- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

COUNTDOWN TO CRISIS: THE COMING NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN WITH IRAN

Kenneth R. Timmerman

Crown Forum, $25.95, 392 pages

If current news reporting out of Iran isn’t disturbing enough, author Ken Timmerman’s latest book is a stark warning that worse is to come, and soon. Boiled down to its essence, Mr. Timmerman’s conclusion is that the Islamist regime may be no more than six months away from perfecting the technology for nuclear weapons and could already have enough nuclear material for 20 to 25 bombs. It also is probable that the rocket delivery systems for striking at Israel and American military installations in the region are also in plentiful supply.

In “Countdown to Crisis,” this complicated, multi-front story is so compellingly documented that the author’s cautionary words serve to heighten the sense that while we can’t tell when the mullahs of Tehran will go adventuring with their bombs, we can no longer pretend that they don’t intend to do something violent in the region and do it any time now.

The picture Mr. Timmerman paints of Iran’s theocratic masters is of despots who are equally fearful of their own people and of the world around them. At the same time, they are also seized by delusions and ambitions of power and grandeur that can only lead to violence against others. But it is the perceived threats of the United States and, of course, Israel, that the ayatollahs find most unendurable.

Also driving Tehran’s strategy is the conviction that U.S. presidents are too cowardly to use military force against a nuclear-powered Iran and that Washington also will prevent Israel from taking preemptive action on its own. It is this last delusion that could have horrific consequences. But delusions often have some grounding in reality. Mr. Timmerman argues that the failure of various presidents and their intelligence advisors to respond to Iranian provocations underpin the belief that no one is likely to interfere with their admission to the atomic club. Certainly no one in Europe either.

He begins his case with the 1983 bombing of the barracks of U.S. Marines in Beirut that killed 241 (and 58 French troops in a related attack) by agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. There was a French air strike against an Iranian installation but no American response. Five months later the same group kidnapped CIA station chief William Buckley and tortured him to death; again without any response from the White House. With a jolt, the book recalls the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 from Athens where the hostages were only released upon the direction of Iranian parliament speaker Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, last week’s presidential candidate, who was lauded by the world media as a cuddly “moderate.” Rather, Mr. Rafsanjani can claim the title of father of the Iranian bomb. Mr. Timmerman documents how it was Mr. Rafsanjani, then a top aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, who met in 1986 with Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. It was Mr. Khan who convinced Mr. Rafsanjani that Iran’s better path to nuclear weapons was to be able to produce its own fissionable material and not be hostage to a foreign supplier. Not surprisingly Mr. Khan became a top adviser on how to enrich nuclear fuel from civilian reactors into weapons grade material and, in time, its supplier of illegally obtained equipment for that process.

The next twenty years of Mr. Timmerman’s story is an anger-inducing tale of how the Iranians gamed both U.S. administrations and the international nuclear nonproliferation bureaucracy. Variousbogusdiplomatic victories would be achieved over the years, including an agreement on an enrichment moratorium that was reached in Vienna last November that was pure mummery. All the while Tehran was getting closer to perfecting enrichment technology and buying all the hardware on the international black market that they need to build a bomb and to deliver it. At the same time the mullahs, according to Mr. Timmerman’s reporting, have been giving active support, refuge and transport —includingsheltering Osama bin Laden — for al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. All the while they have continued their own terror offensive including, and here Mr. Timmerman offers documents, Iranian involvement in the September 11 attacks.

There are villains enough to go around. Vacillating presidents. A CIA that dismisses any intelligence that does not square with its analytical model for Iran. Cold, greedy Western powers who never met a mullah they couldn’t do business with. There are cover-ups and blunders galore. But it is the conclusion reached by this well-written, thoroughly documented book with 50 pages of supporting material that will put a chill on all those cheery news reports about democracy in action in Iran. There is something bad coming our way.

James Srodes is the Washington-based author of “Allen Dulles, Master of Spies” and other biographies.

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