Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, warns that Iran is on an “inexorable” path to develop a nuclear capability and that the time has come for international unity for the broader good.
Hayden declared in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV on Friday that Iran is shaping up to be the single biggest threat of 2012.
“I’ve been asked, ‘what’s the greatest potential for something very disruptive in 2012,’ and my mind immediately goes to the Persian Gulf and to Iran. And when I ask myself, ‘who is liable to go dramatic in the Gulf in 2012?’ I certainly don’t think it’s us,” said Hayden, who serves as an advisor to LIGNET, a global intelligence and forecasting site.
“Frankly I don’t think it’s the Israelis, but I do believe it could be the Iranians. I’m not saying it’s more – rather than less likely – but I think that’s got the highest probability, and it probably will be based not on a rational calculus of external affairs.”
While Iran’s provocative statements in recent weeks seem counter intuitive to logic, Hayden suggests that they may also reflect a much deeper internal power struggle taking place in that country.
“We’ve got different factions vying for control, vying for positions of advantage and each one of them might actually perceive that they can gain domestic advantage by putting themselves to the right of the other factions when it comes to this issue,” explained Hayden who is also a former director of the National Security Agency and a former principal deputy director for national intelligence.
“So what I fear the most is that the Iranians will badly miscalculate – do something externally that will be ultimately bad for them and bad for the region. But they’ll do it because of their own internal domestic pressures.”
He said that the situation in Iran has been deteriorating as a result of the pursuit of tough sanctions by the United States during the Bush administration and more recently by the Obama administration.
“They are biting and the future sanctions – the ones now promised by both the Europeans and by the United States – will begin to cut into Iranian oil revenue,” according to Hayden. “Things are bad there. Iranian currency lost about a third of its value over the past several weeks so the government is under great pressure.”
Iranian scientists recently announced that they have produced the nation’s first nuclear fuel rod, a feat of engineering the West has doubted Tehran capable of. The U.N. has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can lead to making a nuclear weapon. Separately, the U.S. and the European Union have imposed their own tough economic and financial penalties.
The United States and some of its European allies accuse Iran of using its nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying the program is for peaceful purposes only and is geared toward generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.
Tehran has long maintained that it is forced to seek a way to manufacture the fuel rods on its own, since sanctions ban it from buying them on foreign markets. Nuclear fuel rods are tubes containing pellets of enriched uranium that provide fuel for nuclear reactors.
Hayden said that he is “mildly surprised, but incredibly pleased” that the European Union agreed to impose an oil embargo on Iran. Italy imports about a third of its oil from Iran and fears serious economic losses as a result of such an embargo.
“I understand the Italian objections, but frankly I think the time has come for international unity on this question with a lot of actors having to perhaps submerge a bit, some narrowly defined sense of interests, for the broader good,” said Hayden.
Iran’s actions of late – including threats to close the vital Strait of Hormuz oil route, test firing at least four missiles over the Strait and warning the United States to keep aircraft carriers out of the Gulf – have resulted in record arm sales from the U.S. to Iran’s neighbors.
“What Iranian behavior and puffery is doing is making it easier for these states to snuggle up more closely to the United States, align themselves with us and we’ve had record-breaking arms sales to these very nations over the past several weeks,” said Hayden. “This is counter to Iran’s national interests and yet there they still go.”
Hayden visited the Gulf in late December and sensed trepidation on the part of Iran’s neighbors.
“You can sense that our friends there on the Arab side of the Gulf look at Iran with great concern. I have to tell you too, this is not a new phenomenon. When I was director of CIA and traveled throughout the region, Iran was the topic that most of our Sunni Arab friends wanted to talk about most of all,” he recalled.
In the wake of Iran’s threat to close the Strait, other oil-producing countries also appear more willing to fill a future gap in the oil supply, according to Hayden.
“Look, these are hard problems. You are balancing multiple interests but at the end of the day do you want to stick together and to drive this to some sort of favorable conclusion or do you want to continue to muddle and leave us where we are now – Iran on this trajectory which seems inexorable to get to some sort of nuclear capacity?”
Hayden, however, adds that Iran’s capability to close the Strait for any length of time is questionable.
“The West is going to have to take stern action – the response to any activity to close the Straits. But the Iranian ability to do that I think is fairly limited,” Hayden insisted.
In another hotspot, Hayden was unable to fully assess reports that the Obama administration is in negotiations with the Taliban to bring about a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. The deal under consideration is reported to include the release of five Taliban prisoners being held by the United States in exchange for peace negotiations and the Taliban agreeing to open an office in Qatar.
“What I want to learn – what I want to see – is so what’s the reciprocal? What do we get in return for such a dramatic gesture on our part? And frankly an address in Qatar doesn’t quite match up to that for me,” Hayden explained. “So I’m a little hesitant to judge, but on the surface – boy, I want to see a lot more on this side before I get any kind of comfort zone feeling about what apparently is being offered.”