What should the U.S. be doing to stop Iran? My interview w/fmr CIA Director James Woolsey

Former CIA Director James Woolsey

Former CIA Director James Woolsey

On Monday, I met with James Woolsey, the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I’ve long been impressed with Woolsey’s analysis of global trends, but had not previously had the honor of meeting him. We spent about an hour in his Washington, D.C. office, discussing the growing threats posed by Iran, Syria and North Korea and how the U.S. should be handling them. I gave him a signed copy of Damascus Countdown, and we spent some time discussing the book and then various “worst case scenarios” I may write about in future novels.

Most of our conversation was off-the-record. But I took careful notes and Woolsey graciously agreed to allow me to make some of his comments public. His analysis was particularly interesting to me in light of yesterday’s headline in the Times of Israel: “UN nuke chief fears Iran secretly working on a bomb: Intelligence shows Tehran was and is involved in nuclear weapons project, says International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano.” 

Woolsey was appointed CIA Director by President Clinton and served from 1993 to 1995. Previously he had served as Under Secretary of the Navy and as Ambassador and U.S. Representative to the negotiations on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Since leaving the CIA, Woolsey has continued to write and speak extensively on national security and energy security issues. A self-described “Scoop Jackson” Democrat — more conservative on foreign policy and military issues than traditional liberals — he endorsed Senator John McCain’s presidential bid in 2008 and served as a foreign policy advisor to McCain.

Excerpts of our conversation:

Q: Do you think Israel will use military force, and if so, how soon?

James Woolsey: The problem is that the Israeli air force is one of the two best in the world, but they are not big. We have the capacity to launch a sustained bombing campaign — multiple sorties over many days or weeks — and really damage or completely destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. But a brief Israeli air strike won’t suffice. It’s not like hitting the Osirik reactor in Iraq in 1981. It’s not like the hitting the Syrian reactor that the North Koreans built in 2007.

This is what the U.S. should be doing:

  • Put four or five carriers in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean region.
  • Send B-52, B-1, and B-2 bombers to Diego Garcia
  • Stockpile our most effective conventional earth-penetrating weapons in the Western Pacific or Indian Ocean (Diego Garcia, Guam)
  • Start running military exercises in the Indian Ocean
  • Don’t say anything publicly, officially about what we’re doing – but let it be known through a well-timed leak that what these forces are doing is preparing for is a sustained bombing campaign to destroy everything they can reach that is related to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, everything they’ve got. Let it be known that, at much as possible, we won’t target the Iranian people, their civilian infrastructure, or their regular army. But we are going to destroy anything and everything related to the Revolutionary Guards, starting with the nuclear facilities, but also the factories they own, and their headquarters, and their bases, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
  • And then wait for a little bit and see if the Iranian regime gives some ground.

 I laid this out in an op-ed with Bud McFarlane a couple of years ago. Of course, maybe it’s too late for that now. It’s definitely getting late.

Q: What if President Obama won’t do this? He’s sending B-52s and Stealth bombers and others military assets to South Korea and the Pacific to send a strong message to North Korea. But he’s doing just the opposite with regards to Iran — pulling carrier battle groups out of the Persian Gulf area, and so forth. So this brings us back to Israel. Are you saying the Israelis don’t have the military capabilities to neutralize the Iran nuclear threat?

Woolsey: I’m concerned because I don’t think Israel can take out all of Iran’s nuclear facilities using air strikes – some yes, but all? I don’t think so.

Q: Then what does Netanyahu do? I ask that because my impression is that Netanyahu brought in Ehud Barak, a long-time political rival, to serve as his Defense Minister for the past four years precisely to lead the IDF into devising and practicing and be preparing to execute a decisive plan to stop Iran from getting the Bomb. And my impression is that Barak feels like he accomplished that objective and stepped down feeling confident that he gave Netanyahu a viable plan, should it become necessary to use.

