Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Noah Beck, a frequent columnist on Middle East issues and author of the book, "The Last Israelis," the second edition of which was released last spring.
FP: Noah Beck, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Congratulations on releasing the second edition of your book, which our readers should know is available in e-book, paperback, and audiobook formats on Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites.
Noah, the message of your book is chilling and packed into an informative and entertaining submarine thriller.
Let’s begin by you telling us a bit about the book in general.
Beck: Thanks, Jamie. The Last Israelis was inspired by a simple question: what happens when it’s too late to stop Iran from acquiring nukes? My novel depicts the doomsday scenario resulting from a nuclear-armed Iran, as experienced by 35 ideologically divided and ethnically diverse Israelis aboard the Dolphin submarine.
FP: Some reviews of your book say that it should be made into a movie. Any plans for that?
Beck: Well, that's how I originally conceived of the idea, back in 2009. The premise was boiling with dramatic potential, and I was tempted to dive into a film project, but writing a screenplay that within months becomes a widely released movie is like Ayatollah Khamenei taking a phone call from me and agreeing to dismantle Iran's nuclear program: impossible. But in March of 2012, after I was still hearing the same type of weak talk and indecision about the Iranian nuclear issue, I resolved to drop everything and work on this story as an e-book, which can be released instantly.
FP: So your concern about Iran's nuclear program is what inspired you to write The Last Israelis?
Beck: Absolutely. The Iranian nuclear threat is the most important global security issue of this generation. Many extremely bad consequences follow if Iran goes nuclear. The entire NPT regime will be undermined, opening the proliferation floodgates as other countries in the volatile Middle East will feel threatened into wanting their own nuclear programs. You could soon see a nuclear proliferation nightmare unfold in the world's most unstable region, as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and other countries rush to build the Bomb.
Iran is also the world's leading sponsor of terrorism and has supported many terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. In fact, Hezbollah is responsible for more American deaths than any group other than al-Qaeda. So if Iran has no qualms about supporting such groups with arms, training, and funds, why should we hope that a nuclear-armed Iran wouldn't share the nuclear material needed for one of these groups to produce and deploy a dirty bomb? The era of nuclear terrorism could make crashing planes into buildings look like “the quaint, good old days” when terrorist attacks at least weren’t radioactive.
And if Iran sponsors terrorism, threatens its neighbors (including countless overt threats to destroy Israel), and cooperates with rogue regimes like Syria and North Korea WITHOUT a nuclear deterrent, imagine how much more dangerous and aggressive the Iranian regime becomes once it has nukes in its arsenal. Knowing that it has a nuclear deterrent, Iran would become that much more belligerent when exporting its radical Islamic ideology, pursuing disputed territories and resources from neighboring countries, and/or undertaking actions like blocking the Strait of Hormuz to increase the price of oil.
And imagine the consequences for the war in Syria (Iran's biggest ally in the Middle East) if Iran had nuclear weapons today. To cap it off, Iran has been threatening to destroy Israel for at least a decade while tenaciously pursuing the nuclear means to do exactly that. So the parade of horribles associated with Iranian nukes is seemingly endless. And yet, world powers appear to be asleep at the wheel when it comes to preventing this calamity.
So, to focus public attention on the issue, I authored The Last Israelis in a breathless ten weeks, hoping to release the book in time to impact the May 2012 “P5+1” talks in Baghdad, when world powers tried yet again for a diplomatic solution.
FP: You have never served in the submarine force, so how does a layman write a 271-page Armageddon thriller about the crew aboard Israel's German-made, diesel-electric submarine?
Beck: It was an all-consuming project that took over my every waking minute. I basically dropped everything in my life, watched countless submarine movies, and lived and slept in front of my Internet connection, conducting whatever research I could online. I also traveled to Israel to speak with veterans of the Israeli submarine force. I was amazed at how flat hierarchies there are – even with something as rigid as the military. With a few friendly introductions, I was talking to the former head of the submarine force, who had himself captained countless missions.
I also became friends with one of a handful of Ethiopians ever to have served in Israel’s elite and secretive submarine force. Of course, these veterans dodged most of my questions, for reasons of national security, but they were very helpful with general guidance that helped to keep the story realistic. One of the veterans even reviewed the first draft of my manuscript and pointed out technical issues that needed to be tweaked or researched online more.
Armed with all of the submarine details, Middle East history, military research, and other story elements that I had carefully researched, I imagined a motley group of submariners -- from diverse ethnic backgrounds with dramatically different worldviews and politics -- confronting the unthinkable as World War III unfolds in their claustrophobic reality. Writing the book was so intense and involved so few breaks (essentially just leaving my small apartment when I ran out of food) that at times I felt as if I myself was on that Dolphin submarine.
FP: That does sound intense. What led you to release a second edition last spring?
Beck: Last January, I saw that -- since the time my novel first came out -- Iran's nuclear progress had continued unabated. So, to continue raising awareness before Iran crosses the nuclear finish line, I decided to reach more people by making the book available in more formats (paperback and audiobook). The process of revisiting the manuscript led to editorial improvements that I didn't have time to catch during the rushed writing of the first draft, and there were a few geopolitical updates to add to the story (since the backdrop is all based on current events and Middle East history).
