of which are experiencing economic and/or political crises.

Iranian strategists believe that Egypt is heading for a major crisis once President Hosni Mubarak, 81, departs from the political scene. He has failed to impose his eldest son Gamal as successor, while the military-security establishment, which traditionally chooses the president, is divided. Iran’s official Islamic News Agency has been conducting a campaign on that theme for months. This has triggered a counter-campaign against Iran by the Egyptian media.

Last month, Egypt announced it had crushed a major Iranian plot and arrested 68 people. According to Egyptian media, four are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Tehran’s principal vehicle for exporting its revolution.

Seven were Palestinians linked to the radical Islamist movement Hamas; one was a Lebanese identified as “a political agent from Hizbullah” by the Egyptian Interior Ministry. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Hizbullah, claimed these men were shipping arms to Hamas in Gaza.

The arrests reportedly took place last December, during a crackdown against groups trying to convert Egyptians to Shiism. The Egyptian Interior Ministry claims this proselytizing has been going on for years. Thirty years ago, Egyptian Shiites numbered a few hundred. Various estimates put the number now at close to a million, but they are said to practice taqiyah (dissimulation), to hide their new faith.

But in its campaign for regional hegemony, Tehran expects Lebanon as its first prize. Iran is spending massive amounts of cash on June’s general election. It supports a coalition led by Hizbullah, and including the Christian ex-general Michel Aoun. Lebanon, now in the column of pro-U.S. countries, would shift to the pro-Iran column.

In Bahrain, Tehran hopes to see its allies sweep to power through mass demonstrations and terrorist operations. Bahrain’s ruling clan has arrested scores of pro-Iran militants but appears more vulnerable than ever. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has contacted Arab heads of states to appeal for “urgent support in the face of naked threats,” according to the Bahraini media.

The threats became sensationally public in March. In a speech at Masshad, Iran’s principal “holy city,” Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, described Bahrain as “part of Iran.” Morocco used the ensuing uproar as an excuse to severe diplomatic relations with Tehran. The rupture came after months of tension during which Moroccan security dismantled a network of pro-Iran militants allegedly plotting violent operations.

Iran-controlled groups have also been uncovered in Kuwait and Jordan. According to Kuwaiti media, more than 1,000 alleged Iranian agents were arrested and shipped back home last winter. According to the Tehran media, Kuwait is believed vulnerable because of chronic parliamentary disputes that have led to governmental paralysis.

As for Jordan, Iranian strategists believe the kingdom, where Palestinians are two-thirds of the population, is a colonial creation and should disappear from the map – opening the way for a single state covering the whole of Palestine. Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have both described the division of Palestine as “a crime and a tragedy.”

Arab states are especially concerned because Tehran has succeeded in transcending sectarian and ideological divides to create a coalition that includes Sunni movements such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, sections of the Muslim Brotherhood, and even Marxist-Leninist and other leftist outfits that share Iran’s anti-Americanism.

Information published by Egyptian and other Arab intelligence services, and reported in the Egyptian and other Arab media, reveal a sophisticated Iranian strategy operating at various levels. The outer circle consists of a number of commercial companies, banks and businesses active in various fields and employing thousands of locals in each targeted country. In Egypt, for example, police have uncovered more than 30 such Iranian “front” companies, according to the pan-Arab daily newspaper Asharq Alawsat. In Syria and Lebanon, the numbers reportedly run into hundreds.

In the next circle, Iranian-financed charities offer a range of social and medical services and scholarships that governments often fail to provide. Another circle consists of “cultural” centers often called Ahl e Beit (People of the House) supervised by the offices of the supreme leader. These centers offer language classes in Persian, English and Arabic, Islamic theology, Koranic commentaries, and traditional philosophy – alongside courses in information technology, media studies, photography and filmmaking.

Wherever possible, the fourth circle is represented by branches of Hizbullah operating openly. Where that’s not possible, clandestine organizations do the job, either alone or in conjunction with Sunni radical groups.

The Khomeinist public diplomacy network includes a half-dozen satellite television and radio networks in several languages, more than 100 newspapers and magazines, a dozen publishing houses, and thousands of Web sites and blogs controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The network controls thousands of mosques throughout the region where preachers from Iran, or trained by Iranians, disseminate the Khomeinist revolutionary message.

Tehran has also created a vast network of non-Shiite fellow travelers within the region’s political and cultural elites. These politicians and intellectuals may be hostile to Khomeinism on ideological grounds – but they regard it as a powerful ally in a common struggle against the American “Great Satan.”

Khomeinist propaganda is trying to portray Iran as a rising “superpower” in the making while the United States is presented as the “sunset” power. The message is simple: The Americans are going, and we are coming.

Tehran plays a patient game. Wherever possible, it is determined to pursue its goals through open political means, including elections. With pro-American and other democratic groups disheartened by the perceived weakness of the Obama administration, Tehran hopes its allies will win all the elections planned for this year in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

“There is this perception that the new U.S. administration is not interested in the democratization strategy,” a senior Lebanese political leader told me. That perception only grows as President Obama calls for an “exit strategy” from Afghanistan and Iraq. Power abhors a vacuum, which the Islamic Republic of Iran is only too happy to fill.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.