The US should destroy virtually all of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps infrastructure as well as Iran’s nuclear facilities to reduce its terrorist and nuclear threats, former CIA director James Woolsey told The Jerusalem Post in an interview.
“The next time the IRGC looks cross-eyed at us… we should turn loose six to 12 MOAB [GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast] bombs on their facilities,” said Woolsey, who was CIA director from 1993 to 1995 during the Clinton administration. He spoke to the Post in the famous Rotunda Room of the Pierre Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. MOAB bombs, with 18,000 pounds of TNT, are the second-largest conventional weapon in the US arsenal, and the largest ever used, after one was dropped on a suspected Islamic State target in Afghanistan in April. “Given what a source of terrorism the IRGC is… instead of talking and proportionality – the hell with proportionality. We should destroy virtually everything we can that has to do with the IRGC,” he said.
Woolsey, wearing a gray charcoal coat and a red sweater, said, “I think their seizing of a US ship [in January 2016] was an act of war. We went to war on less than that in the War of 1812,” noting that the US attacked England because it had captured or killed a relatively small number of sailors.The intensity of Woolsey’s aggressive program contrasted with the heavenly blue sky displaying the Greek gods in paintings on the dome-shaped ceiling above and across the walls below. The former CIA director did qualify that he “would not use MOABs against civilian facilities, but against military facilities… and we would be wise to take out everything related to their nuclear program.”
Pressed that this approach could drag the US into a highly volatile and unpredictable war with Iran and its proxies, he was unfazed.
He suggested that taking a strong approach might also correct what he saw as a failure of the Reagan administration when it withdrew from Lebanon in response to the 1983 Hezbollah bombing of a US barracks.
Regarding the Iran deal, unlike former CIA director Michael Hayden, who told the Post in October that he was in favor of fixing the deal but against Trump’s decertification of the deal, Woolsey was disappointed that Trump did not scrap the deal entirely. Though Hayden was a Republican appointee and Woolsey a Democratic one, on the Iran deal, Woolsey outflanked Hayden from the right, saying that “the Iran nuclear deal is worse than worthless.” Explaining his view, he called the deal’s provisions for nuclear inspections weak regarding military nuclear facilities. He discussed a scenario where “the US or the IAEA got recordings from overflying airplanes or satellites that there is a spot 100 miles north of Tehran which is highly radioactive.”
“You tell the Iranians you are going to inspect the next day. The next morning they say you cannot go, because it is a military facility. You respond that it was not a declared military facility yesterday. They say, ‘We can make it a military facility anytime we want.’” In other words, the Iranians could arbitrarily use the military facility definition to skirt inspections.
What specifically would Woolsey suggest Trump do with the deal?
“I would deal with the deal under American constitutional law. Any really major international agreement must be a treaty. You are committing the entire American people to something. This should have been a treaty. Its executive agreement status should be canceled, and it should be submitted to the Senate. If approved, it goes into effect, and if not, not.”
But for Woolsey, all of the above is treating the symptoms without confronting the heart of the issue: how to weaken Iran’s damaging influence.
To reduce Iran’s power in the long term “and bring about a saner world,” Woolsey suggested “undermining OPEC, ending the cartel” and bringing the price of oil down to a historic low of $30 a barrel.
Essentially, his idea is to “return oil to a free market, which in turn could lead to competition against oil products in the realm of transportation and fuel markets for cars.”
If the US, Israel and other allies “want to damage Iran and keep them from running the Gulf, they need to break Iran’s economy, and getting the price of oil down is the only thing that does that.”
OPEC is an organization of 14 oil-rich countries, mostly developing countries in the Middle East, which work together to control the price of oil in order to spread their economic and geopolitical influence.
Woolsey said that the beauty of the idea is that it is just applying free market principles and is not even Iran-specific; rather, it would have the impact of reducing the power of Iran, as well as other countries such as Russia, to use their strength in oil as a weapon economically and to pay for their foreign adventurism.
He cited energy experts Gal Luft and Anne Korin’s 2009 book Turning Oil Into Salt in arguing that a simple technical fix, which according to General Motors costs only $70 per car, should be added to every new vehicle sold in the US.
“Flex fuel vehicles” would ensure that cars could run on different combinations of gasoline and a range of alcohol fuels such as methanol or ethanol.
Standards ensuring new cars are flex fuel vehicles would open the transportation fuel market to fuels made from energy sources other than oil, and the price of methanol made from natural gas is competitive on a per-mile basis with gasoline.
Woolsey contended that such a standard could virtually cap the price of oil, with consumers choosing the most economic fuel on a per-mile cost basis, creating a shield against OPEC trying to inflate the price of oil.
He said that Israel and China are both “doing a lot with methanol,” and that, working together with the US, they could undermine the basis of Iranian and Russian power.
But this flexible fuel plan for undermining Iran and Russia in the long term would have no obvious timeline on it, making it unattractive to a president like Donald Trump who is eager to show off quick photo ops.
