[Editor’s note: Below is the transcript of a distinguished panel discussing the prospects for liberty in Iran at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend in Palm Beach, Nov. 18-21.]
Moderator: Well, thank you for coming, everyone, today to the Iran panel. Is revolution still possible in Iran today, now that we’ve seen the rise of the Green Revolution? It’s been quiet, so it seems, in the last several years.
However, today we have a distinguished panel. My name’s Craig Snider. I’m the Director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center for David Horowitz in Philadelphia. And I also work with the Snider Family Foundation.
We have today Richard Perle, who’s the former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration. And he also has been on the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee for the United States since 1987 until recently, in 2004. Richard is really a specialist in understanding and analyzing revolution and conflict abroad as it affects the interests of the United States. He’s got a broad range of experience that is applicable to Iran.
To his left – Amir Abbas Fakhravar is an Iranian dissident. He is a leader of the student movement inside Iran. He helped to start that many years ago. He was imprisoned for his criticism of the Iranian Islamic Republic. He was in prison for five years, and other times before that, and suffered at the hands of the regime, as so many others have, inside the Evin Prison in Tehran.
It was through Richard Perle’s encouragement and help that Amir was able to transition here to the United States. And in fact, when I first heard Amir speak, he mentioned Richard’s name.
I’m from the private sector, have been working in the private sector all my life, with the exception of joining forces with David a couple years ago. Richard obviously, on the federal and the international level, a man who makes public policy and has been really a witness to history in many of the conflicts around the world that have been in his prevue in his various capacities; and Amir, a dissident and an Iranian national, who is currently in the throes of helping to organize disparate elements of the dissident community.
So I have a few questions I’m going to ask to get things started.
One of the things that I wanted to ask both Richard and Amir is – what stage of the Iranian Revolution, if we can call it that, do you think we’re at right now? And what is the biggest obstacle for preventing the success of this revolution, if in fact it’s underway?
Richard, maybe – Richard, you can start.
Richard Perle: I think if you had asked that question in the immediate aftermath of the Iranian elections, many people would’ve been inclined to say that we are in a late stage with respect to another Iranian Revolution. We’re suffering from the last Iranian Revolution, although not nearly as much as the people of Iran are suffering from it. But in the short term, the Green Revolution seems to have lost momentum.
That should not discourage anyone from the view that in the absence of a regime change in Iran, we have nothing to look forward to but an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and even more aggressive in its destabilizing support for terrorism and disruption in the entire Middle East region. There is no conflict in the region – and they’re all dangerous – that is not fueled by Iran under its present leadership.
Having said all of that, Iran seems to me a place that is really ripe for revolution. And it’s ripe for revolution because it is an unusually young, oppressed population that is not keen on having every aspect of their lives dictated to, which is the current situation. It is a regime that rules by force and intimidation. And if anyone saw the response by the police, the Revolutionary Guards and the Basiji to the demonstrations in which millions of people turned out against the administration, that was a pretty compelling view of how the administration remains in power.
And when you have to turn out hundreds of thousands of armed, paid supporters of the regime in order to disrupt millions protesting the existence of the regime, you’re in trouble. And it’s only, in my view, a question of time.
Last point – I think we are long past a stage in the Iranian Revolution, long past the point at which we should have figured out that we can hasten it. And we can hasten it in a variety of ways, and I expect we’ll get into that in the course of this discussion.
But I want to leave you with the point that if you think a revolution in Iran is possible – if you believe that a regime change could occur – then it seems to me irresponsible, at least, to not anticipate the aftermath of such an event and to begin now to organize, so that in the aftermath of the chaos that would undoubtedly ensue, we will see the rise to power and authority in Iran of people who do not mean us ill, who do not – are not obsessively attached to nuclear weapons, and who are not eager to disrupt the entire region of the Middle East.
So whether it’s tomorrow or three years from now, or five years from now, we should be doing what we can to assure that out of the vacuum that will follow the collapse of this regime, we do not see the emergence of another god-awful regime.
