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Video/Transcript: "Will Israel Attack Iran?"

Iran’s Nuclear Programme: Obama Backs Himself into a Corner
The Latest from Iran (30 September): Confusion

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On Monday, Michael Rubin, resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, and Bob Baer, a former CIA officer and intelligence columnist for Time magazine, were the guests on MSNBC's Hardball. Both guests were pessimistic on the success of diplomatic engagement with Tehran, and both agreed that Israel would sooner or later attack Iran. They asserted that, while Israel can carry out the operation on its own, the US should discourage this since Washington cannot afford chaos in the region.
Unsurprisingly, Rubin and Baer portrayed Iran as a country ruled by "irrational" people who can even "commit suicide" by blocking the energy corridor through the Straits of Hormuz after an Israeli operation, just to ensure "the destruction of the Zionist regime". Iran's only motive for  obtaining a nuclear weapon is to attack rather than deter or balance Israel.


CHRIS MATTHEWS: Michael Rubin, is it plausible that within the next year or so, Israel will strike at those nuclear facilities in Iran?

MICHAEL RUBIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Absolutely plausible. It is. They view Iran and the Iranian nuclear threat as an existential threat, meaning they don‘t feel that if diplomacy fails, that they can live with a nuclear Iran. Their assessment is different than ours on this.

MATTHEWS: The odds are?

RUBIN: The odds are greater than 50/50.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to Bob Baer. Is it plausible—same question to you—that Israel will strike at Iran?

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I think it‘s 50/50 or better. I agree with Michael. They look at the—the complete picture on this. They look at Lebanon. They look at the fact that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps has the missiles. And they have to do something now. I don‘t think sanctions are going to work.

MATTHEWS: Do they—bigger question to you because it‘s about the United States. Does the United States have to give them its compliance, its help, its OK, or can Israel strike on its own? Do we have to be party to this, or won‘t they do it?

RUBIN: Israel can strike on its own, but they can‘t finish the job on their own. It would take over a thousand sorties to do it right. The worst possible scenario for us would be that Israel starts something, and then the region becomes so messy that we feel that we have to finish it.

MATTHEWS: So you think we should help them.

RUBIN: I think that the idea is, if you‘re—if the worst-case scenario is military action, then we‘ve really got to ratchet up the other forms of coercion right now. And we certainly have to be prepared. We‘ve got to have sanctions alongside...



MATTHEWS: I‘m just trying to get to a question. Does Israel need our help to do the job?


MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to Bob Baer. Do they need our OK to give them, for example, to push Iraq to give them airspace and that sort of thing, to get to the target in Iran?

BAER: If you‘re sitting on the ground in Iraq and you‘re an American air controller and you see Israeli airplanes coming your way, how many minutes is the White House going to say yes or no? And the chances of saying no are zero. I don‘t think they need our help, but we will be drawn into a war, as a consequence.

MATTHEWS: So you both say that, technically, they could carry out the mission.

BAER: They could certainly start the mission.

MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go to the question, Should we help them? If they decide—if Bibi Netanyahu makes the decision as prime minister of Israel, facing what you—what you believe he sees as an existential threat to the future of Israel and he decides to make the attack, should we help him?

RUBIN: The calculation has got to be on our interests. If the region is going to get messy, we‘ve got to do what we need to do to protect the United States‘ interests once Iran retaliates and should Iran retaliate.

MATTHEWS: If you were asked right now by the president, Should we help them, would you say yes or no?

RUBIN: I don‘t think now is yet the time.

MATTHEWS: OK. You wouldn‘t say yes now.


MATTHEWS: OK. What do you think, Bob? should we say yes to the Israeli attack and say we‘ll help them?

BAER: We‘d say absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: Because I understand it‘s much more difficult for them to do it by themselves. But your thought is not to help them.

BAER: Not—we can‘t help them. We don‘t have enough troops. We‘d need a million troops in the Gulf. We would have to do something about the oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, to protect them.


BAER: Right now, we can‘t. Can we afford oil at $400 a barrel? Can we afford the mischief-making they would do in Iraq? And the answer is no.

MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s get to that point now. You both agree that Israel might do it. You both agree that it‘s more difficult for them to do it without us, but they could do it, right?


MATTHEWS: And third question is, both of you think right now, the answer is we shouldn‘t encourage them to do it.

