Forum on Bridging the Gap: Islam and the West
Kenneth R. Timmerman, Author and Journalist
Dr. Max L. Gross, Senior Research Fellow, Joint Military Intelligence College
Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition 2006
Sept. 27 , 2006
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Moderator: We welcome both Kenneth Timmerman and Dr. Max Gross. Please come forward.
Mr. Timmerman: Good morning. Itís a pleasure to be with you this morning.
Itís always a little bit difficult to follow such a motivational speaker as Curt Weldon. Mr. Weldon told you a little bit about his travels around the world. I know something about that personally, having been the only reporter who went with him on that trip to meet Qadafi in March of 2004. It was really an extraordinary event. I wound up going in privately and was the only American who had gone in after they lifted the travel restrictions. I arrived at 4:00 oíclock in the morning in the airport in Tripoli not quite sure without a visa in my passport and a letter from somebody I didnít know whether I was going to wind up in a little cell some place or actually be released into the city, so it was quite an extraordinary situation. Mr. Weldon has a great deal of courage to do this kind of thing and he is a great asset to us in the United States House of Representatives.
And by the way he is, like everybody else, up for reelection this year and heís facing quite a strong challenge from just about the entire Clinton national security team who opposed him all during the 1990s.
Iíd like to talk to you this morning a bit about Iran, which is what Iíve been doing for a number of years. You probably cannot see in the back there the cover of my latest book, Countdown to Crisis Ė The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, but I guess you can up here on the monitor. The book deals with Iranís nuclear weapons development, it deals with Iranís support for terrorism, and it deals especially with the ideology of this regime in Tehran, the ideology which weíre seeing now from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his belief in the 12th Imam and his belief also that a world war will usher in the 12th Imam and a period of Islamic justice. This is something we need to take very seriously.
There is no doubt in anybodyís mind that the Islamic Republic of Iran is developing nuclear weapons. When they tell you their program is merely for civilian purposes or merely for fuel, donít be fooled. Itís simply not true, and Iíll tell you why. A few anecdotes from the book, and my own experience.
In 1993 the then head of Iranís Revolutionary Guards Corps, [Mosin Rasiyah] went to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Il Sung when he was still alive. He had a one-on-one meeting with him. I know about this meeting because he came back to Tehran in a government airplane and told to his top adviser in the executive cabinet exactly what happened. Hereís what he told that adviser who then told the story to me.
He said that he went in to talk to the North Korean dictator and said they had acquired on the black market two or three former Soviet warheads but they couldnít make them work and he wanted to know if North Korea could help them with those warheads and help them with nuclear technology in general. Kim Il Sung said yes, we are willing to help you with whatever you need.
Now itís a matter of public record that starting in í95, two years after that, the North Koreans began to supply missile technology to the Iranian government for their Shahab-3 missile that Mr. Weldon mentioned earlier. But that missile was designed in the very beginning to carry a nuclear warhead. I donít believe it was designed to carry those former Soviet warheads which there is some doubt whether they actually did arrive in Iran. I think they did, but I donít think they were ever serviceable. But now the Iranian missiles that were built in part by the North Koreans, in part by the Russians and Chinese, are operational and have a new warhead which has been specifically designed, a reentry vehicle specifically designed to carry a nuclear weapon.
In 1995, another quick anecdote, I was at a conference in Italy with a guy named Hassan Mashadi who was then a counselor to the Iranian government, their top arms control counselor. He surprised the audience of arms controllers and non-governmental experts by making the following statement. He said Ė This was the beginning, remember, when Iran had just signed the contract with the former Soviet Union to build the Bushir reactor, to rebuild the Bushir reactor. He surprised the audience by saying ďof course we want to keep our nuclear options open.Ē Since this was an audience of arms controllers, they understood exactly what that meant. A nation that wants to keep its nuclear options open is a nation which essentially is violating the non-proliferation treaty because the non-proliferation treaty is a specific commitment on the part of non-nuclear nations that they will not keep their nuclear options open, that they are committed to not developing nuclear weapons, and that they will not have a clandestine program.