Moderator: Thank you, Richard. I would like to ask Amir to comment on that and to hitchhike on Richard’s last comment that there are things that we could do to hasten the downfall of the regime. You have inside knowledge of and contact with people on the inside of Iran. Is the pronouncement of the death of the Green Movement premature? What’s happening there? And what do you need to succeed?
Amir Fakhravar: Okay. First of all, thank you, David, and all of my friends, and thank you, Richard and Craig.
Three years ago, when David Horowitz gave me the Annie Taylor Award, exactly this time, that was really hard for me to speak English. And that was impossible to understand what the other people are talking about without using the translator. And right now, I’m glad I can understand. I hope you can understand my English. Thank you, David, again.
And about the Revolution – let’s talk first – when the Green Movement happened one and a half years ago, a lot of Islamic Republic’s lobbyists – they are calling themselves scholars in Washington, D.C., Iran scholar. They said this is not a revolution; this is a civil right movement. And they tried hard to push it to the other part – this is the civil right movement. And when we ask them, Why you are saying that, they said, Because revolution is hard. And it’s not going to be like this.
I want to maybe remind them – our people, they are not unfamiliar with the Revolution. We had several revolutions or events the same as Revolution. One hundred four years ago, we had the – we were the first nation in the East to establish a parliamentary system during the Constitutional Revolution.
And just think about it – 104 years ago we started. And then we had nationalizing oil in 1951, and that was [a type of] revolution. And then, we had really – I don’t know what can I name this revolution – the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the bloody revolution. And then we had reform movement. And when Khatami came to power for eight years – and that was type of revolution in Iran. And also the student uprising 9 of July, 1999. I was one of the leaders of that movement. That event was the same as revolution [to and] the Green Movement.
During the Green Movement, we had four million people in street, and they chanted, “Death to Khomeini, death to dictator.” It’s not easy in Iran to say these type of things. Okay, that means it’s possible to have the revolution. And we have, right now, all the facts together to think about another revolution. And the Green Movement is still alive. Maybe you can’t see it in the street. But two months ago, three of Islamic Republic’s diplomats in Europe – they resigned. And they sent a statement and said, “We want to join the Green Movement.” It’s two months ago. Think about it.
When the official people of Islamic Republic – and the people should pass lot of step to sit in these type of position. And when they are saying the Green Movement will be successful – and they started the campaign of Green Embassy. And they ask all of their colleagues to resign and join the people for the Green Revolution. That means the movement is still alive. And you can see everywhere in Iran all – on the wall the people – they are just writing the green V. V is the logo of a revolution.
And in all of the Iranians’ houses right now, you can see the picture of Neda, the lady that was killed one and a half years ago during the protest, the Green protest. That means we have the symbol, the national symbol. We have several national days for the Green Movement right now. And we have everything to create another revolution.
And what we need are two things. And want to continue it in other question. It’s oil sanction, and clean up the Voice of America.
Moderator: You touched on two things, and we will come back to that. This is a related question – what, Richard, an we learn from the Iraq experience, number one? And then, number two – and this is more directed at Amir for afterwards – does Iran have the equivalent of an insurgency movement that could erupt? If a revolution were to happen, would we be faced with an intransigent kind of enemy in the long-term insurgency war?
Richard Perle: One of the important but seldom-discussed lessons from Iraq, in my view, is that if you fail to design a political strategy, if you’re dealing with a problem like Iraq – and Saddam Hussein was certainly a problem – in the end, you may have only a military strategy to fall back on.
And because we passed up one opportunity after another to develop and implement a political strategy in Iraq, when 9⁄11 came, and the administration became justifiably concerned that a nation with a history of ties to terrorism and a history of weapons of mass destruction was loose and might continue in the vein of 9⁄11, we had no nonmilitary strategy available to us.
It’s not because we didn’t try. It’s not because the Congress didn’t try. Congress had passed something called the Iraq Liberation Act, which called for regime change in Iraq and actually allocated funds to support regime change in Iraq. And it did that five years earlier. But the Clinton Administration chose not to spend the money that had been allocated for that purpose.
