The West has been at war with Iran for the last 30 years, but only recently has it begun to gain the upper hand against the extremist nation. That's the theory posed in a new book by Ronen Bergman called The Secret War with Iran: The 30-Year Clandestine Struggle Against the World's Most Dangerous Terrorist Power. Bergman spoke recently on the subject at the Jewish Community Services Building in Philadelphia.
The event was co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas, the Middle East Forum, and the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia.
The author called his book "the first description of what I see as the longest ongoing war in the Middle East — not Iraq, not Afghanistan, not Lebanon."
"This war has been going on with the CIA, Mossad and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard" essentially since the Iranian revolution three decades ago, said Bergman. Only in the last two years has the West finally begun to come around in this war, he said, after the defection last year of General Ali Reza Askari; with this year's assassination of Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah's chief of military operations; and, most significantly, due to Israel's destruction earlier this year of a reactor in Syria.
Bergman, age 36, has written two other books and is a senior staff investigative journalist for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot,. Originally published last year in Hebrew as Point of No Return, the book took 10 years to research, and uses information culled from classified documents and more than 300 interviews.
He said that, at the end of the day, Iran is still pursuing its foreign policy through two primary paths: by exporting its revolution through terrorism and subversion, and by continuing its effort to acquire nuclear weapons.
(Bergman was quick to point out that, in referring to Iran or Iranians, he was not speaking of the country's general populace, but of its theocratic leadership, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)
The people of Israel truly believe that Iran means to destroy them, said Bergman, but he argued that the Iranians are far shrewder than they're generally given credit for, and they know Israel would retaliate severely. He said Iranians understood they would be "destroyed" if they attempted an attack on the Jewish state.
"There's no proof that Iran would not drop the bomb on Israel," said Bergman, and it works out of a burning hatred towards the Jewish state and desires to see it destroyed. But, he added, all that's countered by a very pragmatic self-interest.
Still, he said, none of this necessarily applies to Ahmadinejad, whom he characterized as "an irritating person, [who] is not No. 1 in Iran."
Iranians "see a nuclear arsenal as their insurance policy to let them continue to export their revolution, without the United States doing to them what it did to Saddam Hussein," said Bergman. He added that the regime "would like to have the nuclear umbrella over their heads to continue to do whatever they like internationally."
The author posited that, for now, it was unlikely that Israel would attack Iran, and that it would do so "only as a very, very last resort" — and only if Iran actually had a nuclear weapon and sanctions had failed, along with other considerations.
"If there's any lesson Israeli prime ministers have learned throughout the years, it's never take dramatic action without American consent," declared Bergman.
While Russia and China have long remained holdouts against international sanctions on Iran, Bergman said that he believed the issue would be much easier to discuss with Russia if some of its other priorities, having nothing to do with Iran, were fulfilled.
Regardless, Bergman remained optimistic. "The spirit of the people of Israel is stronger than you attribute it … . The community is strong: the country is strong."