The United States must address Iran's nuclear weapons and support for terrorism before Israel does it, former NBC-TV military analyst Rick Francona told the Rotary Club of Sequim. "Iran is a strategic issue we've put off since 1979. We have to stand up to Iran eventually," he said.
Francona is a retired CIA and Air Force intelligence officer who also served as an Arabic interpreter for Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
He spoke on "Challenges and Opportunities for American Foreign Policy in the Middle East" at the club's Thursday, Sept. 3, luncheon.
A veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, Francona also was a Middle East military analyst for NBC News from 2003-2008.
His 90-minute speech took the audience from Lebanon to Iraq, a small but intermingled area that can be crossed in about eight hours, plus Afghanistan.
Francona said the real "axis of evil" is not North Korea, Iran and Iraq as President George W. Bush stated in January 2002.
The real "axis of evil" is Iran and Syria, plus North Korea, that was building the Syrian nuclear reactor bombed by Israel in September 2007.
Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil producer but imports half its gasoline because it lacks refineries and can't build them because of international sanctions, Francona said.
It's also the largest supporter of terrorism, including money, weapons and training, he said.
Some examples are airplanes from Tehran flying right into Damascus to unload people and arms, Hezbollah sending buses of people from Syria to Lebanon, and Iran funding Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Francona generally supports President Barack Obama's approach with Iran but thinks he is "doing the right thing the wrong way" because the Iranians aren't interested in talking.
Economic sanctions should be imposed and the U.S. should reserve the military option for a last resort, he said.
"Quit threatening to do it, just do it. People will revolt if there's no gasoline, Iranians love to drive."
Iran is intent on building a nuclear weapon but Israel lacks airspace and aerial refueling capabilities to bomb Iran's nuclear reactors as it did Iraq's in 1981, he said.
Crippling Iran's nuclear program would require the Israelis to fly 1,000 miles through hostile airspace and then take out 500-700 targets, Francona said.
"This is unacceptable. This is not the Berlin Wall. How long did we let that stay up? Israel has said 'If you don't do something about Iran's nuclear program, we will.'"
Francona said Syria and Iran are allies "joined at the hip."
The two countries even jointly manufactured a car called the Sham, which is an old Arabic word for "Syria," he said.
The key issue between Israel and Syria is the Golan Heights, which overlooks Israel and also is an agricultural and wine-making region, Francona said.
Israel won't give up the area because of the attacks that followed when they gave up the Gaza Strip and withdrew from Lebanon, he said.
Israel's prime minister wrecked the 20-year peace process with one sentence by declaring Israel never would give up the Golan Heights, Francona said.
There have been repeated envoys sent to Syria to try breaking them from Iran so there's a real chance for peace, but that's dead on arrival without return of the Golan Heights, he said.
The peace process can't be done in isolation; it must be done all at once, not in sequence, Francona said.
Reach Brian Gawley at email@example.com.
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