Now, among other results of that is that we had no opportunity to try to change Iraq from within. But even if you think that would not have succeeded, when in the end we went into Iraq militarily, we had no infrastructure in Iraq to organize the post-Saddam era.
And we’ve all seen that while the initial invasion went extremely well, and Saddam fled Baghdad in 20 days, the aftermath proved to be far more difficult than many had anticipated and far more difficult than it needed to be. Because we did not have in place, as we should have had in place, a cadre of people known to us, known to be capable of forming a government and bringing stability rapidly into what became a chaotic situation. And so we got the insurgency, from which the Iraqis suffered hugely and from which we still suffer today.
So the lesson is, when you are faced with an obvious threat – and what could be a more obvious threat than the ambitions and capabilities of the regime in Iran – when you are faced with an obvious threat, it is ludicrous to have no political strategy to deal with it. And if, in the end, that threat reaches proportions that require the use of force, if you haven’t had a political strategy, the ability to manage that process will be infinitely more hazardous and more difficult.
Moderator: So I’ll restate the second part of the question. You know, typically in a revolution, you’ve got true-believers on both sides of the contest. In Iran, do you see a similar possibility of a core group of dedicated fanatics that will fight to the bitter end? Or do you think it’s different in Iran?
Amir Fakhravar: And Richard mentioned a great point about it. We didn’t have any type of protest of any type of this in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for years, we can see these type of things in Iran. And they’re established now to fight with the mullahs.
And the other thing is the good point – is in 1979, the Basijis, the Revolutionary Guard at that time – they had something to believe. They believed in Khomeini as a messenger from God from 12 Imam. They believe in 12 Imam, they believe in [Shiaism]. They had something to believe. And during the 30 years corruption, just right now they believe in money, and their salary. Their salary is three times more than the normal salary of employee of government in Islamic Republic. And they don’t believe anymore in 12 Imam. They saw the mullahs in power are just taking advantage of power and money and everything. And that’s the good things. Maybe in 1979 they were ready to be killed for their belief, and right now they are not.
And I’m sure you can see a lot of Basijis with tie, and they will shave, and they will come to say, We are diplomat. And it happened to Islamic Republic’s diplomat. They just resigned. They shaved, and they wear tie, and they are saying, We are diplomats. And just look at their picture last year.
And I don’t think we will have the type of civil war in Iran. Because the people, they don’t have any gun. That was one of Islamic Republic’s huge law, to just remove all the guns from the hand of people. And just the Basiji and Revolutionary Guard – they have the gun.
Richard Perle: It seems to me the situation in Iran is more likely to look like the situation in Romania, where Ceausescu was gone in an instant, despite the vast security apparatus that, up until the moment they decided they were no longer going to support him, were a powerful, intimidating force. I think it can turn on a dime in Iran. And I can’t see where the opposition would come from, although Amir is probably right that people with guns will shoot at one another.
Amir Fakhravar: And I want to add another thing. We are talking about the generation, the new generation. More than 70 percent of Iranian people right now are under the age of 35, and 81 percent under the age of 40. They love United States. They are not like the old generation – brainwashed to just say “death to America, death to Israel.” They’re not like this. They love America, they have respect for Israel.
And I have fact and proof for that. Look what happened two years ago. November 4th, if I’m not mistaken, the anniversary of hostage-taking in Iran – that’s the national – that was the national day to say “death to America.” For 30 years. And the new generation, they came to street, and they chanted, “Obama, Obama, are you with them, or with us?” And they asked directly US government to help.
And I don’t want to go over there to see what happened from this side. Because maybe Obama thought it’s better to just invite the Islamic Republic’s official for negotiation, or exactly after the election to invite them for Fourth of July party. I can’t understand why.
But the new generation in Iran, they are well-educated. They know West. They have access to Internet, even with the dialup. They have access to Internet, and they can understand what’s better for them. And they want to use the United States as a role model to build the new Iran.
Moderator: There’s two themes emerging here. One is, how do you prepare for a leadership vacuum should the Islamic Republic fall? And then, another was, how do we hasten the fall? Is there something we can do as Americans, whether it be in government, in the private sector, or even within, in terms of the revolutionary movement itself?