BAER: We should not.

MATTHEWS: OK, now the fourth question. If they attack the Israeli (SIC) nuclear facilities, as Netanyahu threatens to do, by the way, sometime next year at this point, because he‘s only giving our government up to the end of this year, what would be the consequences in order of importance, the consequences of an attack, because I‘m going to get the consequences of not attacking later. What are the consequences of an attack by Israel on the Iranian facilities?

RUBIN: The most important consequence of an attack would be that it would delay Iran‘s nuclear program, and it could delay it enough. That‘s what Israel‘s calculation is.

MATTHEWS: “Enough” meaning?

RUBIN: Enough to outlast the Iranian regime.

MATTHEWS: So the first instance, it would have a good effect.

RUBIN: The first instance, it would have a good effect.

MATTHEWS: What are the bad effects?

RUBIN: The bad effect is nothing like a military strike would rally the Iranian people around the flag more. The best thing that ever happened to...

MATTHEWS: I just talked to an Iranian emigre today, lives in this country. He‘s an American now. He believes it would give a 20-year life span to that faction running the country, the Ahmadinejad crowd.

RUBIN: I think that‘s possible, yes.

MATTHEWS: If Israel attacks.

RUBIN: People rally around the flag.

MATTHEWS: OK, so the first thing is good. It gets rid of—it puts them off maybe for a long time. Number two, they rally behind Ahmadinejad. The first two worst—or scenarios that you see, Bob, if they attack the facilities?

BAER: I think, again, it‘s the Gulf. It‘s the security of our oil.

I harp on this, but that‘s what the Iranians have said they‘re going to do. If they‘re attacked, no matter how minor the attack is, they‘re going to respond against oil. There‘s nothing we can do about it, and that‘s what worries me. In Iraq, as well.

MATTHEWS: The Straits of Hormuz. They shut off all oil shipments through the Straits, right?

BAER: They hit—they hit up (ph) cake (ph). It takes six million barrels off instantaneously, and we can‘t defend it. You know, secondly...

MATTHEWS: But doesn‘t that—doesn‘t that—doesn‘t that—that stranglehold, that chokehold, have a life span of itself? Can they keep doing that without committing suicide economically?

BAER: They‘re prepared...

MATTHEWS: I mean, how long can they...

BAER: ... to commit suicide.

MATTHEWS: ... raise the price that high?

RUBIN: They are.

BAER: They can. And they‘re ready to.

RUBIN: I absolutely agree. Iran‘s not a democracy. It doesn‘t matter what the ordinary people think, in the government‘s calculation. They will look at it—this—the leadership of Iran is the leadership that grew up in the Iran/Iraq war. They look at this and say, The vegetables are expensive? Well, when I was your age, I was fighting mustard gas on the front with Iraq.

MATTHEWS: OK, the way—the look of you right now—and I know you‘re emotional—passionate on this, not emotional. Is it possible, Michael, that the attack by Israel, which Bibi Netanyahu has threatened to carry out if we don‘t do something in stopping this weapons program by Iran, could be the beginning of a horrendous amount of action in the world, not just the end, but the beginning of spiking prices for oil, of Hezbollah attacks all over the place, not just Israel? What do you see happening?

RUBIN: Absolutely. And you‘ve got to balance that with, if Iran does go nuclear, you‘re going to have an end of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and a cascade of proliferation throughout the world. That‘s the choice.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you the final question tonight, and then I want to get to some of these quotes by people here. Bob Baer, what happens if we let Israel—we discourage Israel successfully and even (INAUDIBLE) maybe Netanyahu with a right-wing faction running the country there, with Lieberman, he decides not to move because we say, We don‘t want you to move?

If he doesn‘t move, what happens to the world if Israel is faced with a neighbor that hates it, wants to destroy it? Does that basically kill the notion of Israel as a safe haven for world Jewry in the long run? In other words, young people in their young 20s, young engineers, biotechnicians and all, would no longer want to live in that country because it‘s under a nuclear threat? Don‘t you—do you think that‘s a real prospect?

BAER: I think it‘s—Israel is under existential threat. I think if that Iran continues to grow, is a superpower or is a hegemon in the Gulf, that it ultimately it will affect Israel‘s survivability. There‘s no question about it. The Israelis have a point.