Woolsey, who consulted for the Trump campaign at certain stages, said he would pitch Trump by saying, “You are undermining the country’s enemies, working together with our good friend Israel and our sometimes friend China…
“Every soccer mom, as she drives home from taking kids to play soccer after school, stops to get groceries before dinner. She will save $2-$3 on what she buys for dinner. That means her family gets a better meal, as opposed to if she has to spend that extra $3 on petroleum fuels…. You are for soccer moms, aren’t you Mr. President? Aren’t they called constituents?” he added with a flicker in his eye.
The former CIA director dismissed possible objections from oil-heavy allies such as Saudi Arabia, Canada and Norway, saying they can eventually “all get along” without oil being such a centerpiece of their economy.
This concept of financially attacking adversaries is also a major part of how Woolsey conceives of fighting terrorism.
Commenting on a new book called Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters by Shurat Hadin director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel Katz, he said, “Offense is the key thing, not just to play defense. You need to go after terrorists with litigation. You have to take it to the terrorists and the relevant states who support terrorism. You need to make it financially unattractive to stay in the business,” he said.
Groups like Shurat Hadin, which promote that kind of litigation, “are a big part of that, along with law enforcement.”
Harpoon tells the story of legendary Mossad director Meir Dagan, his top-secret task force and of Darshan-Leitner, who collectively waged parallel cloak-and-dagger and litigation campaigns targeting the finances that funded attacks against Israel.
Woolsey’s quote on the book’s back cover talks about the need “to ‘follow the money.’ This is the story of how the Mossad led this movement and substantially effected investigations of terrorism and similarly important matters and how this influenced the CIA’s later work in the same field.”
He confirmed that the CIA was significantly and positively influenced by the Mossad and Shurat Hadin’s work in this area. He added that he worked well and closely with then-Mossad director Shabtai Shavit, and this despite the fresh Jonathan Pollard controversy which hung over them at the time.
Continuing his grim – or realistic, depending on your perspective – sizing up of various security challenges, the former CIA director was extremely negative about the ongoing Palestinian efforts at reconciliation between the West Bank-based Fatah and Gaza-based Hamas.
He said, “I don’t trust either of those organizations. Israel should take zero risk while incitement in education of Palestinian kids continues.” Whether Israel attempts to negotiate a deal with the Palestinian Authority or with a PA-Hamas national unity government, peace negotiations “will not likely succeed. Some degree of negotiation sometimes should be maintained, in case something unexpected happens, and you want to be able to take advantage of that.”
He noted that such an unexpected event “happened to me in early fall 1989 when I was picked to take over the European negotiation over conventional forces. One week after I took over the job, I was sitting in my apartment in Vienna…. I had misheated something in the microwave and was watching CNN. Then the Berlin Wall goes down. I said, ‘That might have an effect on the talks!’”
Despite that positive example, he returned to his theme that he does not “see any reasonable chance of success, given what the Palestinians teach their kids, the hatred they propagate against Israel.”
Recounting happier times between Israel and the Palestinians, he said, “I remember going over there as CIA director in 1994, seeing some of the joint training between Fatah and the Israelis. It was quite dramatic. And there was also the handshake in the garden,” between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.
However, Woolsey has an additional off-camera memory from his attendance at the ceremony, reflecting his and other US officials’ distrust of Arafat even in the best of times.
He said that after “the handshake,” Arafat starts down one side of the attendees and “starts grabbing each Arab ambassador and planting a wet kiss on their mouths – not their cheeks.”
Colin Powell, then-head of the US armed forces, was standing next to Woolsey and said, “Damn, Jim, he is going to kiss us.”
To avoid an Arafat kiss on the mouth, Powell saluted and elevated to his straightest height, towering over the short Arafat, who could not reach him. Woolsey then seized the moment by grabbing Arafat’s hand to shake it, and then handing him off to then-US secretary of defense Les Aspin.
Woolsey said he told Powell, “I never thought I would have to shake hands with that son of a bitch – but at least he didn’t kiss us!”
About the Oslo negotiations, which he witnessed up close, he said, “I thought it was worth trying at the time. But Arafat was never serious about it; it was nothing but a ploy for him.”
Woolsey said that the only chance for peace with the Palestinians would be if they changed “what they teach their kids” and got a new leader on the scene with the bold drive for peace of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
Reviewing his current successor at the CIA, director Mike Pompeo, he said, “So far, so good.”
Asked about allegations that Pompeo has politicized aspects of intelligence related to Iran, or that his public views as a congressman act to pressure CIA analysts on the issue, Woolsey said that, if that was an issue, “it will go away with time… and people can discount what someone’s views were” before they were director.
Woolsey was critical of Trump for leaking Israeli intelligence to Russia and for his propensity for broadcasting so much of his national security strategy.
He contrasted Trump with former president Ronald Reagan, recalling that Reagan’s administration once discovered that Russia was stealing small electronic US government devices and that Reagan quietly ordered some of them booby-trapped.
“Reagan could look at some reconnaissance satellite feeds of Russian oil and gas pipelines going up in smoke – boom, boom, boom from the boobytraps!” he said with a big smile. “But they did not publicize it. The whole thing was very classified until years later.”
In intelligence you need to “speak softly, carry a big stick and sometimes use the big stick.”