Handing the Middle East to Iran

The high cost of cutting a deal with the Islamic Republic.
From the February 2008 Trumpet Print Edition

The United States is about to hand control of the Middle East over to Iran. On a silver platter.

This is one of the most stunning geopolitical developments since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In its National Intelligence Estimate (nie) released on Dec. 3, 2007, the National Intelligence Council said it now has “high confidence” that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program over four years ago. The estimate, which caused an earthquake in government circles, was the latest and most dramatic of a series of signs revealing an utterly remarkable, years-long sea change in U.S. foreign policy.

Even more, it pointed to what the neighborhood around Iran and Iraq is about to look like—and it isn’t pretty.

The nie was one step—a big step—in an awkward dance the U.S. and Iran have been sharing ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It is becoming clearer all the time that Iran is the dance leader.

Iran’s “Victory”

The lack of wmds found in Iraq since America ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003 utterly ravaged the reputation of the U.S. intelligence community. Intelligence officials learned their lesson. The new nie instantaneously restored the unqualified confidence and enthusiastic support of the American press. Nearly every critic of the intelligence that guided America’s decision to invade Iraq—including Iran-friendly foreign governments like Russia and China—immediately accepted the new nie as sacred scripture.

If the intelligence community overstated Iraq’s wmd capabilities in 2003, this report—in its effect—went 180 degrees in the opposite direction. It single-handedly eliminated any rationale for military action against Iran, and even deflated the prospect of more sanctions. In nine terse pages, it dealt a deadly blow to the international effort to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

How that estimate will increase Iran’s standing regionally and even globally became apparent immediately upon its release. The first sign was Iran’s increased nerviness—Ahmadinejad talking about his “victory” and the “fatal blow” to American military action; Iranian officials demanding the end of UN sanctions, a U.S. apology and damages; Iran’s oil minister calling the U.S. dollar “unreliable” and announcing no more oil trade in greenbacks. There were also the death knells for international pressure against Iran, such as Russia saying discussion of more UN sanctions should end and promising to resume work on Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr.

Yes, the Bush administration continues to press for sanctions. But they won’t happen. For all practical purposes, whatever urgency there may have been to confront the threat from Iran has dissipated.

What a sudden, drastic change! The last intelligence estimate on the subject, issued in May 2005, stated “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons.” Why the about-face? Was it merely the result of better information suddenly becoming available?

Shamefully, overwhelming evidence indicates that the primary reason for the change was not the pursuit of truth, but the dictates of politics.

A Faulty Report

Many people—including cia and other government officials—have lambasted the nie for a number of reasons. Officials in Israel and Britain made it clear they do not accept its conclusions. Even France, Germany and the United Nations expressed doubts.

The American press, by contrast, conveniently shelved its skepticism for this single assessment.

Consider the evidence.

First, the intelligence community reported that it now sees Iran as a “rational actor”—meaning that the Islamic Republic bases its policies not on religious ideology, but on predictable “cost-benefit” calculations. This report said Iran’s abandonment of nuclear weapons development in 2003—done “primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work”—suggests that “Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.”

Is it true? Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “rational actor”? Well, he is known to make unorthodox statements from time to time—like when he said he believes the Twelfth Imam put him in office in order to provoke a clash of civilizations—or the time he said Israel would be wiped off the map in “one storm”—or when he said he looks forward to “a world without America.” What about the ruling mullahs Ahmadinejad reports to—the ones who have turned their nation into the world’s biggest bankroller of state-sponsored terrorism? “Rational actors”? Just the right combination of economic and political incentives and punishments, and they’ll give up their ambition to transform the Middle East into a Khomeinist empire?

The nie placed an extraordinary degree of trust in individuals who have repeatedly proven they shouldn’t be trusted.

Notice this statement from the report: “We assess with moderate confidence that Iran probably would use covert facilities—rather than its declared nuclear sites—for the production of highly enriched uranium for a weapon.” Moderate confidence? Based on every successful nuclear program in history, and given Iran’s history of deceit, we should be able to assess with absolute confidence that Iran would absolutely use covert facilities to make nuclear weapons. Nobody advertises serious efforts to manufacture nukes—that is, until they detonate them.