FP: Your book is hardly the typical action thriller, and that unconventional style allows it to explore a fascinating collection of issues. Can you talk a bit about that?
Beck: Thanks. You're right that the apocalyptic novel is not your typical, action-packed military technothriller. There's plenty of action (mostly in the second half of the book) but the book also addresses several themes and issues beyond submarine warfare and the dangers of Iranian nukes. Many of the sailors on board come from families that represent the complex history of Israel and the Middle East. So the book also covers the treatment of Jews, Christians, and other religious minorities in the Middle East. The story also examines the impact of terrorism on victim's families, the limits of nuclear deterrence and containment, Zionism and what the State of Israel represents to Jews and non-Jews alike, war ethics and retribution, and other topics.
FP: How do you think Iran's president-elect Hassan Rouhani may change the dynamic of the Iranian nuclear threat and/or public interest in your nuclear thriller?
Beck: Funny you should ask. After Rouhani won the Iranian presidential election, there was a 2,000% surge in the sales of my book. By the third day following his election, I had sold over 2,100 copies just from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I think that the skyrocketing sales could mean that the reading public is growing concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and is maybe skeptical about the next Iranian president’s nuclear policy. After all, Rouhani skillfully played for time when he led Iran’s nuclear negotiations from 2003 to 2005, so maybe his election actually helps Iran gets nukes, which leads to the kind of Armageddon my book depicts.
FP: I can certainly see Obama and various European leaders trying to convince themselves that they're now dealing with a moderate.
Beck: Indeed, that's what actually makes his election bad news. Iran's outgoing President Ahmadinejad was arguably the best way to keep the world focused on just how dangerous the Iranian regime is. He was this grotesque and generally reviled figure, and the thought that his finger might be anywhere near the nuclear button was viscerally disturbing even to the most naive doves. And yet – despite all of Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denials and threats to destroy Israel – Iran still managed to achieve substantial nuclear progress, so imagine how much more impotent world powers will become once they're dealing with the far more palatable Rouhani.
FP: And people forget that the Iranian president isn't even the most powerful figure in the regime.
Beck: Exactly. Even if Rouhani wanted to soften Iran’s nuclear policy, it is Khamenei who decides such matters, and his intransigence is well established (e.g., Khamenei banned presidential candidates from later making concessions to the West, and last February vetoed direct talks between Iran and the United States).
And even if Khamenei were to disappear, the realpolitik considerations guiding the Iranian regime would remain. Iran, which considers itself a protector of Shiite Islam, fears a Sunni takeover of Alawite-ruled Syria. The Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and Iran just committed 4,000 troops to Syria, to help fortify Basher Assad’s regime there. So Iran’s alignments mean that it will also continue supporting Hezbollah, another Shiite force fighting alongside Assad’s military. These realities ensure that Shiite Iran’s relations with its Sunni neighbors will grow increasingly adversarial, and that too will reinforce Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
FP: Is the idea of "regime change" outdated on the issue of Iranian nukes?
Beck: I think so. Those who cautioned that military action against Iranian nukes could alienate ordinary Iranians and minimize the odds of internal regime change must now concede that Iran’s regime has “changed.” Any further change could take years, because president-elect Rouhani must work within a complex system, developed over decades, and he’s not about to overthrow it. Nor are the millions who elected him. They got the president they voted for, so they have no reason to protest any time soon (especially after 2009, when they had strong grounds to protest, but their voices brought only brutal crackdowns without any democratic gains).
FP: So what approach do you think world powers should take with Iran's new president?
Beck: To show good faith and establish his “moderate” credentials, Rouhani should cease all nuclear enrichment until the next round of diplomatic talks concludes. But in his very first press conference, Rouhani vowed to continue enrichment. So after he assumes the presidency this August, he deserves only the briefest “honeymoon.” If he offers no substantive nuclear compromise within weeks, the West must halt Iran’s nuclear program with a firm ultimatum backed by overwhelming force.
The only time Iran ever showed any willingness to compromise on its nukes was when it feared an attack: after US forces swiftly devastated Iraq’s military in 2003. If Obama thinks that — without the threat of force — his outstretched hand will now be embraced by a “reformer,” he has fallen for the illusions of a fist that was unclenched for sleight of hand.
FP: Scary times.
Beck: Scary times indeed, Jamie. Iran has already enriched enough uranium to make several nukes, and will get the Bomb during Rouhani’s first term as president, unless an effective diplomatic and military strategy is pursued. So this is no time for naiveté about “moderates.”
FP: Noah, thanks so much for joining us here at Frontpage Interview.
Beck: Thanks, Jamie. There isn't much time for my book's urgent message to spread far and wide, so I hope your readers not only get the book but also tell their friends about it. Those who want to learn more about my apocalyptic thriller and/or read my blog (which includes many of my op-ed columns) can visit www.TheLastIsraelis.com.
FP: Thank, Noah.
And I strongly recommend The Last Israelis to all of our readers here at Frontpage – and to anyone who wants to read a gripping doomsday thriller and get up to speed on the Iranian nuclear issue, Middle East history, and all the pressing challenges we now face in that frightening theater.
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