We know now, and we know it not because the Iranians decided to live up to their commitments of transparency under the NPT but because an opposition group found them out, we know now that theyíve been violating the NPT flagrantly since 1987, for 19 years. We know, for instance, that in 1987 Dr. A.Q. Kahn made a trip to Iran, signed a consulting agreement with the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, and after that his black market network began to supply Iran with equipment.
The IAEA ultimately, when they began inspections in 2003, ultimately found information from those contracts. They discovered that the network had provided something like 2,500 centrifuges to Iran. The Iranians said we never used them. We spent all that money, we went on the black market, we risked world opprobrium and violations of the NPT just to keep those centrifuges in crates in a warehouse. Trust us.
Thatís what you have to believe, by the way, if you believe that Iran today is not a nuclear weapon state. You have to believe that the Iranians are telling us the truth when they say, "Trust us."
I was in Israel recently, both to cover the war from Hezbollah up in the north, and before that to talk to Israeli experts, both in government and out, about their estimates of Iranís nuclear weapons program. The Israelis said essentially this. They said we cannot base an estimate of capability on unknowns, so all weíre going to do is base our estimate on what we know and has been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency of Iranís capabilities.
What do we know? We know they have a sufficient source of natural uranium. We know they have a uranium conversion plant in [Esfahan] which is operating. We know they are currently ironing out the details in a centrifuge enrichment cascade and plan to have 3,000 centrifuges up and running by the end of this year. And as they project that timeline outwards, they said Ė this was in June Ė they said we estimate somewhere between two and a half to three years, the time that it would take Iran to have the capability to make their first nuclear weapon. Thatís a conservative estimate. That is based on what is known, what Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
I had an extensive conversation with some of these experts in Israel and I said well, what if Iran has other nuclear capabilities? What if they have a clandestine program, which everybody believes that they do? What if they have parallel enrichment facilities? What if this document that was found by the IAEA that they had acquired from the Kahn network that shows that Iran has the technology to make hemispheres of highly enriched uranium, what if that document really is a smoking gun and shows us that the Iranians have been working to make hemispheres of highly enriched uranium? In other words bomb [course]?
The Israeli experts came back to me and said well, in that case, obviously all bets are off.
So here are the two estimates on Iranís nuclear weapons program. Either they are somewhere between two and a half and three years away or who knows? They could be a day away. They could be the turn of a screw away, and we just donít know.
The CIA does not know; the Defense Intelligence Agency does not know because they have no spies in Iran. Iran has proved to be a very very difficult target to penetrate, and the Iranians have also shown themselves to be very sophisticated at sending out defectors, fake defectors, and flooding us with real information and disinformation, so it takes a great deal of effort to go through all of that.
If Iran is either one week from the bomb or three years from the bomb, we have to deal with them in one way or another. As I argue in Countdown to Crisis, thereís really only two policy options that have been on the table here for many years. The first is that we live with it. Appeasement. Itís done.
I worked on a book with Henry [Sikulvosky] which was done for Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the idea is living with a nuclear Iran. How do we cope with a nuclear-ready Iran? Thatís the first option.
The second option is war. So we have two real bad policy options faced with the Islamic Republic of Iran. We have appeasement or we have war.
Recently a number of people have spoken about a third way. This has come from the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, itís come from former National Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, and theyíve talked about some kind of grand bargain with Iran.
I argue, and you can see this on my web site, I write regularly for Front Page Magazine, I have a column there on Thursdays. Itís at KenTimmerman.com. I also write for Newsmax and you can see some of the news articles on this that I have done. I argue that the grand bargain, which means essentially cutting a deal with the Islamic regime in Tehran, also leads us directly to war. It leads us directly to war because of the ideology of this regime. This is a regime that believes that war is good. War is good for it. It believes that it will survive as a regime by confrontation with its neighbors and confrontation with the United States. So I think that the grand bargain is not a third way, it is simply a variation on that theme of appeasement.