Woolsey: You may be right. Israel’s air assets are limited in numbers, but Netanyahu may have to attack anyway. He may have no other choice. He can’t just sit there and do nothing. The one thing that gives me a little bit of optimism is that Bibi and Barak are the two most experienced men in the art of unconventional warfare serving in the leadership of any country anywhere in the world. No other country has one Bibi, or one Barak – much less both. These are men who understand how to defeat an enemy using every trick in the book. And they may have something up their sleeve, a plan that doesn’t simply involve attacking from the air. These two guys are used to thinking about the art of war the way Sun Tzu told us to. I don’t think they’d limit themselves to an airstrike or two.


Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Bolton: Obama “committed to preventing an Israeli first strike on Iran’s nuclear program”: My interview with Ambassador John Bolton

John Bolton served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush.

John Bolton served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush.

(Dallas, Texas) — Judging from the televised images, President Obama’s first state visit to Israel was a love fest. The Israelis literally and figuratively rolled out the red carpet, even giving Mr. Obama a medal to thank him for his friendship to the Jewish people. The President, in turn, literally and figuratively hugged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and repeatedly called him by his nickname, “Bibi,” as though they had been best pals for years. The days of frosty, even frigid, relations between the two leaders seemed over.

But John Bolton isn’t buying it. The long-serving American diplomat and national security expert, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, says behind the scenes there is still trouble in paradise.

I interviewed him by phone yesterday and his message was crystal clear. On the three critical issues facing the U.S. and Israel in the Middle East – dealing with the Iran nuclear threat, the implosion of Syria, and the peace process – Bolton says the President’s objectives have not changed one iota. Netanyahu cannot count on this White House, he argues. And if Israel is going to strike Iran, they’re going to have to do it this year, and on their own.

What’s your assessment of President Obama’s trip to Israel?

Bolton: I think the President had two objectives.

One was political, to try to smooth over some of the differences in the relationship with Israel in general, and with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu in particular.

The other purpose was to have substantive, private discussions with the Israeli leadership to tell them not to even think about using military force to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, and pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians.

I think the President accomplished the political objective the moment he stepped off the plane, embraced Netanyahu, and visited the Dead Sea Scrolls and [Zionist leader Theodor] Herzl’s tomb, and made all his other public stops. It was a cosmetic effort to stem some of the criticisms he’s been taking in recent years, and on that level it was somewhat successful.

But while the optics may have improved, the fundamental differences remain exactly what they were. I don’t think Obama changed his positions, or softened his positions. I think he remains just as committed to preventing an Israeli first strike against Iran’s nuclear program, and to creating a Palestinian state very much along the ’67 borders with minimal changes.

Some analysts – including some conservatives – have suggested that the President retreated somewhat by not insisting that Israel stop building settlements as a precondition to direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. But I don’t see it that way. I think that’s a tactical decision that isn’t that important. The point, for Obama, is to get the talks [between Israel and the Palestinians] going again, because once negotiations begin, Obama knows he will be free to pressure Israel to stop building settlements and to make more land concessions. So I didn’t detect any real substantive change on the settlements issue.

So back to the Iran issue, just to be clear, you don’t believe the President gave Netanyahu a “green light” to hit Iran. To the contrary, you believe he is continuing to pressure Israel not to strike?

Bolton: I watched the President’s public statements very carefully. The President said several times that Israel has the right to defend itself. How could he say anything else? Of course they have that right. But in private he’s saying, “Don’t do it.”

The calculus that Obama leaves with Netanyahu is that the U.S. won’t really back Israel if he orders a first strike. There is an implied threat here, that if Israel uses military force, that we will not will have their back, that we will not resupply them with planes or other weapons, that we will not help them if they’re attacked by missiles from Hezbollah and Hamas, and so forth.

This is a critical factor for an Israeli Prime Minister to weigh, the possibility that Israel wouldn’t have full U.S. assistance in a major regional war. Now, I don’t think Obama could sustain that position because of strong Israeli support in Congress and in the public. Polls are showing the American people actually support military action against Iran’s nuclear program. But it’s challenging for Israeli leaders because there could be a window of vulnerability if there is a sharp disagreement inside Washington over whether and how to help Israel during such a conflict.

