“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.
Q: What is the sense you get from the Iranians currently phoning in to your radio broadcasts?
A: It is partly from my connection to them that I hold the opinions I do about what a military strike would lead to. But I have also garnered from other sources that the Iranians are willing to suffer and sustain casualties in order to change the regime. Less than a year ago, they took to the streets to demonstrate, and more than 100 people were killed. Yet they’re still willing to take to the streets to protest. They’re prepared to pay a price. Don’t forget that 32 years ago, when the Iranians wanted to topple the shah, they were also willing to suffer for the cause.
There is a saying in Farsi: “Nobody can scratch my back other than the fingernails of my own hand.” In other words, I have to take care of my own problems. So, on my broadcasts, I have often asked the listeners why they don’t take the situation into their own hands. And they tell me, “Listen, the Taliban in Afghanistan were toppled by a foreign army. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was toppled by a foreign army. We can’t do it by ourselves either.” This is a message to the U.S. and Europe that the Iranian people are willing to cooperate, and willing to suffer, as long as they are given assistance in toppling the regime.
A year before Bush’s term ended, I was a guest at a reception in Los Angeles where he was present. And I went up to him and told him that the Iranians were waiting for the U.S. to come in and help them topple the regime. And then he smiled and said, “But you know that we’re still stuck in Iraq.” It’s a shame.
Q: The people who call in to your broadcasts are educated, as were the students who took to the streets to protest the election results. Is there a different attitude among the lower or working classes in Iran?
A: Today, the desire to topple the regime crosses the entire societal spectrum. The street demonstrations were carried out not only by educated people, but by the working classes, as well, and by all age groups.
There is one sector that supports the regime: those whose religious belief is much more important to them than economics or freedom of speech. This sector is joined by those interests groups who benefit directly from the regime, such as the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij, and clergy.
Q: How does the Sunni-Shi’ite split express itself in Iran, if at all?
A: Iran is the only Muslim country in which more than 90% percent of the population is Shi’ite. The Sunnis make up maybe 7-10%. These include the Kurds, the Baluchs, and the Turkemans. And they are persecuted. But they are willing to revolt. In fact, in the event of a military strike against the nuclear facilities, they will be the first ones to stand up to the regime.
Q: Is it true that the Shi’ites are more extreme than the Sunnis? And if so, how does this jibe with your sense of the Iranian people as freedom-loving?
A: It is true that Shi’ites are far less open to change than Sunnis. This is due to the fact that the Shi’ites consider themselves to be a deprived minority in the Islamic world. They believe that when the prophet Muhammad died, the religious leadership should have gone to his son-in-law Ali, but the Sunnis murdered him. So today, with a country with a population of 70 million, more than $100 billion in oil revenues, a military force, missiles, and nuclear ambitions, the Shi’ites want to take revenge and correct what they see as an historical injustice in the Muslim world.
But, indeed, there is a contradiction between this and the character of the Iranian people. The Iranians are people of literature and poetry — and of coexistence. This is one of the reasons that I believe the current regime won’t last many more years: because it is anathema to the Iranian character. It is anathema to Iranian faith. The Iranians are loyal to their cultural heritage, and the regime represents a religion that was imposed on them from the outside — the religion that conquered Iran 1,400 years ago; a religion that destroyed Iranian culture; a religion that burned Iranian books. And the Iranians haven’t forgotten this.
Q: Do you believe, then, that Iran could be the first place where a reformation within Islam takes place?
A: On the contrary. The Iranian people don’t want Islam at all. As soon as they topple the regime, many Iranians will want to return to their ancient religion: Zoroastrianism.
In any case, one can’t say that the Muslim world is growing more extreme; rather, there are extremist Islamist groups that have gained power. The clash we are seeing today in Europe between the Muslims and non-Muslims is more cultural than religious-Islamic. And ways have to be found to prevent the extremist Muslims from taking advantage of this clash — and of the feelings of discrimination on the part of Muslims in European countries.