I think there is a good option and itís the one option that the US government has never tried. That is helping the people of Iran to get rid of this regime.
See, our problem is not even nuclear weapons in Iran. Our problem is nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical terrorist regime. The good news is that out of a nation of 70 million people there are an awful lot of Iranians, over 60 percent under the age of 20 or so, there are an awful lot of Iranians who love America, who really would like their country to be an ordinary nation again where they can travel around the world showing an Iranian passport with pride instead of being suspected as terrorists. They do not like this regime in power today. But we have done nothing to empower the people of Iran, weíve done nothing to help the opposition movements inside Iran. There have been literally thousands of demonstrations over the past couple of years against the regime.
Youíre going to hear from people in the intelligence community, from the State Department and the rest, well there is no opposition. There is no organized opposition. There is tremendous opposition inside Iran.
Thereís opposition within the traditional clergy. I can still remember in 1997 bringing a dissident cleric in all of his black Ayatollah regalia into the Defense Intelligence Agency and he was coming there seeking assistance from the US government to undermine the clergy. He got nothing.
There is opposition within the student movement, weíve heard about this. In July of 1999 the students revolted. The regime believed it was on the verge of collapse. They cut off communications inside Iran and quashed the rebellion with a great deal of force. President Clinton was then out on the White House lawn interviewed by reporters and they said well what are you going to do about helping the pro-freedom movement, the students in Tehran? He literally did like this Ė the Pontius Pilate act. We can do nothing.
What the Iranian students, and many of them I interviewed, and you can read those interviews, that information in this book, Iranian students learned later, after theyíd been tortured, in jail, and managed to escape some of them, they learned later that they were not alone in Tehran demonstrating against the regime. There were uprisings in 18 cities across the country but they had no communications among them.
So there are things that we can do to help the pro-freedom movement in Iran, to help them communicate, give them secure communications. This is one of those cases, I believe, where Americaís national security interest meets our freedom agenda.
With that Iím going to leave it to Max who Iím sure has some comments to make about that, and I believe weíll have some questions afterwards. Thank you very much.
Dr. Gross: In the interest of time I will try to be very brief because I think we do have to have a few Q&A sessions.
I would just start out by saying that I did not know Mr. Timmerman before being asked a couple of months ago to participate as a commentator on his presentation so I have gone out and contributed to his fortune by buying a few of his books and reading them and getting to know what he stands for, and especially this new book Ė and Iíve also monitored his web site. I think we have many areas of disagreement, we do have many areas of agreement as well. His new book on Iran I think urge you all to read. Heís a very careful investigative reporter and does his research well, and is quite reliable in his deducing generalities from the evidence he has at hand. I think his fundamental argument that he makes that Iran is on the road to developing nuclear weapons is probably true. I do not disagree with him, despite the efforts or Mr. Ahmadinejad to assure us that this is not their intention, so I donít disagree with him on this but there are areas that I feel a bit uncomfortable with.
I think itís wonderful, the basic thrust that Mr. Timmerman has for helping the people of Iran get rid of the regime, but Iím suspicious of outside efforts to do that publicly. There may be quiet ways to assist. Certainly the United States supports democratic trends, but I, especially following our experience in Iraq, I think the idea of supporting democratic trends in countries by force is not necessarily a path that will bear the greatest fruit. So I hope that supporting the people of Iran to get rid of the regime does not imply an invasion of Iran to help the democratic forces. I think we would just find ourselves in a much more complicated situation than we already find ourselves in Iraq, and in two countries at one time it would be even more complicated.
But how to do so? I donít have the answer to that.
I do have a few thoughts, the topic of this agenda today was Islam and the West, bridging the gap. We could have gone in that direction in the talk but we have focused on Iran. But I do have a few general comments that Iíll make just before I break and answer your questions.