Somebody just asked – please define the goals of the Green Movement. I will just comment quickly that the Green Movement is really a confederation informally of different groups that oppose the regime. And it’s all under one umbrella.
There’s reformers, who want a kinder, gentler Islamic Republic. There are secular Greens, like Amir, who are working to create a new constitution for Iran that would be modeled after the one in the United States that would not be a religious state. And there are even socialists and monarchists and communists over there that oppose the existing regime. So one of the real challenges is to bring those groups together in some kind of way. Obviously, they have different kinds of goals.
So in terms of the hastening the fall of the Islamic Republic, there are few people that would disagree that Iran’s rise to nuclear ascendency is the number-one threat to the current world order, and it mustn’t happen. And yet we don’t see much happening. The options of bombing Iran or starting a war could create more unforeseen problems.
Amir Fakhravar: First, I want to just explain. Craig said “secular democracy” in Iran. The secularism is a little different, maybe, from the secularism that’s in United States they are talking about. We love God. We are not talking about just get rid of God. We love God.
And I was Muslim, and I’m not anymore. And it’s the same thing happened to the millions of Iranian people. The new generation – they said, okay, if this is Islam, we don’t want to be Muslim anymore. We don’t want to just follow the Shiaism anymore. And they are thinking right now to how we can love our God and not be involved in any type of these religious corruption.
And about having the coalition of the opposition groups – I’m hundred percent agree with Richard. And if – I want to let Richard first to talk about it, and I want to follow this part about the coalition. Because Richard has several experiences about this part that – how much we need to have these type of things. And I will continue.
Richard Perle: I think the first thing to say is that the current approach of the administration militates against doing anything to hasten regime change in Iran. Not only is it not aimed at regime change; it proceeds from the idea that it is possible to sit down and negotiate with Ahmadinejad and his colleagues a set of arrangements that would be beneficial for the United States, centered almost exclusively on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. So it contemplates nothing of consequence that would improve the life of the Iranian people.
In any case it’s bound to fail. We have been negotiating with the Islamic Republic of Iran since its inception in one form or another, openly, covertly, directly, indirectly, through intermediaries. And we are negotiating with them today. And President Obama has again and again and again held out his hand to the Iranians. And the regime understands that outstretched hand as a sign of weakness. It’s a white flag. So it’s had no effect whatsoever on the regime.
There’s a sanctions program which is better than nothing, but it’s a weak sanctions program. I think there are ways in which stronger sanctions could be put in place, but that’s another topic.
So the first issue is, do we really want to remove the regime in Iran, or is there another approach? The administration believes there’s another approach. And it will be more and more obvious – I think it’s already obvious – that that isn’t going to work.
Once you decide that the goal of American policy should be regime change, then it seems to me you can begin to design a strategy to hasten regime change. You start with the fact that the vast majority of Iranians – and Amir has described how young they are, how they don’t share the beliefs that animated their fathers and grandfathers. The overwhelming opposition to the regime in Iran is fertile ground for organization and communication.
Any movement to turn out an entrenched regime requires that people willing to do that are able to communicate with one another. The first thing a totalitarian regime does is deprive individuals of the ability to communicate with one another, so that everyone is meant to feel he is all alone. And the sense that you are not alone, that in Isfahan and in Qom and in Tabriz you have colleagues, friends, who want to accomplish the same purpose, is really fundamental.
So internal communication is crucial. And that’s simply a matter of hardware and a little bit of organization, and there’s a great deal we could do to facilitate internal communications.
Secondly, if people are going to organize to bring down a regime, they have to be able to devote themselves to that purpose without starving their families to death. So some level of covert assistance, just money, that enables people to devote themselves to the organizational tasks of pulling together this inchoate opposition is necessary. And it’s not all that difficult to organize.
You can’t do it completely by covert means, because the political dimension is crucial, too. This country has to stand for the Iranian opposition. And it has to be clear about that, and Obama has been anything but clear about it. The few comments he’s made that could be interpreted as expressing some modicum of sympathy for the dissidents was made too late, and it was too little, and it was under pressure. There’s no sense that this government is genuinely sympathetic to the aspirations of the Iranian people. We need to change that. Because that is an amazingly powerful galvanizing force.