Because look what happens: Let’s say a Muslim refugee or immigrant moves from Algeria to Germany. He doesn’t speak the language; he is unfamiliar with the culture; he has trouble finding a job; he suffers from poverty and discrimination. And then he turns to religion and to religious extremism. To express his frustration, he resorts to violence. His return to Islam is not faith-based, but rather due to psychological-cultural-economic causes.
Q: Come, now, but so many extremists and terror masters are both educated and affluent. So, isn’t attributing this radicalization to poverty and discrimination a bit simplistic — or at least a more Western way of looking at it?
A: You have to make a distinction between immigrants to Europe, who feel discriminated against, and the intellectuals, who consider Islam the only true religion for all of humanity, and who believe that Islam has to control the world. This is due to the fact — of which the West is not quite aware — that, according to Islam, as soon as Muhammad arrived, Christianity and Judaism no longer existed, because they became incorporated into Islam and got canceled out. In other words, Islam included Christianity, Judaism, and truth itself. According to this view, today’s Old and New Testaments are phony, since the real truth lies in the Koran. And religion has to control the country, because it includes both religious tenets and directives on how to conduct affairs of state.
Q: As you have said, Iran funds, trains, and backs terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Hizbullah. And recently, the U.S. gave a huge sum in aid to Lebanon, which is controlled by Syria and Hizbullah. This is but one example of how the West talks about combating a phenomenon, while simultaneously fanning its flames. If Iran’s regime wants to control the world through military might and Islam, and has proceeded to accomplish this through proxies, is a U.S. attack on its nuclear facilities really sufficient?
A: As long as the current regime remains in Iran, the region will be dealing with difficult problems.
In Ahmadinejad’s famous speech, in which he said he would wipe Israel off the map, he also said that the annihilation of Israel was the first stage in the struggle against Western culture. And Western culture means Christianity, which is its basis — and Judaism, which is the spinal cord of Christianity. This is what Ahmadinejad explicitly states, which the West doesn’t understand.
So I believe that when the Iranian regime is toppled, al-Qaeda and the Taliban will lose their base; the suicide bombers in Iraq will lose theirs, as well, which will immediately make the situation there calmer; and Syria will lose its backing, without which it will have no choice but to side with the West. Indeed, many of the world’s problems will be solved when there is regime change in Iran.
Q: In the event that the Obama administration does not strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, is it your opinion that Israel will be prepared to do it instead?
A: In my opinion, there’s only one source in the universe that can answer whether Israel will attack the nuclear facilities or not — God in heaven.
Q: Not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
A: Even the Israeli leadership and IDF brass don’t know whether Israel will attack or not, because the political, military, and diplomatic circumstances are not yet clear. The West still thinks it is worthwhile to wait. Obama still hopes that imposing harsher sanctions will work.
Still, I think that even Obama realizes this is all child’s play. Those sanctions will not be effective. Though all sanctions brought before the UN Security Council will be approved, and even if the member states honor the agreement to impose sanctions — which I don’t believe they will — the Iranian nuclear bomb won’t be stopped.
Obama knows this. He knows that Iran is developing a missile with a range of 6,000 kilometers. Obama also knows that by around 2013, Iran will have a missile with a range of 10,000 kilometers, which means that its nuclear bomb will be able to reach America’s east coast.
And since Obama really knows this, and since — as he has stated repeatedly — America’s security is crucial to him, he has to determine a deadline for sanctions to work, and when they don’t, he will have to opt for the only remaining option: a military strike.
I won’t answer you about what Israel will do. In the first place, I’m against it.
Q: You’re against Israel’s taking military action against Iran?
A: I’m against all military action. But what other choice is there at this point, when no diplomatic effort has worked?
I have to stress and reiterate that Iran’s nuclear program is not Israel’s problem alone. Iran is developing nuclear arms against the Sunnis, the Saudis, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and others, because it wants to conquer all of them.
Iran’s nuclear program is also Europe’s problem, since it is developing a missile that can reach every capital in Europe. And Ahmadinejad openly declared that confrontation with the West is his ultimate goal. Meanwhile, he is also developing a missile that can reach American shores. So why should Israel be the one to initiate an attack?