In probably April or May of 2003, soon after we had become involved in Iraq, I was approached at the Joint Military Intelligence College by a delegation from the Chaplainís Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who had been delegated by the Joint Chiefs to give some advice about how we deal with Islam. They had become aware that I had been teaching courses on Islam at the Joint Military Intelligence College and other places around town for about 25 years and they wanted to sound me out about what my thoughts might be. Without any preparation on my part and as part of our dialogue, of course we were getting involved in Iraq and we were involved in Afghanistan and we were dealing with Muslims. I found myself saying I think we should suppress the idea that weíre dealing with Muslims, but that weíre dealing with human beings who some are Muslim, some are Shia, some are Sunni, some are Kurds, but everyone is human beings. This of course would apply for Iran as it does in Afghanistan.
Because I think when we focus on people as members of a religious sect we tend to emphasize the differences that exist between us rather than commonalities. Does it make a difference is one is Sunni, if one is Shia, if one is Christian, if one is Jewish? Yes, of course there are differences, but I think we have an interest in suppressing these differences and finding commonalities rather than exaggerating and making a point of differences.
A part of that thought process that was going through was the idea that when we were operating in Muslim countries, as we are in Iraq, as we are in Afghanistan, as we might in Iran, weíre operating with Muslims who are allies and weíre dealing with Muslims who are antagonists. How do you tell which from which? And it becomes very complicated. When we analyze in terms of religious differences, I think we may contribute to the problem more than we tend to ameliorate the problem. So I have been rather disturbed with some of the writing about Iraq with differences between Sunnis and Shias and the difference between Arabs and Kurds, leading even to Senator Biden making his famous, and others too, making sort of the famous conclusion maybe the best outcome in Iraq is a partition of Iraq.
Well, that thought rather coincides with those who have been conspiracy theorists, have argued sort of thatís what perhaps our policy was from the beginning. Never stated, but to end up with a divided Iraq. That certainly wasnít our intention, it wasnít our stated intention when we went into Iraq in 2003, and Iím not sure that itís the solution either. One could make that thing that you could talk about a divided Iran. Thereís a Kurdish-Arab Iran, thereís a [Beluchi] area of Iran. In fact the Persian-speaking population of Iran constitutes at best 55 percent of the country of Iran. We could talk about an Azerbaijani state too. Is this really what weíre talking about when we talk about helping the people of Iran get rid of their regime?
The Middle East is a complicated region and the state system that has come into being is not necessarily the most ideal state system that came into being. Most of it was brought into being as a result of European influences in the region back in the 19th and early 20th Century. Iím sure it would give way eventually.
I hope that we will be a force for minimizing instability in the region rather than a force thatís emphasizing instability in the region which unfortunately from my point of view we are tending to do with our policy in Iraq and I fear we might do by being too adventurous in Iran.
Having made those statements and wanting to have a chance for you to question and comment on Mr. Timmermanís address and perhaps a few of the things I have said, I will step aside and open the floor to you.
Mr. Timmerman: Perhaps while weíre waiting for people to come up let me say one quick point about separatism, and I think itís very important what you just raised. People have also suggested that we could play to those separatist tendencies in Iran with the Azaris, the Beluchis and everyone, and the other groups. I have always said to Kurdish activists and Beluchi activists, and Iíve been working with them for the past 15-20 years, why would you want to limit yourself to freedom for just one tiny area of your country when in fact by working together you can have the whole thing and the whole country can be free? I think that is the answer ultimately to give first of all to the Iranian activists who are seeking freedom in their country, but itís also how you deal with the separatists, that slippery slope towards supporting the breakup of Iran which leads to people being very suspicious about American motives.
Dr. Gross: By the way, I was present that day you brought Ayatollah Rahani to DIA.
Mr. Timmerman: Yes, you were.
Question: Iím J.T. Sink from Boeing. A quick question for Mr. Timmerman.
You said that one option is war and the other option is appeasement. I donít know necessarily if thatís really an accurate term. After all, the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons all through the Cold War. Isnít the other option really deterrence or containment or something like that? Why wouldn't deterrence operate against Iran in a similar way?
Mr. Timmerman: Thank you, and thatís a very good question and itís an important point to discuss.
Deterrence will not work with a regime that takes its cue from God. This is a regime that believes that destruction is good. This is a regime that yes, they have assets but they donít mind losing those assets. In fact they believe, the ideology of Ahmadinejad and the [Hojatiyah] sect that he comes from embraces a massive world conflagration as the necessary step for salvation. This is a messianic philosophy. You cannot use the calculus of deterrence with people who have this kind of messianic philosophy. These are not Soviet leaders, this is not the Politburo, you do not have a bunch of generals with thousands of nuclear warheads and missiles and the rest of it. You have people who are truly fanatical in a way which is hard for Americans to comprehend.
Dr. Gross: Yes, I believe that Ahmadinejad is a member of the sect and I believe everything I understood thatís what he does stand for as an individual.
We have individuals in our own country who believe that Armageddon is inevitable. There was a program I think on 60 Minutes some months ago where a few of these people were interviewed, and of course part of the argument is that two-thirds of Israel has to die before the second coming of Christ will occur, and this is the famous Battle of Armageddon. Of course one Israeli commentator who was being interviewed as part of the program says "God help us from these people."
He is an ideologue. I suppose one difference of people representing this point of view in our own country, that there has to be some kind of conflagration before the world is purified, are not in power in this country. One of them is in Iran, and I think it is a worrisome development.
But leaders do not rule in isolation. Heís part of a much larger regime. He is an elected official. His predecessor, Hatami, represented a different school of thought. He will serve his five year term and someone else will come along, whether a conservative person like Ahmadinejad will succeed or not, I donít know at this stage. I think weíre going to have an uncomfortable time living with this man, but I donít think we should be too apocalyptic about the fact that this man is in charge. We wonít like a lot of the things he says and I think we do have to beware and be careful, but I donít think we should necessarily just act precipitously as a result of that. Thatís sort of the implication of what I hear.
Question: Max Friedhauer, AFA, Florida.
Could you both please comment on your feelings why there is no public display by friendly Muslims around the world against the fanatical Muslims of the world?
Mr. Timmerman: Thatís a very good and interesting question. The only country in the Islamic world that I know of that actually had a demonstration in sympathy with the victims of 9/11 was Iran. There was a spontaneous demonstration in the streets of Tehran in front of the former US Embassy building, which by the way has been taken over by the Rev Guards and itís now used as a training center. Iíve got pictures of it in the back of this book. Thousands of people gathered with candles in front of the former US Embassy of Tehran on the evening of September 11th to demonstrate their sympathy for the people of the United States. The regime saw that their numbers were so great that they did nothing to intervene.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, one of my earlier books is called Preachers of Hate and is based on interviews with radical Muslim preachers, elsewhere in the Middle East you had, in the Palestinian areas, demonstrations of glee and joy on September 11th, and essentially throughout the Wahabi-influenced Muslim world, which by the way extends right to Detroit, Michigan and other places in this country. You have a brand of Islam which sees America as the Jews of the world and it sees the Jews as the ultimate villain rejected by God. These preachers of hate refer to Jews as the "sons of monkeys and pigs" and they donít do this occasionally, they donít do it on Easter and Christmas. This is every Friday in the mosque, "the sons of monkeys and pigs". Thereís a famous Hadat which they quote and they say at the end of the world, I think itís Mohammed, he goes to the tree and to the stone, and "tree and stone, are you hiding a Jew behind you?" "Reveal the Jew thatís hiding behind you."
This is deeply impregnated into those Wahabi-inspired teachings which reach really throughout the Muslim world Ė Cairo, al Asar, and elsewhere.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Weíre going to have to take another break here, but Iíll ask our speakers if theyíd stay up here on the side if youíd like to come up and have some discussion with them.
Thank you very much.
(END OF RECORDING)
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