“This is the first time that a senior Iranian official has openly denounced the Russians,” says Israel Radio’s Farsi broadcaster, Menashe Amir, in reference to President Ahmadinejad’s recent tongue-lashing of President Medvedev for supporting further sanctions on Iran. “And it could have serious repercussions.”
This — explains the 70-year-old Iranian Jew who immigrated to Israel in 1959, and whose call-in programs have attracted millions of his former countrymen over the decades — “is because Prime Minister Putin, who we all know is really the one who calls the shots there, will view it as a blow to Russia’s honor.”
How serious a blow will become apparent in the coming days, says Amir, during an interview (in Hebrew) at his Persian-style home in the outskirts of Jerusalem,”when we see how it affects Russia’s sale of weapons systems to Iran, particularly the S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.”
Q: Do you mean to say that a slight to Russian honor could have more of an impact on Iran’s nuclear program than sanctions?
A: What I’m saying is that Ahmadinejad, who is brazenly unrestrained, doesn’t understand the sensitivity of Russian leaders. His ire was aroused by Russia’s joining the United States in the proposed resolution to impose sanctions. But his behavior shows that he is clueless when it comes to the intricacies of international diplomacy. He thinks he has the power to lash out at everybody, including Russia.
Q: Isn’t he right to think that? Has he not been verbally attacking whomever he chooses and getting away with it — so much so that time is running out before he has a nuclear bomb?
A: I acknowledge that Iran has power in the region. It has created problems in Iraq and Afghanistan; it arms Hizbullah and Hamas and other terrorist organizations; and it has missiles and nuclear ambitions.
Bu I also contend that this image of Iran as all-powerful is false. In terms of the bigger picture, it is a house of cards, whose corroded regime can be brought down with the flick of a finger. In other words, the moment the world actually becomes determined to take action — and Iran suffers its first blow — the whole thing will disintegrate.
Q: If that’s the case, why wasn’t the “house of cards” brought down last year after the elections, when the Iranian masses, led by opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, took to the streets in protest?
A: This had to do with internal problems in Iran. Mousavi comes both from within the regime and within Iran. As hailing from the regime, he doesn’t want to topple it, but rather to correct its ills. As hailing from Iran, he knows his life is in danger, so he doesn’t dare say what he really wants to say. Nor does he dare take on the leadership of the revolt. The same applies to [reformist politician and presidential candidate in the June 2009 elections] Mehdi Karroubi, who also knows his limitations, and therefore isn’t calling on the Iranian people to stand up and revolt against the regime.
The paradox here is that, on the one hand, the revolution in Iran cannot be executed from outside of the country — the Iranians abroad do not have the power to cause a revolution inside — and on the other hand, anyone in Iran with the potential to lead such a revolution is in genuine danger.
Still, in spite of the cruelty and brutality of the regime, there is strong opposition among the people to Ahmadinejad and to the current situation. There is even opposition within the regime itself. This is why I say that the Iranian people would view a U.S. — or other — attack on the nuclear facilities as a green light to revolt against the regime.
Q: Is this a new development? After all, for years, experts on Iran and the Muslim world have asserted that a military strike would cause the Iranian people to rally around the regime.
A: Indeed, support for nuclearization among the Iranian people has undergone upheavals. Iran’s nuclear ambitions were revealed in 1992-3. Initially, all the Iranian people, including those living abroad, were in favor of an Iranian nuclear bomb. This was due both to national pride and to the fact that Iran had been attacked by Iraq — leading to eight years of war [1980-1988] — and because all the countries surrounding Iran were either nuclear themselves or under the nuclear umbrella of another country. So, the feeling was that if everybody else was nuclear, why shouldn’t Iran be, too? At the time, the idea was that a nuclear bomb would enhance Iran’s security.
But that attitude gradually changed, to the point that today, the entire opposition living outside Iran, and most of the citizens inside, are against its having a nuclear bomb. They now know that the regime doesn’t want a bomb for defensive purposes, but rather to embark on combative adventures outside its borders — and that a nuclear bomb not only won’t provide security for Iran, but will in fact endanger it. The Iranian people fear that the regime will use the bomb against Israel, Arab states, and others, and as an insurance policy against any form of harm.
Q: When did you notice this change in attitude among the Iranian people?
A: About five or six years ago. And I spoke with a number of senior CIA officials to inform them of this development. But when I told them that I believed that if the U.S. were to take action against the nuclear facilities and in favor of imposing sanctions, it would enjoy the sympathy, not the hatred, of the Iranian people, they laughed at me. Nevertheless, I continue to hold that opinion, even more today than in the past. And this is in spite of the fact that I am against military operations of all kinds. But if action is taken by the U.S., and it is “clean” — i.e., with not too much collateral damage, both in terms of lives and in terms of Iran’s overall infrastructure — it would encourage the people to revolt and topple the regime.
Q: According to recent reports in the American media, the Obama administration has clandestine contingency plans to strike Iran in the event that sanctions don’t work. Is this cause for optimism on your part?
A: That neither surprises nor excites me. Every army prepares scenarios, so of course the Americans are doing so in this case. Furthermore, both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton — as well as President George W. Bush before them — have always said that all options are on the table, including the military one. But at the same time, one cannot ignore the discrepancies in the statements made by Defense Department officials and U.S. Army generals. What Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said is different from what chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus have said. They claim that there is a military option, but that it is dangerous.