How much time does Israel have to make a final decision about going to war?

Bolton: Time is growing short. Iran may be developing facilities we don’t know about. I think this is the year of decision. If the Israelis don’t act now, they’re not going to have as advantageous an opportunity in the future as they do now. I think they’re running out of time.

What Netanyahu is not going to do is rely on the U.S. to take care of this.

If you asked Israel, they would prefer the U.S. to take action, of course. It’s the difference in capabilities that drives the different views of timing. The U.S. has much more capability to set Iran’s nuclear program back for much longer. That’s why the White House doesn’t feel the same sense of urgency that Israel feels.

Personally, I would have attacked years ago because you set the program back further when Iran doesn’t have all the knowledge and materials to build a Bomb.

I think the Prime Minister has until the end of the year to strike. If he doesn’t do it by the end of the year, then I think it will move beyond Israel’s capabilities.

One more question, on Syria. How do you assess the situation in Syria, and what should the U.S. be doing there right now?

Bolton: It’s a very dangerous situation. The highest priority for the U.S. is to make sure Syria’s chemical and biological weapons don’t get used, and don’t get transferred out of the country into the hands of state sponsors of terrorism or terrorist groups. This is a priority we share with Israel, Turkey, Jordan and with every friendly country in the region, of course. But it’s very difficult to do. As we’ve seen, there are conflicting reports about whether the rebels or the regime may have used chemical weapons in recent days. I would not vouch for the safety of Syria’s chemical and biological arsenal. It’s a very dangerous moment.

As for helping the rebels, look, we have not yet been given the name of a single Syrian opposition leader whom we can trust to not to unleash a bloodbath if he gets into power, and destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, and stabilize the country. The opposition is fragmented and divided, so I’m not optimistic that we can do much to help at the moment.



Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Podcast of Gov. Huckabee interview w/Joel Rosenberg on Obama trip to Israel.

Huckabee: "Way too close to reality."

Huckabee: “Way too close to reality.”










Governor Mike Huckabee interviewed me today on his nationally syndicated radio program for about 15 minutes. We discussed the following questions:

  • What is being said behind closed doors between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel right now?
  • How close is Iran to getting The Bomb?
  • Would President Obama order military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities?
  • Can/should Israel trust President Obama to move decisively to neutralize the Iran nuclear threat?

I’m grateful the Governor called Damascus Countdown “fascinating and compelling” and “way to close to reality for a novel.”

To listen to the podcast of the interview, please click here.

Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

What does Bible prophecy say about the future of Syria? My interview on CBN’s Stakelbeck Report

Discussing "What is the future of Syria?" with CBN's Erick Stakelbeck.

Discussing “What is the future of Syria?” with CBN’s Erick Stakelbeck.

>> NOTE: I’m going to be live Tweeting the next few days through the President’s visit to the epicenter — Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. I’ll also be re-Tweeting key tidbits, stories and analysis I’m seeing from others. Please send me stories you find interesting, and please follow along — @joelcrosenberg

>> INVITATION: The President is making his first state visit to Israel this week. How about you? Have you ever visited the Holy Land? Come with me and The Joshua Fund this summer as I lead our tour and the 2013 Epicenter Conference in Jerusalem.


ORIGINAL POST: On this week’s edition of the “Stakelbeck on Terror” show, CBN correspondent Erick Stakelbeck and I sat down for 30 minutes to discuss the current civil war underway in Syria, the President’s visit to the epicenter, and my new novel, Damascus Countdown.

Most interestingly, he asked my views on Isaiah 17 and Jeremiah 49 and the Bible prophecies that indicate Damascus will be judged and destroyed in the last days of human history. We also discussed where Syria fits in — if at all — in the prophecies of Ezekiel 38-39, what scholars call the “War of Gog & Magog.”

To watch the program online, please click here.


