When the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee host a meeting next Wednesday night — “Stop Iran from Going Nuclear” — attendees will have the opportunity to hear from an AIPAC official knowledgeable about both Iran and nuclear proliferation.
Bradley Gordon served on the CIA’s Iranian desk in the early 1980s. Later, in the administration of President George H. W. Bush, he served as assistant director of the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, overseeing non-proliferation policy. (In that capacity, he picked up the title “ambassador” when representing the United States during the 1990 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Process.)
His years in government also included stints on the House and Senate foreign relations committees. He joined AIPAC in 1995.
“I spent the 1970s in graduate school,” he said. “I spent 1977-78 in Israel, doing [my] doctoral dissertation research. I got back, and I was married and I had a child, and I realized I needed a job,” he said.
The topic of his research — he never finished the dissertation — was the impact of social change on politics among Israeli Arabs. At the time, he spoke Hebrew and Arabic fluently. His dissertation adviser was good friends with the head of the CIA analysis section. He received a suitably mysterious telegram with just a phone number, beginning with 202. He called.
“CIA,” said the person who answered the phone.
“This was right after Menachem Begin had been elected in 1977. The Labor Party had always been in power in Israel. Nobody at the CIA had a clue what this meant. I could actually tell them, so they hired me,” he said.
He started in early 1979, covering Yemen, at the time divided between warring North Yemen and South Yemen. South Yemen was Marxist, so the ambassador ended up briefing the White House and his CIA supervisors on what was a Cold War hot spot.
In 1980, he was assigned to cover Iran — a similarly high-profile assignment as Ayatollah Khomeni had recently come to power.
“I was not the guy who missed the Islamic revolution at the CIA. It goes a long way to explain how I got the job,” he said.
He didn’t speak Farsi, but that wasn’t a problem: “The entire Iranian press would be translated overnight.”
Does that immersion in Iran 30 years ago help him understand the country today?
“Interestingly, it’s pretty much the same cast of characters,” he said.
“One of the things I argued at the time is that the Iranian regime, once you grant its point of view, can be very pragmatic when pushed. If you look at it since then, Iranians have been pragmatic four times.
“In the mid-1980s, when still in the middle of the war with Iraq, their largely American-equipped military was desperate for spare parts and American ammunition. They were prepared to pay the U.S. millions and millions of dollars to get access to that. It was supplied to them on cargo planes from Israel. From the Iranian perspective, they were prepared to pay millions of dollars to the Great Satan and have it delivered by the Little Satan.
“In 1989 Khomeni decided to end the Iran-Iraq war.
“In 2003, when there were American troops to their east and west in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they thought they were next, they suspended their nuclear enrichment program and stopped working on the bomb.
“In 2013, because of sanctions, and again because they feared for their survival, they entered into negotiations,” he said.
“My own take is there are ideological hardliners in Iran, and pragmatic hardliners in Iran, inside the regime. All of them want to maintain the Islamic Republic and the structure of rule by Islamic jurisprudence. But the ideological hardliners are much less willing to do anything to compromise. The pragmatic hardliners are willing to make compromises because they see it as necessary to preserve the regime,” he said.
Compromise, however, doesn’t mean moderation. “There have been more executions since Rouhani has been president than any similar period of time,” he said. “It’s not like he’s a human rights activist.”
So what’s his take on the agreement?
Six hours after it was released, Ambassador Gordon wasn’t ready yet to comment.
“We are right now looking at it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey expressed its concerns over the agreement.
In a statement, it said it was “concerned that the processes outlined for inspecting nuclear facilities and re-imposition of sanctions are convoluted and easily corruptible. Iran’s regime has an unacceptable track record of exploiting loopholes to its own advantage.
“It is disturbing that the agreement also allows for the lifting of the international arms embargo against Iran,” the statement continued.
“We remain extremely concerned about Iran’s support of global terrorism as well as its deplorable human rights record. Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and its aggressive threats toward neighboring countries, including Israel, must not be allowed to go unchecked.”
Looking forward to the debate in Washington, “It is our hope that Congress will carefully review this accord, including the impact of Iran’s imminent cash infusion, to ensure that the value of all human life — regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation — is valued at an absolute premium.
“We urge Congress to give this accord its utmost scrutiny. As the president has said, ‘No deal is better than a bad deal.’”
What: An analysis of what the recent accord with Iran means for Israel and the United States?
Who: Ambassador Bradley Gordon, AIPAC Iran expert
When: Wednesday, July 22, 7-8:30 p.m.
Where: Temple Emanu-El of Closter, 180 Piermont Road, Closter