August 8, 2005



COUNTDOWN TO CRISIS: The Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
Crown Forum, 400 pages, $25.95

KENNETH Timmer man has a nose for trouble. A veteran reporter, he has made a name for himself investigating political controversies for over two decades, penning high-profile exposés of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's influence-peddling and intimidation politics and the mercenary motivations behind France's opposition to war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

With "Countdown to Crisis," however, Timmerman may have hit the mother lode. Iran's concerted quest for a nuclear capability is taking center stage on the strategic agenda of the United States, and policymakers in Washington are in desperate need of a primer on Iran's strategic capabilities, and its political intentions. Timmerman is well-positioned to provide both.

Having reported on the Iranian regime's troubling international behavior for such publications as The New Republic and the Washington Times since the late 1980s, he is no stranger to its inner workings. Indeed, the biographical sketches of key regime figures and opposition activists interspersed throughout the book convey a feeling of deep familiarity with the convoluted power politics of the Islamic Republic.

None of this makes "Countdown to Crisis" any less frightening.

In meticulous detail, Timmerman chronicles the myriad ways by which the Iranian regime has sought to acquire an offensive atomic capability over the past two decades, and its unambiguous reasons for doing so. He also shares damning details of exactly how international actors like the International Atomic Energy Agency have been responsible for aiding and abetting the nuclear ambitions of Iran's ayatollahs.

But Timmerman's most striking claim has nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program. Building on accounts stitched together from interviews of multiple Iranian defectors and foreign intelligence investigations, he levels a blockbuster accusation: that Iran played a key role in the planning, organization and facilitation of the 9/11 attacks.

If the sources he cites are to be believed Àú and Timmerman explains eloquently why they should be Àú the Islamic Republic had a major hand in the worst terrorist attacks in American history, and continues to collude with al Qaeda about how best to kill Americans and Europeans today.

As Western intelligence services comb through the rubble of the July 7 terror attacks in London, these warnings about post-9/11 cooperation between Iran and al Qaeda could turn out to be positively prescient.

If "Countdown to Crisis" has a failing, it lies in its lack of policy prescriptions. Short of capitulation or war, Timmerman's solution for dealing with Iran's corrupt theocracy Àú empowering the country's vibrant democratic opposition Àú is just what the doctor ordered. But in the end, he remains rather opaque as to exactly how the United States can do so.

That aside, Timmerman has woven a compelling Àú and deeply alarming Àú picture of the one country that is destined to be the next big test for American foreign policy.

By extension, "Countdown to Crisis" is a stinging indictment of the profoundly unserious way Washington and its European allies have handled Iran's unmistakable nuclear ambitions and support of terrorism so far.

With Iran's nuclear clock ticking ever louder, Timmerman's message is clear: it is high time for all of that to change.

Ilan Berman is vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C. His book "Tehran Rising: Iran's Challenge to the United States" is due out this month.