Last week I quoted from a book by Reza Kahlili, A Time to Betray. This week I had a chance to speak with Mr. Kahlili by phone, and ask him about the Iran crisis. As a former CIA operative who worked inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, he understands the strengths and weaknesses of the Islamic Republic. He knows the Islamist mindset, and the errors that plague U.S. policy.
I asked Mr. Kahlili whether he thought a preemptive strike against Iran was a good idea. “The question is complex,” he answered. “You should never have allowed Iran to become what it is today. You have missed opportunity after opportunity.”
Readers may remember that in 2009 the Islamic regime was ready to fall, with protests growing stronger by the day. This was a perfect moment to act, noted Kahlili, but the Western world did nothing to support the Iranian people against their oppressors. “Intelligence showed the [Islamic] leaders were ready to flee,” Kahlili said. “The security forces could not contain the protests. The Revolutionary Guard was demoralized. From the West, however, there was silence. You see how it was – a losing game for Iranian dissidents and backers of the West.”
Always the West has attempted to find “moderates” within the Iranian regime. Always, the U.S. has attempted to negotiate and conciliate. Always, the Americans have been duped, refusing to see that the Islamists are enemies of the West. The Islamists, in fact, cannot help themselves. They cannot stop or question the principles that drive them forward. Every success is proof of God’s blessing. “The clerics grow up with the vision that the only way for justice is for infidels to die,” Kahlili explained.
But isn’t Islam the “religion of peace,” as President Bush claimed?
Kahlili laughed, “Religion of peace? If they exploded one nuclear bomb on the Saudi oil fields, it would shut down all production because the oil would have been [radioactively] contaminated. Given our dependence on oil, the resulting calamity would be one of the worst in all history.” This result, explained Khalili, would make the whole world grieve. But the clerics would rejoice. War and disaster are nothing to them. If an unbeliever dies, praise be to Allah the blessed and merciful. If a believer dies it is also an occasion for self-satisfaction.
American policy-makers have failed to understand Iran. They imagine that economic sanctions will bring the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table. According to Kahlili, inflicting economic pain on fanatical Islamists will not work. “For them it is not the economy that matters. It is the ideology that matters.” And what is their ideology? “The Grand Ayatollah talked about what the Koran says,” noted Kahlili. “They [the Muslim clerics] will take over the management of the world. It clearly says this [in the sacred writings], that a man will come.”
That man, explained Kahlili, is the Mahdi (or twelfth Imam).
I asked Kahlili what he thought of the claim that the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were personally in touch with the Mahdi. “These people meditate,” said Kahlili. “Khamenei prays and then he ‘ascends to the sky.’ During this elevation of spirit, he communicates with the Mahdi. I was there in Iran, and once you read the Koran in the middle of the night, you will have that same experience and believe you are right.”
Kahlili says that the most important teachings in the Koran are about killing and martyrdom, jihad and conquest. According to Kahlili, “The Koran promises that the Mahdi will wipe out those who don’t believe in Allah. The Islam of normal people centers on how gracious the Prophet Mohammed was; but those who actually go by the Koran know it is about slaughter, and it is written in very clear language.”
The leadership of the Islamic Republic is likely to miscalculate, Kahlili warned. They believe that God has promised them victory. “These people have a very narrow worldview,” he added. “The Ayatollah believes there should be blood until the end of the world, or God will not be satisfied. You see, the center of the Islamic ideology is justice. When the Mahdi comes, he will kill all infidels. This is their justice.”
An Islamic prophecy says that dark clouds will cover the earth and kill a third of mankind while famine will kill another third. Then the Mahdi will come to smite the unbelievers and forcibly convert the entire world. According to Kahlili, such prophecies encourage Islamists to believe that nuclear war will bring ultimate salvation. What greater incentive could there be for unleashing global destruction?
“Basically,” says Kahlili, “in light of all this, we have a decision to make. Can we accept a nuclear-armed Iran or not? Whatever America decides, I believe the Israelis will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran.”
It is only logical to expect that the Israelis will attack the Islamic Republic’s nuclear sites. As these words are being written, the Israelis are preparing to activate special missile defense systems around Tel Aviv. Quite naturally, the Israelis are preparing for the inevitable. The Islamic Republic and its allies have thousands of rockets aimed at Israel. When Israel launches against the Iranian nuclear facilities, the Islamists are bound to retaliate. This could be a war with devastating consequences for the region – and for the world.
There is some good news, according to Kahlili. The Islamic Republic is hated by the Iranian people. If the Revolutionary Guard bases are suppressed by air strikes, a popular insurrection could occur. “Only regime change, only helping the Iranian people, will avert disaster,” said Kahlili. He explained that the Iranian people have turned against the regime and its ideology. He further suggested that few Mosques would be left in the country after the fall of the Islamic regime. “Many are secretly converting to Christianity,” he added.
According to Kahlili there is real danger of war in the Middle East this year. What would such a war mean for the world? There is the possibility of an oil shortage, with financial dislocations to follow. Beyond the economic consequences, Russia and China appear to support Iran. Retired Russian military officers are publicly suggesting that Russia will fight on Iran’s side if war breaks out. Some Chinese military officers have said much the same thing. As if in response to all this, President Barack Obama has announced his intention to cut back the U.S. nuclear arsenal by 80 percent.
Perhaps it is no accident we are in such a difficult position today. Reza Kahlili is not alone in suggesting that the West has used bad judgment and shown poor leadership regarding Iran. To survive intact, our civilization must do better. We have deluded ourselves long enough. We have refused to accept that our enemies are enemies, that they intend our destruction. The hour is late, and time is running out.