For its part, Israel has contended for at least three years that the nuclear program Iran has been tussling with the iaea over is actually a distraction from a more secret program. The nie itself confirms that Iran had a covert nuclear weapons program for about a decade and a half leading up to 2003, when it supposedly came to an abrupt halt. Iran has a long history of nuclear trickery. Yet now, suddenly, the intelligence community can “judge with high confidence” that it all ended in 2003?

Actually, that “high confidence” was far shakier than mainstream headlines suggested. Notice this statement—buried within parentheses in the estimate: “(Because of intelligence gaps … [we] assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program.)” The report is a maze of such carefully hedged statements, conjectures and guesses. We do not know whether Iran currently intends to develop nuclear weapons. We assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. The New York Sun quoted one former senior intelligence officer as saying that this is like submitting a report saying the sun will come up tomorrow unless it doesn’t.

Astoundingly, the report read as though we are all meant to have “high confidence” in the civility of Iran’s nuclear program—despite mountains of uncertainty and gratuitously charitable assumptions.

Why? That question stands out in flashing neon when one studies the report. As John Bolton wrote, “[T]he headline finding—that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003—is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread”—that is, misread in Iran’s favor (Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2007; emphasis mine throughout).

Not even the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, gives Iran that much credit; it said it couldn’t agree with the report’s conclusions based on the evidence. Again, John Bolton: “When the iaea is tougher than our analysts, you can bet the farm that someone is pursuing a policy agenda.”

Now, sure enough, it appears U.S. policy will proceed as if Iranian nuclear weapons pose virtually no threat whatsoever.

In other words, the report achieved its intended effect.

Emboldened Iran

Washington may not like it, but it has been slowly coming to terms with—and, in fact, slowly breaking to the public—the idea that it needs Iran, particularly for help in ending its engagement in Iraq. The nie actually came at a convenient time for Washington: Striking a deal with Iran doesn’t look nearly so repugnant if Iran isn’t a rogue nuclear nation.

Many people see through this pretense, including, notably, Iran’s Arab neighbors. Unconvinced by the nie—and still vigilant to the likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons—many of them recognize the political concerns that may have informed the estimate. As analyst Mohammed Kharroub wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Rai, the nie “opens the door wide to numerous ‘compromises’ between Washington and Tehran” in those areas—Iraq and Israel among them—“that have exhausted Washington.” Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment Middle East Center in Beirut, said, “This report is a face-saving device for the U.S. It gives the U.S. administration a subtle way to backtrack on their stance regarding the Iranian nuclear issues” (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 6, 2007).

These Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, are deeply concerned as they see the U.S. backing away from its role as a check on Iran, and Iran, in the words of the Times, feeling “emboldened to strengthen its military, increase its support for Islamic radicals and exert more influence in the region’s troubled countries” (ibid.).

Their concerns are justified. The Middle East is about to see a whole lot more of Iran.

Retracing Our Steps

How did this happen? Even during the Clinton administration, Iran was at the top of the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Today we are over six years into a supposedly out-and-out “war on terrorism.” When President George W. Bush spoke of that war after 9/11, he said, “Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.” By that definition, Iran would qualify as the premier target. In his State of the Union address the following January, he specifically branded Iran as a member of an “axis of evil.”

Let’s briefly trace our steps from there to here to see how it is that Iran is now in a position practically to shape the Middle East as it will.

Even by the time “axis of evil” entered public discussion, the limits of America’s determination to follow through on its rhetoric had already started to appear. The first target in the “war on terrorism” was the shaky, friendless Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Washington had meanwhile worked to cobble together a worldwide coalition of anti-terrorist nations—and, remarkably, among the nations it invited to join was the world’s number-one state sponsor of terrorism: Iran.

Iran denied the request—and surely savored the opportunity to do so.