MATTHEWS: Michael? And that point is strong enough that it means their life. Do you buy that argument, that their life‘s at stake? And not over the year or two, but eventually, you cannot have an Israeli Jewish state, if you will, succeed if it‘s under the nuclear threat of a country that hates it.

RUBIN: There is a psychological threat, and with Iran‘s nuclear program...

MATTHEWS: By the way, it‘s a real psychological threat.


MATTHEWS: It‘s not in the head.

RUBIN: But just as important is the uncertainty over who would control a nuclear bomb should Iran achieve that capability. Ordinary...

MATTHEWS: Who‘s got the button?

RUBIN: Who has the button, and under what circumstances would it be used? And that‘s what...

MATTHEWS: Who do you think is in charge in Iran right now? I want to get back to you. Who is making the decision to fire off these rockets? Who‘s making the decision to proceed in a way that looks like they‘re going towards weaponization? Who‘s calling that shot? Is it Khamenei, the boss, the supreme leader? Is it Ahmadinejad? Is a faction in the back room of old men, religious people? Who‘s making the call, Bob Baer, to go to war with us, basically, on this?

BAER: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. And the new defense minister‘s from the IRGC. And don‘t forget that he blew up the Israeli embassy in Argentina. These guys have blood on their hands, and we really can‘t predict what they‘re going to do.

MATTHEWS: Michael?

RUBIN: Absolutely correct. The supreme leader still has ultimate control with the Revolutionary Guard. But the problem is, no one really knows about the factions inside the Revolutionary Guard Corps. It‘s still relatively a black box. Politics—we talk about reformers, we talk about hard liners, but the real decision making is inside that Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

MATTHEWS: OK. A fellow I know out in Hollywood, a guy who‘s pretty smart otherwise, said to me that the only smart Israeli action is to not just to go in and blow up the facilities, but to take out the leadership. Is that a feasible Israeli Entebbe-style possibility? Bob Baer, you first. Could they go in and take out the leadership faction, kill them? Could they do that?

BAER: No, the country...

MATTHEWS: Decapitate this government?

BAER: The country‘s too big. Israel‘s air force is too small. It‘s too big. You can‘t do it. It‘s 71 million people. We‘re talking about—the result would be a conventional war. It would look like World War III.

RUBIN: I would agree with that. You go after the leadership if it can prevent a war. In this case, it can‘t...

MATTHEWS: But you see it written along those lines in terms of knocking out, like, say, one person, killing one person, like, a really bad guy out there. But is it feasible for Israel to do an Entebbe-style assault, where they go in and find six or seven guys in this faction behind Ahmadinejad and kill them?

RUBIN: What‘s much more feasible...

MATTHEWS: Because they‘ve done stuff like this on the West Bank.

RUBIN: Yes. What‘s much more feasible, if Iran has buried nuclear facilities under mountains, they don‘t have to destroy the facilities, they just need to destroy the entrances to them.

MATTHEWS: And how long do they keep those sealed by blowing them up?

RUBIN: They set the program back a year or two and hope that the international community actually—actually becomes active.

MATTHEWS: Yes, the trouble is, the international community, from an Israeli point of view, goes the other way.


MATTHEWS: What‘s your thought, Bob...


BAER: ... the intelligence isn‘t good enough.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes. What I‘ve heard as a scenario is they blow up, in the short run. They do the best they can and say, More coming if you keep going. Have you heard that argument?

RUBIN: I have heard that argument. And what‘s interesting, it‘s the same argument that was made when the Israelis went over after the Iraqi reactor in 1981. Critics said...

MATTHEWS: OK. How much longer do we both have—you both have, not me. I‘m watching you guys. You‘re the experts. How longer (ph), Michael, and how longer, Bob, do we have to keep Netanyahu from acting?

RUBIN: I‘d say it‘s in weeks—months, if not weeks.

MATTHEWS: Bob, how long has the United States got leverage over Netanyahu, the head of Israel, not to attack Iran?

BAER: I think Netanyahu...

MATTHEWS: Have we got a year?

BAER: He‘s given three months. He‘s got to see something happening in three months or he‘s going to start his planning. They‘ve already started their planning.

MATTHEWS: I think we‘re all on the same page on this. It‘s pretty scary. Thank you Michael Rubin from AEI, and thank you, Bob Baer, who knows his stuff.

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