Ronen Bergman, an investigative journalist with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot, is the author of “The Secret War with Iran” (Simon & Schuster, 2008). He was in New York last week to discuss the Iranian crisis at the invitation of The Israel Project, an independent nonprofit that promotes Israel.
Q: What can you tell us about Mir Hossein Mousavi, the so-called pro-reform opposition candidate who spearheaded the protests over the election returns?
A: Mousavi was the Iranian connection to the Americans in the Iran-Contra affair, and American and Israeli intelligence said he was the most extreme person they had met.
He reminds many of another so-called Iranian moderate, former President Mohammad Khatami. Khatami came in [in 1997] as a
great hope and people said he would be the Gorbachev of Iran — that he was going to change Iran. But the big leap forward in the Iranian nuclear project was under Khatami.
Khatami cherished suicide bombers in the [Palestinian] territories and twice he called for the destruction of Israel.
If Mousavi became president, could he change anything?
No, because I don’t see Mousavi bringing about change. And the fact we see him as a more moderate element of the regime and see him as a reformer, does not mean he is a reformer. He does not call all the shots.
Would Iran drop the bomb on Israel if it got it?
Iran wants to have the bomb in order not to use it. They need the bomb as an insurance policy for the survival of their regime and to make sure the United States does not do to it what it did to Saddam Hussein.
They think that if they have the bomb, the U.S. will not be able to attack them.
Where does Israel fit into this equation?
Israel cannot sustain even one nuclear blast. Even if the risk of Iran launching a missile at Israel were very small, I’d advise everybody not to take the risk. … If [Iran] gets close to developing a bomb, the voices for attack would be empowered.
What is the likelihood of an Israeli pre-emptive attack?
Any Israeli prime minister would initiate an attack if presented with the reality that Israel was under an existential threat and that no [other] efforts have been able to confront it in a non-military way. He would be following [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s reaction in 1981 [when he destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor] — not tolerating weapons of mass destruction in a country that calls for Israel’s destruction.
How long has such a policy been in effect?
Yuval Neeman, a top physicist and the father of the Israeli nuclear project, once said that [Israel’s first Prime Minister David] Ben-Gurion called him about Israel’s Dimona [nuclear] reactor. He said Gurion said his worst nightmare was that he had brought the remains of the Holocaust to Israel only to face another Holocaust. … So Israel should do whatever it can to [prevent] Iran from becoming nuclear.