In response to this sequence of events, the Trumpet wrote, “[T]here will soon come a point when the U.S. won’t even be a factor in this war. … [P]rophecy shows that it is, regrettably, underestimating its enemy. … As we now examine the facts emerging from this war, we can see unequivocally that the terrorist snake will survive America’s aggression—head intact, and stronger than ever. … Make no mistake about it: Iran is the head of the snake” (November 2001). You can read the prophetic reasoning behind that forecast in our booklet The King of the South, free upon request.

The likelihood of the Trumpet’s assessment playing out doubled a year and a half later, when the White House chose its second target in the war on terrorism: Iraq. Here is where the big revelation that emerged from the nie—that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003—has some fascinating ramifications.

That Iran did in fact have a clandestine nuclear weapons program before 2003 comes as little shock, considering its naked aspirations to be the Middle East’s dominant power. But, assuming the nie’s version of events is correct, why halt the program in 2003? The nie credits “international pressure”—as if it was the threat of sanctions, or some stern words issued through diplomatic channels. Not likely. Diplomatic efforts to stem Iran’s nuclear program didn’t officially start until 2004. What did happen in 2003 that may have convinced the Iranian mullahs to switch off the power at the nuclear weapons lab—even if only temporarily—was America’s invasion of Iraq.

If you remember, about that time, Muammar Ghadafi decided it was in his best interest to bring hiswmd programs to a halt. Seeing the world’s mightiest military, backed by an international coalition, smash through Iraq and turn the mighty Saddam into a fugitive cave-dweller in three quick weeks apparently made quite an impression.

The irony is, at the same time Iran stopped its clandestine nuclear weapons program (assuming the nie is correct), it also held clandestine celebrations over the demise of its archenemy, Saddam. The U.S.-led strike in Iraq successfully removed the biggest obstacle within the region to Iran realizing its regional ambitions.

Nevertheless, the U.S. might have used its victory in Iraq to press its advantage with Iran; indications are it might have worked. But that is not what happened. In an effort to wage a fundamentally altruistic war—one that wouldn’t appear imperialistic and nasty to the rest of the world—the U.S. chose not merely to eliminate the threat of Iraq, but to undertake the impossible task of transforming Iraq into a functional, West-friendly democracy. Four and a half years and $2 trillion later, that task remains a work in progress.

Those 4 _ years have been a slow, inevitable illumination of the fact that in failing to pursue Iran—the head of the terrorist snake—from the beginning, the U.S. made a fundamental error from which it could not recover.

Today, the idea of going after Iran has been superseded by a bitter reality: Not only does America not have the means and the political will to mount a successful attack on Iran, but Tehran has also gained enough influence over the situation that it can’t even extricate itself from Iraq without Iran’s help.

Again, this turn of events ranks as one of the most stunning in post-Cold War geopolitics.

The High Cost to America

When the nie came out, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards drew a very odd conclusion: He said it “shows that George Bush and Dick Cheney’s rush to war with Iran is, in fact, a rush to war.”

Amazing what passes for a rush to war these days. The Bush administration hasn’t rushed to anything. What it has done is slowly, gingerly, reluctantly look for a way to come to terms with an Iranian presence in Iraq. Though it is clearly uncomfortable with the idea and is doing all it can to try to gain the upper hand, the signs of working toward an agreement have been there. In addition to numerous private talks between the U.S. and Iran, the two parties have conducted three rounds of high-level public talks and are about to conduct a fourth. Regarding Iran’s nuclear material, almost two years ago the U.S. agreed to allow Russia to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian soil (a proposal Israel rejected)—no small accommodation (Dec. 17, 2007, Russia announced it had begun these deliveries). Aside from occasional, mostly veiled verbal threats, the U.S. has remained solidly committed to addressing the Iran nuclear question through the clunky UN Security Council, which by nature of its composition is unable to agree upon any but the most anemic of punitive measures against Iran. The threat of a military strike on Iran has never been anything more than a negotiation tool.

