'Begin military plans to thwart Iran nukes'

Visiting Israel, ex-CIA chief James Woolsey calls for US air strikes to decimate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

By OREN KESSLER
February 2, 2012 03:02
4 minute read.
Ex-CIA chief James Woolsey

Ex-CIA chief James Woolsey 390. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Iran is working to obtain a nuclear weapon, a former CIA chief said Wednesday while visiting Israel, and the US should begin military preparations to block the Islamic Republic from reaching that goal.

“To believe anything other than that Iran is working to get a nuclear weapon is hopelessly naive,” James Woolsey said in an interview on the sidelines of the Herzliya Conference.

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“At some point someone is going to have to decide to use force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. I’d argue that those who say we can deal adequately with Iran through deterrence are quite naive.

“National survival is at issue. In the near term that’s the case for Israel, but in the somewhat longer term it is [the case] for the US, which from Iran’s point of view, is the ‘Great Satan,’” he continued. “This is a world-class problem, not an eastern Mediterranean or Persian Gulf problem. The politics of the world will change if this regime gets the bomb.”

Woolsey, a graduate of Yale Law School, was CIA director under president Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1995. The veteran intelligence official identifies himself as a Democrat, but has held high-level positions in administrations from both major parties, and has long advocated a robust US foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East.

Today, the 70-year-old is chairman of Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank.

Woolsey said commentators who view the Iranian nuclear threat through the prism of Cold War deterrence are misreading history.



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“By the 1960s, the Soviets were operating with a nearly dead ideology,” he said.

“Though the Soviet leadership had many flaws – and I’m delighted we won the Cold War instead of them – by that time fanaticism was not one of their characteristics, at least for most of them.”

Debates over whether the Iranian regime is rational, he said, also miss the point.

“People who believe there are only two categories of individual – the rational and the stark-raving mad – are quite untutored in human psychology and human history,” he said.

“It’s not only raving lunatics who want to destroy a country, culture or civilization they hate.”

Woolsey said Iran’s theocratic leadership promotes an aggressive, totalitarian ideology akin to Nazi Germany and Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

“During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Castro knew Cuba would be destroyed, but he didn’t care. He felt that if the United States were destroyed, he’d be carrying out his life’s mission,” he said. “As for Hitler, he had a two-part plan: Kill the Jews and take over Europe. Iran’s President Ahmadinejad says he’s got a plan as well: Kill the Jews and take over the Middle East.

“There’s no basis for the proposition that if you’re so intemperate as to decide to use a nuclear weapon you are a blithering, incoherent fool. You might be a shrewd, nasty fool.”

Containing the Iranian threat, he said, will require a credible show of military force aimed at Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

“They’re at the heart of this regime – they’re the instrument of oppression, and they run the Basij militia. They control the nuclear, space and ballistic- missiles program, as well as the Quds Force,” he said, referring to the Guards branch responsible for overseas operations.

“They’re at the heart of everything repressive internally, or aggressive externally.”

Woolsey suggested sending approximately five carrier battle groups – each comprising an aircraft carrier and its escort vessels – to the Indian Ocean, accompanied by bomber support, if possible.

“What these [battle groups] are capable of doing – should the trigger be pulled – is taking out everything related to the Revolutionary Guards,” he said. “Not the civilian infrastructure, not the electric grid, not the regular army, not civilian institutions.”

Still, he said, certain questions would need to be answered before forcibly engaging Iran, including: “How fast the nuclear enrichment is going; whether they’re working on a plutonium bomb as well; whether they’re working on a weapon that could be delivered, or something that would simply be detonated in the desert somewhere – like North Korea does to make clear they’re a nuclear power; or whether they’re more ambitious.

“All these could affect the specific tactics, but I don’t think these should affect the vigor of the sanctions, or preparations to take out the Guards.”

In such a scenario, he said, ground forces would be unnecessary.

“No one is suggesting ground troops or mass bombing of parts of Iran,” said Woolsey. “Instead, it would be an operation similar to what might have been suggested to the Royal Air Force sometime in the mid-1930s to take out the Gestapo, SS and stormtroopers.”

“The US conducted air operations like this twice in the 1990s in Serbia – once on behalf of the Bosnians, and once on behalf of the Kosovars – both Muslim peoples, by the way,” he added. “We didn’t lose a single aircraft or pilot, and now in Kosovo there is a Bill Clinton Avenue and statue.”

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