"Obama is going to have continuous pressure from Israel to attack Iran and, in some way, their nuclear facilities, and this is going to be tied up with Gaza and Lebanon," according to Robert Baer, a former top Central Intelligence Agency operative and the author of The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower.
In an interview with IPS, Baer discussed the regional implications of the Gaza conflict and his take on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Hamas, and Hezbollah, three major groups in the Middle East which have been called terrorist organizations.
Excerpts from the interview follow.
IPS: Some analysts believe that attacking Hamas in Gaza, two years after the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah, is a part of a bigger plan which will end with attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Is Israel walking this path?
Robert Baer: No. I think that there is a military veto in attacking Iran. It’s just not possible.
IPS: Why is that impossible?
RB: Well, for one thing, we know there will be an Iranian reaction in the Gulf. Iran will not be attacked like Hamas and just respond locally. It will respond internationally. It has no choice. This is their deterrence power. In Iran, it is very important to understand a lot of lessons.
If you look on the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] website, you see the lessons they learned from the Iran-Iraq War. These wars are wars of attrition; they go on forever. You just can’t win them, especially against the United States. So they have developed secondary asymmetrical warfare ability, guerrilla warfare, which is very effective.
You know some of the best minds in Iran went into the Pasdaran [Revolutionary Guards], and they weren’t necessarily fanatics. In a sense, they were much more nationalists. And in my experience, these people in the Pasdaran, in the operational level, are probably the most capable, intelligent/guerrilla force/political thinkers in the Middle East, including Israel and Jordan. And they knew exactly what they were doing. And they do not clearly fit in to any political definitions in Iran.
IPS: Is the possibility of a limited attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by Israel also out of question? Especially given what we learned in a recent New York Times article that last year, Israeli leaders asked President Bush to carry out such an attack, though the president did not accept.
RB: Totally out of the question. Even Bush understood this. The New York Times is right when it says that Bush vetoed an Israeli attack, simply because there is a balance of power in the Middle East between the U.S. and Iran, and it’s a fairly even balance of power. I mean not in terms of aircraft tanks or submarines, but in a monopoly of violence, there is equality.
There is no question there is equality. We could bomb Tehran, but what does that get you? Nothing. It’s sort of like bombing the U.N. compound in Gaza by Israel. What does that give the Israelis? Nothing. Yeah they could destroy it, but what does that give them? Hamas still is going to exist.
You can bomb all military bases in Iran over a period of two weeks, but Iran is still there it still has the ability to project power, project its will and maybe even come out of that type of conflict even stronger. And Iran’s power is so economical, the price of oil is not going to make any difference, simply because the idea of arming Hezbollah or supporting Hamas in Damascus is nothing in terms of money. I mean the price of oil could go down to 10 dollars, and it’s still an affordable defense for Iran.
IPS: Obama has repeatedly mentioned talking to Iranian leaders and bringing change to U.S. foreign policy. How could the designation of Dennis Ross as a key advisor on Iran policy contribute to his promises?
RB: Dennis Ross the important thing is the Israelis are comfortable with him. If a dialogue with Iran occurs, they know he won’t betray them. I mean they have had years and years of testing this guy. He’s Jewish, he’s been honest with the Israelis; he’s gone along with their projects, even the crazy ones. If a dialogue is open, the Israelis know they won’t be surprised. If Obama had brought someone new in, some professor from Harvard that the Israelis didn’t know, they would immediately freeze him out and there would be huge political blowbacks.
IPS: Regarding Ross’s positions on certain issues in the Middle East and particularly Iran over the past decade, how will Obama be able to adopt a new foreign policy path in the region?
RB: Well, he [Obama] needs the backing of the Democratic Party to get these things through politically, and that’s why he has brought in people like Dennis Ross and Denny Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, simply because he needs that political backing. He cannot bring in untried people and run them against the Democratic Party, because if there is an opening with Iran, there will be a connivance of Israel, maybe a silent one, simply because the Israelis have to go along.
In American politics, you can’t do anything in the Middle East without the approval of Tel Aviv, at least on some level. It’s impossible. I mean, I cannot think of a country that is so beholden to a small country like this, even a superpower, in all of history. I can’t even think of it.
IPS: And why is that?
RB: Look at New York City. Look at the major newspapers. They have a Zionist agenda. They do. I’m not Jewish. I’m not anything. I don’t care about the Israelis. And I’m not anti-Semitic. It’s just a fact. I suggested to my publisher writing a book on Israel, and he said forget it. You can’t talk about the reality of Israel. The only place you can talk about the reality of Israel is in Israel. They tell you things you will never hear in the United States.
IPS: Like what?
RB: For instance, why are people in Gaza so unhappy? Well, if you had to live in a prison, wouldn’t you be unhappy? You would never get that in the New York Times. Look at the New York Times; it’s almost an extension of Israel.
IPS: What is the impact of the Gaza conflict on the future of Iran-Israel and United States relations? Have the recent attacks destroyed Hamas entirely?
RB: No, it’s impossible. Hamas is an idea. Hamas is not an organization. Hamas is an idea, and unless the Israelis go in and force 1.5 million people into Egypt, they will never subdue Gaza. They can go in and they can slaughter the leadership and put 10,000 people in jail, and Hamas will come out stronger. The losers in this will be Fatah.
IPS: What are the main characteristics of Hamas and Hezbollah’s military and political behavior?
RB: They redefined the idea of warfare in geography. The fact that Hezbollah dug into caves or the fact that they use fiber optics to communicate shows enormous sophistication and primitive warfare in combination. I mean, what army in the world uses fiber optics except Hezbollah? You can’t intercept fiber optics. There is nothing you can do.
You look at [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah, and he has redefined Islamic politics because he’s gone into an alliance with Christians. Bin Laden wants to kill Christians; I’m going to reduce it to that. Nasrallah is looking at them as allies.