Discussion Leader: MK Dr. Yuri Stern

Alon Bar, Director of the Arms Control Department of the Foreign Ministry
Dr. Ephraim Asculai, Senior Research Associate of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies
Dr. Jerome Corsi, formerly with the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and author of Atomic Iran
Brigadier-General Yossi Cooperwasser, Head of Military Intelligence Research for the Israel Defense Forces
Dr. Menasha Amir, Voice of Israel Radio Iranian expert

On June 28, members of the Knesset, representatives of the foreign and local press, and members of the diplomatic corps gathered in the Knesset Lecture hall to discuss the most important threat to Israel’s security in the near future- Nuclearization of Iran.” The consensus of the forum was that the threat is not just an issue of the middleast, but rather a global issue and “virtually all the countries represented at this forum would be affected by it,” Dr. Corsi said.

The discussion in the Knesset coincided with the results of the elections in Iran. Discussion leader MK Dr.Yuri Stern commented, “It is now even more urgent than we originally conceived.” The other panelists confirmed that the newly elected President Mahmood Ahmadinejad is very dedicated to Islam. He was in the revolutionary guard and has declared that it is Iran’s sovereign right to have a nuclear program.

The consensus of the panel was that the President of Iran is not the Prime Minister, but solely responsible for the execution of orders by the Mulas who run the country. Dr. Corsi mentioned, “the Mulas are more like a criminal mafia than a legitimate leadership. Not only do they run their country with a tyrannical hand, they fund terrorist organizations such as hezbollah, Al-Quaida, and Islam Jihaad.”

Although there were different estimates for the immediacy of the threat, it was clear that Iran had already built a Uranium Conversion Facility in Natans and Arak. This facility would enable the Iranian government to produce Enriched Uranium and Plutonium, UF6 and UF4 respectively. As General Cooperwasser noted, the plant will undoubtedly be used to produce nuclear weapons. Iran could also get the weapons on the black market from the countries of the former Soviet Union, they have already bought long range missiles from the Ukraine that have the capability of transporting a bomb all the way to Greece. Either way, its just a matter of time.

The speakers described several reasons why Iran needs a Nuclear Program. “Iran is an isolated country that is threatened by its neighbors such as Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.” Dr. Menasha Amir said. The nuclear issue of Iran is a matter of its national security and prestige. Iran wants to be a massive superpower and wants to gain influence on the new Iraq. Amir explained that the Mullahs want to rescue the Islamic world from the infidels and also want to export the revolution as their ultimate goal. He portrayed Iranians as fundamentalists and “Iran as the most anti-semitic country in the world.”

Cooperwaser also noted that their philosophy is under attack, and the official line of the regime is that the West oppresses the Middle East. Iran uses terrorist organizations, and the nuclear threat because these are two vulnerabilities of the Western World. The nuclear bomb will enable them to change the nature of their status to become a superpower. Their second goal is “to destroy the state of Israel, because they do not believe that Israel has the right to exist.”

The real question is whether the Iranian government will in fact go ahead with the Nuclear Program. Dr. Ephraim Asculai listed four outcomes: First, they have already abandoned the program but are using the threat of the program for blackmail. Second, they have not decided, and are waiting to see whether they can obtain substantial returns. Third, they are simply playing for time. And fourth, they are starting a fully concealed program on a smaller scale that would not be subject to UN inspections while they are buying time. Dr. Ephraim Asculai and Dr. Menasha Amir were of the opinion that the fourth option was the most likely. However, neither believed that Iran would give up the Nuclear program. Alon Bar also mentioned a clandestine program that would deceive the UN inspectors by handing over control of the plans to ministries that would not fall under their jurisdiction.

The discussion became grim as the panelists presented their various solutions to the threat. Dr. Corsi said “there is time to affect peaceful change in Iraq; Iranian people need encouragement from the west in order to overthrow the regime.”

In order to show solidarity between the Iranian people, Corsi suggested a 200 mile walk from Philadelphia to Washington DC, broadcasted by Voice of America so that the dissidents would be identified and strengthened. According to Corsi, the White House, as well as Senator Sentorem, endorsed the proposal. In addition, Corsi established the Iran Freedom Foundation and has an office in Turkey that promotes peaceful change in Iran. “Peaceful change is much cheaper than war,” Corsi said. He estimated the process to be about $3 million.

Dr. Menasha Amir also agreed that a regime change would be the surest way to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran, however he warned that the west should be careful not to make it look like a foreign take over.

General Cooperwaser, however, felt that this was unrealistic and that the timetable would not allow for a regime change. Instead, he suggested that the international community should be united in opposing Iran’s nuclear program. He further suggested that Iran would be vulnerable to sanctions from the Security Council and would be afraid of complete isolation from the international community. Therefore, the Security Council’s firmness on this issue would successfully prevent the threat.

Alon Bar agreed with the general, but he cautioned that the international community would have to be in complete agreement and that there could be no loopholes in any measures that would be taken against Iran. He explained that the strategy of the Iranian regime is to gain time by changing their timetable. However, it is the responsibility of the IEA to ensure that they are not deceived.

To conclude the discussion Dr. Yuri Stern added on a lighter note, “Let’s send them orange ribbons; we have plenty!”