>> UPDATED NOTE: I’ll be in Austin on Friday for meetings, but I won’t be speaking at an event. However, I will be speaking at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas on Palm Sunday morning (March 24th). Then I’ll be discussing Bible prophecy, Mideast trends, and my new book, Damascus Countdown, during their Sunday evening service. Please join us if you can. Also, on Wednesday evening, March 27th, I’ll be speaking in Tucson. On Wednesday evening, April 3rd, I’ll be speaking on Sanibel Island, Florida. On April 6-7, I’ll be speaking in Naples. Would love to have you join us and love to say hi to you and sign your books. I’ll be posting other speaking events soon. In the meantime, please consider coming on The Joshua Fund’s “Prayer & Vision Tour” of Israel and the 2013 Epicenter Conference. The tour will go from June 25 to July 7. The Epicenter Conference will take place on Friday, July 5th. We would be deeply honored to have you join us.


Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Will Israel & Iran go to war in 2013? Exclusive interview w/fmr CIA Director Porter Goss

Interviewing former CIA Director Porter Goss.

Interviewing former CIA Director Porter Goss.

Why is President Barack Obama going to Israel this week for his first foreign trip of his second term?

White House officials say three critical issues top the President’s agenda: 1) preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons; 2) handling the implosion of Syria; and 3) jump-starting the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

That’s a tall order for a short trip — one that includes a stop in Jordan, as well — and the stakes could not be higher. Most Mideast analysts hold out little hope for a breakthrough on the peace talks on this trip. There also seems little the U.S. can do in the short term to significantly change the dynamic in tragic bloodbath underway in Syria. The big question hanging over this trip, therefore, is whether Israel and Iran are going to war in 2013 and whether President Obama is going to give Israeli officials the “green light” for preemptive military strikes on Iran’s nuclear sights.

Porter Goss served as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2004 to 2006. Previously, he had served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. I called him to get his insights into the President’s trip and the sobering nuclear showdown developing in the Middle East, and found his analysis fascinating and at times surprising.

Q: What are two or three things you’ll be watching for when President Obama makes his first state visit to Israel this month to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

Former CIA Director Porter Goss: Hopefully, substance and sincerity. I’ll be looking at the chemistry between the President and Mr. Netanyahu. That’s very important, how they interact together. I don’t know if there will be a more cordial relationship than there has been over the past four years, but more trust is much needed. I’m concerned there has been a failure by the President to recognize how important our relationship is with Israel, especially given the growing threats in the region.

I’ll also be watching to see if the President makes real policy changes. The White House has a flawed concept that a “light footprint” works a lot better than what I’ll call an “assertive attention” by the U.S. in problem areas. “Leading from behind” is seen as diffident and disengaged. In Maghreb, in the Arabian Peninsula, throughout the Middle East, we’ve watched a steady spiral of instability grow into widespread violence in the last several years. The troublemakers in the region deride our efforts at diplomacy and exploit what they see as the tentativeness or weakness in our foreign resolve. They’re very accomplished at assessing our policies and determining whether we are strong and confident, or not.

So I’ll be looking to see if there any toughening by the President in his approach. And I’m not just talking about abandoning the bows to royalty in structured photo ops.  No nation has done more than the U.S. in making things better in the world, but the President seems to favor a policy of apology for the way we conduct ourselves.  His demeanor as commander in chief and his message as spokesman for American values have impact. A President is a mood setter. He sends global signals just by how he conducts himself, what he says and how he says it.

If he continues to tentatively tiptoe down the path he has been treading in world hotspots, we’re going to see more mischief-makers emboldened to make more trouble.

Also, the narrative during the election that al Qaeda was on the run is false. Yes, damage has been done to the core of Al Qaeda, but the franchise is growing vibrantly in North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The presence of the Radicals has grown. Carnage abounds.

Q: How would you assess the President’s approach so far towards preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons?

Goss: The President’s approach to Iran is unrealistically hopeful. It involves unwarranted trust in Iran’s negotiators and insufficient muscle in our posture.  I don’t feel that he has the inner commitment to forcefully deal with the Iranian nuclear proliferation. Indications are that the Iranians believe they have the upper hand by waiting out the intermittent resolve of Washington.