So you have three things. You have demonstrable political support. You have support with respect to communications. And we could get into the details of that, but it’s very important – including, by the way, the ability to communicate to the outside world in a timely fashion. I mean, there are terrible things going on in Iran. And if they were more visible, more people would be animated to oppose the regime both inside and outside the regime. And thirdly, you need to provide a little bit of sustenance to people who are prepared to risk their lives but have to be able to operate effectively.
The fourth area is sanctions, and we can get into that later.
Moderator: Amir has been extremely busy trying to promote the idea of oil sanctions against Iran, which would, in his mind, deprive the regime of currency. And I think that we all know that, if we could get that passed, that it would be another thing that would help.
But in particular, I want – if you could, Amir, to explain a little bit about the infiltration of the regime into the Persian Service of the Voice of America, and how this has slowed the progress of the Green Movement inside Iran, and how it has actually hurt the movement, and what you’re doing about that.
Amir Fakhravar: And I want to answer this question to just continue and follow up with the last question. We should have plan and strategy. And the US government should have strategy. And right now, [as I see this] administration, they don’t have any type of plan, any type of policy for Iran. They’re just going day by day what’s happening.
And the idea of negotiation is the worst thing they can talk about it. Because they are giving legitimacy to Islamic Republic. And they should just forget about this idea. Because it’s not going to happen. They can’t go and talk with a monster. They should do their homework about the Islamic Republic and about the mullahs to know who they are. They are not the normal humans.
And you can’t go and talk with a monster and say, Please, monster, don’t kill your people. And they would say, Ha. At all they can’t understand what are you talking about. And when you are saying, Okay, don’t stoning your prisoners, and they’re saying, Okay, we are hanging them – they can’t understand it. And we should just forget about that.
Two years ago, during my speech in UK Parliament, the CNN asked me this question—if Barack Obama came to the power and wanted to negotiate with Islamic Republic, what would you think? I said good luck. If he can find someone to talk to, okay, let’s go. He wrote several letter to the Islamic Republic, the Supreme Leader, to Ahmadinejad. And no answer. And this year, September, during the – what’s it – United Nations gathering, he said the door is still open. And exactly after Ahmadinejad came and said, Barack Obama, are you sure you didn’t do 9⁄11?
Okay, we should go directly for three things. First, we should cut the lifeline of mullah [through an] oil sanction. It’s possible. I’m not talking about the gasoline sanction. I’m talking directly about oil sanction. Last year, Iran had $83 billion from selling oil. Okay, they are using this money to pay salary, three times more than regular, to the Revolutionary Guard and Basijis to attack the people.
And they are paying this money to buy friends in South America; maybe to create another Hezbollah, the second Hezbollah for United States. They created the first one in 1982 in south of Lebanon for Israel. And they are working here in Venezuela. Just please, look at this part, what they are doing here, and why they are – they spent $1 billion for a new TV, Islamic Republic’s official TV Spanish language. What they want in South America?
And also, they can use that money, petrodollars, to support Hezbollah and Hamas. And the fourth part – they are using that money to continue their stupid nuclear program. Okay, if they don’t have this money, they can’t do any of these things. That’s easy. And I know it’s hard to achieve. But it’s possible to think about it and go for it.
We had lot of success. We had the great conversion with the Canadian government. And they said, We are ready. If you can have the US Congress, we will follow them. And the same thing we heard from the French government, and we heard from the Italian government. And we are right now in the middle of negotiating with them about this part.
The first is oil sanction. Second is having the Voice of America as the best tool to talk with the Iranian people inside Iran. They need education. And right now, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the head of Voice of America – they have $700 million yearly to just broadcast the message. Their mission is promote democracy and freedom, and to tell the truth about United States to make the better face of United States outside of the country.
