On reading the contents of this book, the subtitle (how Iran defies the West) makes more sense; Dr. Dore Gold, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN and diplomatic envoy to the Persian Gulf States, takes us into the corridors of power showing the failure of diplomatic efforts to engage with the Shiite regime. He starts by showing us Tehran's art of diplomatic deception, going on to ask can Iran be deterred [from its nuclear ambitions]? Posing the question: if Iran's nuclear aspirations are for energy, then why were these aspirations hidden until 2002, and where is a single plant for converting nuclear energy to electricity?
The book is carried along in chronological order, with brief interludes along the way, starting with the run-up to the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Gold shows just how badly the Carter Administration misread the Ayatollah, and the 444 day hostage crisis that ensued. Having recently read a book about the failure of Western academics in studying the Middle East, this section really highlighted the hair-raising ignorance of the various academics called to testify before the Carter Administration.
There is a complete history of diplomats of various stripes attempting to unsuccessfully engage with Iran and the subsequent appeasement, and failure, of each and every administration becomes painful reading after the first few examples. Even the Clinton administration, with Warren Christopher who handled original negotiations for the US Embassy hostages, was thwarted when Europe refused to comply with sanctions, on the grounds of oil and gas deals it had with Iran. As Gold then reveals, Hasan Rowhani bragged at having driven a wedge between the US and EU during his negotiations with them.
In terms of the analysis of the situation and what Iran might do, if it acquires nuclear weapons Gold predicts a nuclear missile strike is not likely to be the greatest immediate threat to the West. Instead, Iran is more likely to choose `asymmetrical warfare' with a nuclear capability as a deterrent. The extent of Iran's involvement in asymmetrical warfare becomes more and more apparent as Gold takes you through a variety of countries and types of covert operation Iran is involved with: From training snipers in Mexican drug gangs, to raising funds through its involvement with Columbian drug cartels (which not only helps destabilise Columbia, but the region), to funding Yemeni rebels (the book came out just before Yemen burst onto the headlines), to attempting to instigate a coup d'état in Bahrain etc. etc. this book isn't just about the threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia...
Also a great deal of space is dedicated to various branches of Hezbolla and its operations, which a senior Iranian official called 'an extension of Iranian intelligence services'. Hezbolla named itself Islamic Jihad until as late as 1985 and did not declare responsibility for a wide variety of bombings, kidnappings and violence against US, French and Israeli interests in the Middle East, in order to confuse intelligence about who exactly was behind the campaign.
Iran's involvement in the development of al-Qaeda in Sudan is included, which I thought complemented more information found in Ronen Bergman's critically acclaimed work, perfectly. Although it is true al-Qaeda was born out of the conflict with Russia in Afghanistan, this is only the beginning of the story.
A couple of downsides to this book are that Gold is rather too kind to diplomats with their obvious incompetence and arrogance as each one believing they held the key to solving the problem, which has led to this situation.
Since the publication of this book, so much has changed particularly with Obama and his bizarre approach of sacrificing Israel in an attempt to appease Iran. Clearly Obama has fallen for Iranian rhetoric believing Israel to be a genuine grievance for Tehran. This is similar to Secretary of State Madeline Albright's grotesque blunder, during the Clinton administration, of actually apologising to Tehran for the CIA's involvement in the 1953 coup d'etat in Iran. Had Madeline had this book available back then, she would have read that the young Ayatollah Khomeini actually approved of the coup at the time...
The Obama administration's belief in Iranian rhetoric has led to an eerie repetition of history when Neville Chamberlain sacrificed Czechoslovakia in an attempt to appease Adolph Hitler in the run-up to WWII while the Nazi regime was arming itself to the hilt. Also another negative for this book is that while it is full of facts, some of which really make your jaw drop, the writing is a little dry. It almost feels this book was written in a hurry (in between diplomatic meetings perhaps?) and as a result this makes the reading quite cumbersome. An editor would've been good.
Overall though, I'm certain that with `the Rise of Nuclear Iran', diplomats and the public would benefit equally from seeing the efforts of the last 30 years summarised so convincingly and put into perspective. This book really opened my eyes to Iran's global aspirations and what exactly a nuclear Iran would entail for the world.