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On Iran Today: 'After The Crackdown' To 'The Point Of No Return'

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, delivering a speech on Aug. 4, 2010 in Hamadan, Iran. 
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, delivering a speech on Aug. 4, 2010 in Hamadan, Iran. 

In two major American magazines, on newsstands now, there are articles about Iran. Jon Lee Anderson's "After The Crackdown" is in the most-recent issue of The New Yorker, and Jeffrey Goldberg's "The Point of No Return" is The Atlantic' cover story.

NPR's Robert Siegel convened a conversation with both journalists, to talk about the state of Iran today, and what the national security implications of a nuclearized Iran could be, for the U.S. and Israel.

For his article, Anderson traveled to Tehran, where he interviewed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and tried to assess the strength of the opposition Green Movement.

"I came away feeling quite depressed, actually, from this trip," he said, noting that Iran "is effectively a security state, and the only person to deal with is Ahmadinejad.

I felt that they are under the misapprehension, based upon a telescopic, or I should say periscopic, notion of what the West is, and of us, based upon these annual trips [Ahmadinejad] makes to the U.N. General Assembly.

In his conversation with Ahmadinejad, Anderson asked about the relationship between the Iranian government, Hamas and Hezbollah, and intelligence that indicates the country has provided assistance to anti-American forces in Iraq.

According to Anderson, "he responded, more or less bold-facedly, saying: 'We have never denied our support for the Palestinian people, the Lebanese people, and the Iraqi people."

Goldberg's piece centers on how Israeli leaders view the prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons and how they might take military action to stop Iran from developing them.

Having spoken to officials in both countries, he learns that they are considering preemptive strikes.

"They are aware of the potential catastrophic downsides," Goldberg said. "The reason that they're thinking about this at all is that they think that living with a nuclear Iran is impossible for Israel."

They believe that Iran poses an existential threat to Israel, and that even if Iran didn't use a nuclear weapon against Tel Aviv, or transfer a nuclear weapon to one of its terrorist proxies, the mere fact that these terrorist proxies could operate under the protection of the Iranian nuclear umbrella means that Israel would be in danger of becoming an unlivable place.

According to Goldberg, American diplomats have raised the specter of air strikes in negotiations with other countries, including China, arguing an attack could have disrupt global economies.

"The American government uses the threat of an Israeli attack as a tool in its toolbox, to try to get the world to pay attention to this issue," he said.

Asked if Ahmadinejad and his advisers discussed how Iran might react to an attack Anderson said they told him that, "whatever the U.S. did, Israel would be attacked."

One of his aides told me that, in the event of any attack by the west, with or without Israel, Israel would be attacked. This was a matter of policy. They said, Israel may have nuclear arms, but its entire territory will come under the barrage of our missiles.

Both journalists noted that, at this point, military attacks are not inevitable. Anderson said that, at this point, "one has to sift bluster from real intent."

We're in a kind of game of brinkmanship where there is bluff and counter-bluff, but a certain amount of deadly intent.

According to Goldberg, who praised the White House's measured approach to Iran thus far, "while it's plausible that the Obama administration would eventually decide to use military force to stop the Iranian nuclear program, I don't think that it's probable by any means, and I don't want anyone to think that the Obama administration is moving rapidly in that direction."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Gura
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.