But what they are doing with this money? Right now, Voice of America became the best help for Islamic Republic. And they are just broadcasting the anti-American message and anti-Israel message. And they’re just making fun of United States government, United States Army. And they are just sending the message to give hope to Revolutionary Guard – you did a great job, you killed today 20 American soldiers. And it’s wrong!
And they are not giving time to the oppositions. They (inaudible) me [and my entire] organization– more than 8,000 student activists inside and outside of Iran. And they directly told us, You are pro-American. We don’t want to give you time. We need Voice of America to educate the Iranian people inside Iran and to educate the Iranians outside Iran.
During their campaign for – Presidential campaign two years ago, the Voice of America – we have officially 900,000 Iranians in United States. They have a lot of money. And Voice of America asked all of them to vote for Barack Obama directly. And that’s illegal. And 95 percent of Iranians in United States – they voted for Barack Obama. Because they thought Barack Obama will help the movement in Iran. And after Green Movement happened, all of them said, Oh, my God, what did we do? Why he is not supporting the Green Movement?
The Voice of America needs to be changed.
And the [third thing] is to create something like government in exile, not maybe calling government in exile – but start to practicing to having alternative. And we are in the middle of this process.
Now sorry, I know I’m talking too much.
Moderator: No, no, no, no, this is good.
I’m going to open it up for questions. I’ll just make one announcement. Because this won’t get there and leave time for questions. But I do want to say that through private philanthropy, the Iranian Freedom Institute, which Amir founded, has announced that it is going to be holding an Iran Democratic Transition Conference in Washington, D.C. in January.
There are Iranian exiles around the world that have been modeling a new constitution for Iran based on the United States Constitution. This conference will be the first of its kind being held under the auspices of the Institute of World Politics in Washington. But this is going to be bringing together Iranians in different groups that have a severe distrust of one another. This is going to be in Washington, D.C. in January – 27th. 22nd, I’m sorry.
Q: Is there any way – this is for Richard and Amir – is there any way, other than like sanctions, to try and peal the Revolutionary Guard and the Basiji away from the government and toward the people, as happened in Yugoslavia? Or are they all imported from outside, so they don’t feel, oh my God, we’re killing our own children?
Amir Fakhravar: It is a short comment. It already happened. Because they realized during the Green Movement, several of the people [they] were killed – they were the kids of the ruling class. Mohsen Rooh-al-Amini. His father was one of the top-10 head of Revolutionary Guard. And it happened in Iran. Then the family started to say, What we are doing? They are not enemy. Why the Supreme Leader telling us they are enemy? They are our kids, they are our family. And they need to just – we need a little more time to see that things will be everywhere.
Q: This question might be a little complex, but bear with me.
I get so concerned about this Green Movement thing. Back in the 1979 Revolution, my crazy Marxist sister ran over to Iran and conducted a march of 250,000 women through the streets of Tehran. And she got up in the city square and called the Ayatollah a male chauvinist pig. And so they came in the middle of the night, and they abducted her and put her into a dungeon, and terrified her for days.
Now, the reason that my sister had gone there was because she was an avid Marxist. Because that was really the Marxists fomenting revolution in Iran. And the mullahs stole the revolution away from them.
Now, this is what concerns me – every Marxist I’ve known for the last 45 years in America is part of the Green Movement in America. And you said something about communists being involved in this movement. Now, somebody said to me, wait – because I was saying, the Greens, the Greens, wait – this is the new Marxist movement. This is the worldwide Marxist movement. They’re all calling themselves Greens now. And they said, no, no, no, the Green thing is an Iranian thing. It’s a different thing.
And I’m wondering, is this a different thing?
Amir Fakhravar: First, the Marxist color is red. And I hate Marxism. And you are right – in this country, the activists calling themselves Green Movement they are trying to just hijack the movement. They are Marxist. I can name the professor in Columbia University, Hamid Dabashi. He’s acting as a leader of Green Movement here, and going around. And he has a lot of access to the universities to make speech.