The President keeps saying, “Let’s try another round of negotiations.” But the talks aren’t working. The sanctions aren’t sufficiently effective. And I haven’t seen a lot of evidence that President Obama has stacked his senior team in this second term with strong leaders on Iran. I’m a little worried about our Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State on this score. They apparently parallel the President’s position on Iran, which is to keep talking even when the talk is going nowhere.

Mr. Netanyahu’s view is a survival type position. He understands just how serious this problem is — and the brutal consequences of getting it wrong. I do not doubt his resolve to take action if he has to.

There is also little doubt the Iranian regime aims to get the Persian Bomb. That’s what they want. They are willing to pay a high price. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad leaving won’t make a difference. The regime – led by the Ayatollah Khamenei – wants The Bomb. That’s what is so dangerous.

Now Khamenei leaving is a different story, but an unlikely scenario. He is smart and calculating. If something should happen to him, I believe the situation would instantly destabilize — big trouble.

Q: How closely do you believe Iran and North Korea are working on the Bomb? Is Pyongyang essentially being paid by Iran to be a research & development lab to build operational nuclear warheads?

Goss: Hand in glove. Of course there is a relationship. The axis of evil is an old phrase, but an apt one. North Korea’s foreign currency is coming through arms proliferation. They’re in it for the money. Activity between Pyongyang and Tehran is nothing new.  It does seem evident that North Korea is testing nuclear devices for Iran; and that makes some degree of sense from Iran’s perspective. If Iran tested, it would clearly cause a problem for their current narrative about peaceful nuclear energy in the U.N.

There is little disagreement that some of Tehran’s missile system reveals familiarity with certain North Korean rocketry, but selling nuclear hardware and know how is not restricted to North Korea. The AQ Khan network in Pakistan has been publicly exposed as a global proliferator and there is still unaccounted for fissionable material from Russia somewhere out there.  Tehran can undoubtedly find a number of sources to purchase help for their program.

Q: Do you see a war between Israel and Iran in 2013?

Goss: I told you last year I didn’t think there would be a war in 2012, and that turned out to be right. I believe the Ayatollah is cautious enough about his own well-being that he does not want to disappear in a nuclear cloud or by a hit squad. He’s playing his cards very carefully. Iran’s nuclear capabilities are growing, to be sure. But I don’t think the regime in Tehran would use a first strike Persian Bomb at this stage, which includes 2013.

It is worth noting that Iran has scheduled elections during 2013. It is hard to imagine the results will lead to significant change. Survival is paramount for Israel; the triumph of the Twelfth Imam with a Persian Bomb overwhelms sound judgment in Tehran.

Q: I understand why you didn’t think there would be a war last year, but with the red line approaching and North Korea testing a nuclear warhead with Iranian scientists present, won’t Mr. Netanyahu believe he has to strike by summer or fall or risk losing his window of opportunity?

Goss: I think it boils down to this [Obama] administration not having the will or backbone to stand up for Israel unless the Iranians are actually nuking Tel Aviv. I assess the Iranians are not going to strike first unless they contrive some weird provocation that can withstand intense international scrutiny — highly unlikely because nobody trusts Tehran these days.

That gets us to Netanyahu. I do not think he can get first strike approval from this administration under almost any circumstance. Therefore, he has to calculate whether it is better for Israel to forsake US support by unilateral action, or whether in the long run Israel is better off with the USA as a constant ally. At this point, and thru the rest of 2013, I do not see a direct enough provable threat that Netanyahu can convincingly use. I do not think pre- empting a likely threat is enough to justify global approval for first strike in a hot war. This does not preclude taking other steps short of war to create disincentives and obstacles for the Tehran regime to ponder. And that’s what I would expect.

Bottom line: Goss does not see Israel launching a massive preemptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2013. Is he right? I hope so. I, like many Americans, are praying for the peace of Jerusalem. But with Iran so close to getting The Bomb, and North Korea apparently working “hand-in-glove” with the mullahs in Tehran, we may be in for a surprise this year, and a catastrophic one at that.


Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog