With the recent turn of events in Iran, as the Islamic Republic moves ahead with its disputed nuclear program, GIYUS has met with Itzhak Barzilai to discuss the situation in Iran. Mr. Barzilai served in the Mossad for many years and held multiple highly senior positions. Mr. Barzilai, a fluent Farsi speaker, is an expert on Iran.
GIYUS: Why does Iran want nuclear weapons?
Mr. Barzilai: Despite the fierce rhetoric and propaganda spread by Iran and its leader Ahmadinejad, the Iranian regime is weak and has lost its legitimacy among the Iranian people. Ever since the US has invaded Iraq the regime lives in fear that the USA will invade Iran and throw the Islamic regime from power. Iranian leaders truly believe that if Iraq had nuclear weapons the USA would not have invaded it. In their view, a nuclear bomb serves as an insurance policy for the regime's stability.
In addition, Iran seeks a lead role in the Muslim/Arab world and nuclear weapons are a critical component to that strategy.
Iranians are Shi'as and that has a profound impact on their perception of world politics. Shi'as believe that the leadership position in Islam was stolen from them in the battle to determine Muhammad's heir. Since then, this belief has created generations of Shi'as which feel inferior and deprived. The Iranian regime views nuclear weapons as their chance to seize the leadership position in the Islamic world that was stolen from the Shi'as thousands of years ago.
GIYUS: Is Iran technically capable of building a nuclear weapon?
Mr. Barzilai: We should assume that Iran is technically capable of building a nuclear bomb. We should assume the required know how has been purchased from countries like Pakistan and North Korea. Of course it's not an easy road and Iran has many obstacles in its way, but it has mastered the art of Uranium enrichment and is putting all the required pieces for a nuclear bomb together.
Iran is working on a number of parallel routes to the bomb including heavy waters and Plutonium. Each is handled in a different site and is hidden in the mountains of Iran. Iranians are experts on digging; their agriculture methods used to rely on underground watering, so burying their nuclear sites underground or in the mountains is a no brainer.
GIYUS: Iran has been in and out of negotiation with the west on its nuclear program – how do you explain their behavior?
Mr. Barzilai: Iran views diplomacy and negotiation as strategic tools in their dealing with the West. However, there are significant differences in the way negotiations are viewed by Iran and in the West. In western culture, negotiations are a tool, means to get your way with your opponent. To the Iranians negotiations are a game, intended to pass the time and weaken your opponent while you achieve your goals using different means.
2 years ago, Obama became the President of the United States and offered Iran a very tempting offer. Iran said yes and no and yes again and essentially delayed the process so the negotiations lasted for almost a year. During that time they were busy enriching Uranium to double the amount they had in the beginning of the negotiation process.
So is Iran lying at the negotiation table? Again you need to understand Iranian culture to analyze Iran's behavior. The concepts of truth and lies are very different in the eyes of Iranians. In the Persian language "yes" is not a common word. You use the word "BALEH" instead which has a much weaker, non-committed meaning. It is not polite to say "no" so if an Iranian has to decline an offer he will say "NA KHAIR" which means "no, yes" to avoid offense.
So in essence, the negotiation culture in Iran is very different, and Iran is using negotiation to weaken the West and buy it time to build its nuclear weapons.
GIYUS: What is the time table, when do you think Iran will reach its nuclear weapon goal?
Mr. Barzilai: It is hard to give a specific estimate. Iran may already have nuclear abilities or it will reach this milestone in a year or two. We need to assume we are facing a nuclear Iran.
The US' public estimate as to the amount of time it will take Iran to be able to build a nuclear bomb is highly influenced by its current situation in the Middle East. The US is currently involved in 2 difficult military situations in the Middle East which makes it very hard to open a 3rd front in Iran.
The economical situation in the US and Europe is also a factor on published dead lines or estimates.
GIYUS: So, if we are facing a nuclear Iran, what should be done?
Mr. Barzilai: If one should stop this process, a military operation may be the only way to stop or delay Iran's nuclear weapons program. However, this is a very costly operation, one that no country will act upon easily.
In any case, if I were in the shoes of Mr. Obama, I would not attack Iran's military nuclear plants. I will attack the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps), Iran's hard core group which controls the state. Without the IRGC the regime will collapse.
The Iranian regime is not an elected regime and it has lost its legitimacy. Not only were the last elections in which Ahmadinejad was again elected, forged, the elections 5 years ago which brought Ahmadinejad to power were forged as well. Khatami, previous President, has brought some progress and hope to the people by talking about reforms. The IRGC felt these reforms loosen their control on Iran and has launched a 2nd revolution, to bring back radical elements to power. They chose Ahmadinejad for this role took Iran back 30 years to the early days of the Islamic revolution.
The Iranian people need help to stand up to this evil regime. Iranian society is highly divided and support for Reformists candidates is wide spread in the army, among merchants and in the streets. But the IRGC now control a third of the economy and are crushing any revolutionary effort.
However, if a military action will take place against the nuclear facilities the Iranian people will have to unite around the Regime and fight back. The best way to fight Iran's nuclear program is to help the people over throw the radical regime and take their country back.
Sanctions are helpful as well. People don't often realize that ever since the Iranian revolution in 1979, the US has enforced sanctions against the regime in Iran. As a result, Iran has limited refinement abilities and it needs to import gasoline and fuel despite being one of the biggest oil providers. If the sanctions will target fuel sales to Iran they can help bring the regime down.
GIYUS: What will Iran do once it has nuclear weapons?
Mr. Barzilai: Nuclear weapons are meant to deter not to be used. Iran will use the bomb to tell the world to step back and let it be. However, once they have control over such weapons, they will be much more daring and their ability to create chaos all over the Middle East will increase.
Today, Iran controls Hamas and Hezbollah through which it is engaged in a proxy war with Israel. Eventually Iran would like to replace the US as a world leader. It is already doing so in Iraq - once the US will step down, Iranian proxies will take control.
However, what most people are not aware of is Iran's influence in South America, on America's door step. Iran has supported and created a ring of states in South America which fiercely oppose the US. In countries like Venezualla, the IRGC are very active. So Iran is targeting regions in which the US is influential and is trying to reduce the US' impact and take its place.
The Iranian president is not hiding the regime’s ambitions. In December 2009, Ahmadinejad announced that Iran “has two tasks – to continue developing Iran and prepare ourselves for ruling the world”.
GIYUS: Can you explain the political situation in Iran today and its connection to Islam?
Mr. Barzilai: Iran is highly influenced by the Shia's religious concept of the Twelvers. The Twelvers are led by Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi who is also considered to be President Ahmadinejad's most influential mentor. The Twelvers believe in the Lost Imam, Mahdi. In the early days of Islam there were 12 leaders/prophets, known as the 12 Imams. One of them disappeared at the age of 3 and is known as Mahdi, the lost Imam. Twelvers Shi'as believe the lost Imam can only come back and salvage the world after a great war will erase all evil in this world.
This is such an influential belief in Iran that the head of Iran's armed forces recently wrote a public letter to the lost Imam and asked him to consider an early return since the world needs him.
Now think of this man controlling a nuclear weapon – he might set it off to start the war that will "purify" the world and bring the lost Imam back.
GIYUS: on a personal note, during all your years in service, you have also managed to find time for art. Now your art work is on display at the Jerusalem Theater. Tell us a bit about your art.
Mr. Barzilai: Travel has been an essential part of my work all these years. Throughout my travels I always carried my notebook and drew on the fly. I worked with people and my drawings focus on the people I meet and less on the environment or the view. I try to capture people in a quick drawing that has depth and meaning. The exhibit will be on display at the Jerusalem Center for Performing Arts until October 14th, 2010 – enjoy!