And a month before the election, he had an interview, special interview, with state TV in Iran, Channel 4. And he said, “You know, I was Marxist during the revolution. But when Khomeini came to power, I did my research on Khomeini. I found Khomeini as a Prophet Mohammad for our age, and I converted to Islam from Marxism, a month before election.” And after election happened, and he saw millions of new generations – okay, I’m the leader of Green Movement. But the people inside Iran, the Green Movement [means something else] – it’s pro-American, they love America. When they changed the chant, “death to America,” to “death to Russia” and “death to China,” that was the best message to the world that we love America, and we don’t have anything against America, we are against the Marxists. So –
Richard Perle: Can I just add quickly to that? You’re right to be apprehensive. Because the Communists are well-practiced at seizing opportunities like this. It is exactly the reason why we should be now putting together the organizations that, after things change in Iran, we can have some confidence in. Because people will emerge out of nowhere. And it’s important to do that vetting now, because you don’t have any time to do it when the barricades are coming down.
Q: My question is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. In June, I was in a conference in Philadelphia. And Vice Prime Minister Ayalon was there and was asked about the United States abandoning Israel and how that would affect Israel striking Iran. And he said – and I was in the audience – “We will do what we have to do, when we have to do it.” Could you guys address the issue of Israel striking Iran in light of today’s session?
Richard Perle: The considerations among Israelis as to whether to take preemptive action in order to stop Iran from crossing a line in becoming a nuclear weapons power is narrowly focused on that – on nuclear weapons – although one could argue that 60,000 Hezbollah-supplied rockets – Iranian-supplied rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon is a pretty menacing situation, too. And so maybe there are other problems that should be dealt with. And regime change solves a lot of these problems.
But the Israelis are certainly going to look at whether, at the last possible moment, they are faced with a choice between a nuclear armed Iran or military action against critical sites associated with the Iranian nuclear program. And there are other things that can be done as well, and we’ve seen some of that. We saw a computer virus infecting some of the control systems in the Iranian nuclear program. No Israeli has told me that that software was designed in Israel, but it seems to me pretty likely. There have been some Iranian scientists who’ve met untimely deaths.
So the Israelis will use the full range of means to stop a nuclear weapon. The question is, when do you get at the point where you have to make that choice? And it is not, obviously, when the first nuclear test takes place.
In 1981, the Israelis attacked the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, years in advance of the ability of that reactor to contribute to a nuclear weapons program. Years in advance. And they did it then because it was the last moment at which they could destroy that facility without spreading nuclear material in a populated area. And that, the Israelis thought, would be politically impossible. So reluctantly, they took the action that they did.
There is a similar breakpoint, tipping point, here. I can’t tell you what it is. But it is almost certainly related to actions by Iran that would put a tailored military operation beyond the realm of the possible or politically feasible. So depending on what judgment the Israelis make, it could happen at any moment.
I believe, if it comes to it, they will not allow Iran to become a nuclear weapon state.
Moderator: We have time for just one more question. And see this young lady in the middle there – has been waiting.
Q: What effect would a strike by Israel have on a potential revolution?
Richard Perle: It’s a very interesting question. There is a lot of groupthink on this question within the US administration and in the intellectual community on campuses and elsewhere. And the narrative is very simple – it will unify the people of Iran behind the regime. There’s no way of knowing that. You can’t collect opinions in any systematic way under the circumstances that exist in Iran. People don’t respond to surveys.
So you’re guessing. And I believe it could go either way. It is possible that people would rally around. It is also possible that people will say the regime has brought us to this terrible situation. In the end, I think a great deal depends on how the attack is executed.
Suppose it could be done without physical violence. Suppose the computer virus had not just disrupted but had actually destroyed the program. Would Iranians rally around the administration? I think not. I think they’d continue to harbor the intense dislike.
So suppose it’s done with great precision. Suppose it is in fact a military strike, but the only things destroyed are a few critical facilities, very few people are killed. The population as a whole doesn’t suffer significantly. Well, we just don’t know. But I think it’s a great mistake to assume that the only possible outcome of what would, of course, be a last resort, last-ditch effort by the Israelis – that the only possible outcome will make the situation worse. Because in at least one important respect, it would make the situation much better.
Moderator: I want to thank you all for being here this morning. And please extend a round of applause to our two guests.