With the nie, Washington eliminated the largest cause for public resistance to permitting Iran a freer hand in Iraq and elsewhere: the perceived threat of an Iranian nuke. Again, evidence abounds that this political goal influenced the presentation of the intelligence that informed the nie.

A week after the nie was released, Ahmadinejad called it a “step forward,” and said more such steps will lead to “an entirely different situation” in relations between the two countries. True enough.

It is clearer all the time. The world has already seen the toughest U.S. policy toward Iran it is going to see. We should not expect President Bush to get tougher during his final year in office; he has already revealed—even as far back as one month after 9/11—the direction his administration will take with Iran. The next American president is sure to lurch even further toward the appease-and-concede camp.

The U.S. is purchasing an exit from Iraq—and at an extraordinarily high cost. By emboldening Iran, it is selling out all those neighboring Arab states that grow uncomfortable when Tehran gets aggressive. Far more tragically, it is selling out its longtime ally Israel, which is by far the number-one target of Iran’s hostility. (How ironic that all of this U.S.-Iran deal-making occurred in the immediate wake of the U.S. sponsoring the Annapolis “peace” conference—considering that Iran underwrites two of Israel’s biggest terrorist enemies: Hamas and Hezbollah.)

On top of all that, the U.S. purchases this exit at the expense of exposing its own crippling weakness of will—and granting Iran bragging rights for having tussled with the “Great Satan” and won.

If you thought Ahmadinejad was insufferable after the nie was published, just stick around.

This is the nature of the biblically prophesied “king of the south,” spoken of in Daniel 11:40. It is a pushy, aggressive, arrogant power that dares other nations to retaliate against it.

How remarkable the degree of responsibility that rests on America’s shoulders for facilitating the rise of the king of the south!

What a graphic illustration of the abject failures that befall a cursed nation!

Read Leviticus 26:13-21, and request a free copy of The United States and Britain in Prophecy for proof of how and why the U.S. is presently suffering from the curses listed in that passage.

Another King

Though the nie claimed Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, it pleaded ignorance on whether Iran ever restarted it. Israeli intelligence and Iranian dissident sources claim the program only stopped for a short time. Sheer logic argues against the notion that not a single lab in that huge country has moved a muscle toward building weapons in over four years. Iran wants to dominate the Mideast; becoming a nuclear power would do much to advance that goal. Imagine how it would bring neighboring states into submission, how it would rally the Muslim extremist faithful, how it would restructure the region’s fragile balance of power in Tehran’s favor in a swoop! If you want to talk in terms of “cost-benefit” calculations, to Iran’s mullahs, that’s a lot of benefits.

Still, as of now, official U.S. doctrine is that Iran is not a nuclear threat. Thus, expect increased reconciliation between the two nations. Watch for Iran’s influence in Iraq to grow—a scenario the Trumpet has forecasted for over a decade. In the end, as the U.S. shrinks from its role as a check on Iran, Iran grows in its power as king of the Middle East.

And we shouldn’t be too surprised if, sometime soon, Iran forces another reputation-crushing reassessment by the intelligence community when it suddenly tests its first nuclear weapon.

But if you read on in Daniel’s prophecy, you will see the quick end that will come to this Middle Eastern firebrand. The king of the south appears in end-time prophecy for only a blip—not so much as a power in its own right but more as a catalyst to the rise of a far more formidable power, the king of the north. The king of the south is simply not a superpower that will dominate the world, or even the region, for a generation or better. It is going to be a loud, pushy, violent entity that will create enough havoc and stir up enough alarm that it provokes a real superpower to rise up and wipe it out. When the moment comes that it faces a determined and ruthless enemy, it will be crushed—soundly, swiftly and decisively.

Though the demise of the delusional zealotry of Iran and its allies will introduce a brutal period of world domination by that European superpower, even that empire will meet its end after only a few years. All of these events presage the imminent introduction of a King whose empire will never be destroyed—Jesus Christ, the King of kings!