Chapter 27: Iran's Nuclear Program
- "A negotiated compromise with Iran will remove Tehran's nuclear weapons threat."
- "Iran is isolated because of the international sanctions regime."
- "Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei issued a fatwa against producing nuclear weapons."
- "The election of Hassan Rouhani eliminates the Iranian nuclear threat."
- "An Israeli attack on Iran would endanger U.S. interests in the Middle East."
- "Attacking Iran will create more instability in the Middle East."
- "Israel has nothing to fear from a nuclear Iran."
- "If Iran has a bomb, it can be deterred the way the U.S. deterred the Soviet Union."
- "Iran wants to control its nuclear stockpile and would never give a bomb or nuclear material to terrorists."
- "Iran does not believe it can win a nuclear war."
- "Iran should be allowed a nuclear weapon since Israel has one."
- "We will know when Iran has a bomb and can take action at that time."
- "Intelligence about Iran's nuclear program may be as faulty as the information about Iraq's."
- "The United States is committed to ensuring a complete halt to the Iranian nuclear program."
- "Iran is the only Muslim nation in the Middle East seeking to develop nuclear technology."
- "Time is not on Iran's side vis-a-vis its acquiring the atomic bomb."
Time is not on Iran's side vis-a-vis its acquiring the atomic bomb.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report on November 8, 2011, with new evidence of Iran’s commitment to building a nuclear weapon and the progress it has made toward achieving its goal.
The IAEA expresses “more concern about the possible existence of undeclared nuclear facilities and material in Iran” and “was informed that Iran has undertaken work to manufacture small capsules suitable for use as containers of a component containing nuclear material. Iran may also have experimented with such components in order to assess their performance in generating neurons. Such components, if placed in the centre of a nuclear core of an implosion type nuclear device and compressed, could produce a burst of neutrons suitable for initiating a fission chain reaction,” the report states.34
Unwilling to take military action, the international community has tried both carrots and sticks to halt the Iranian drive toward the nuclear threshold. Years of fruitless negotiations and offers of incentives were viewed by the Iranians as signs of Western weakness and were exploited to accelerate their program. As multiple IAEA reports have illustrated, sanctions have had no more impact as several nations have failed to enforce them rigorously, and other countries, especially China, have openly flouted them. Efforts to impose tougher sanctions have proved futile as China and Russia block their adoption at the UN Security Council.
U.S. policy has also been a failure. The Obama Administration first tried negotiating with the Iranians and was made to look as foolish as the Europeans who had previously failed to talk Iran out of building a bomb. The Administration has continued to apply half-measures and refused to impose any significant sanctions that would seriously inflict pain on the Iranian leadership or the general public. The fear of hurting the people has ensured they do not suffer enough to risk a revolution against the regime.
The only publicly disclosed efforts to stop the Iranians that have reportedly slowed them down have been quasi-military operations involving the assassination of nuclear scientists and the use of cyber warfare to infect the nuclear program's computer systems with a virus. The IAEA report makes clear, however, that even these covert operations have not discouraged Iran from pursuing a weapon and making progress toward their goal.
Some apologists for Iran have suggested that the regime poses no danger to U.S. interests. This is nonsense. Iran funds international terror, works to undermine Arab-Israeli peace, threatens oil supplies, promotes instability, targets our troops in the region and hatched a terror plot in Washington, D.C. The pre-nuclear Iran is already spurring proliferation as Arab rivals start to explore a nuclear deterrent.
The nations in the Middle East have no doubt about the danger posed by the Iranians and, with the exception of their allies in Syria and proxies in Lebanon, are united in calling for measures to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Saudi Arabia has made no secret of its desire, for example, to see the United States use military force against Iran.35
Iran is continuing on what appears to be an inexorable march to join the nuclear club. Continuing policies that have failed for a decade will not halt that advance.
"Iran is the only Muslim nation in the Middle East seeking to develop nuclear technology."
Those who argue that the world can live with a nuclear Iran ignore the likelihood that a nuclear arms race is likely to ensue in the Middle East, which will exponentially increase the danger to the region and beyond. The cost of stopping Iran’s drive for a bomb, therefore, must be balanced with the benefit of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
At least 12 Middle Eastern nations have either announced plans to explore atomic energy or signed nuclear cooperation agreements since the exposure of the Iranian program. Like Iran, they say they are interested in only “peaceful uses” of nuclear technology.
The Saudis have been quite explicit about the impact an Iranian bomb will have on their security. “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon,” an official close to Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said in June 2011, “that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.”115 In January 2012, Saudi King Abdullah signed an agreement with China for cooperation in the development and use of atomic energy for civilian purposes. 116
In January 2011, Egypt’s prime minister reaffirmed his country’s plan to construct its first nuclear power plant in the coast city of El-Dabaa.117 In 2009, the United Arab Emirates accepted a $20 billion bid from a South Korean consortium to build four nuclear power reactors by 2020.118
Jordan has cooperation agreements related to building nuclear power infrastructure with South Korea, Japan, Spain, Italy, Romania, Turkey and Argentina. Kuwait has agreements with the U.S., Russia, and Japan. In 2010, Qatar raised the possibility of a regional project for nuclear generation. Algeria has one of the most advanced nuclear science programs in the Arab world and is considering the role that nuclear power could play in its domestic energy generation. Two years ago, Oman signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia.119
The international community does not have a good record in preventing rogue nations from developing nuclear weapons, despite arms inspections, sanctions and other measures aimed at reassuring the public. Iraq was believed to be developing a bomb when Israel destroyed its nuclear reactor in 1981.120 Similarly, Syria managed to build a secret nuclear facility under the nose of the international watchdogs and was stopped only by an Israeli military operation.121
President Barack Obama illustrated the danger of a nuclear Iran vis-à-vis the nuclear arms race it would spur: “It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe,” Obama said. “The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.”122
The task of eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat and the proliferation that will follow should not be the responsibility of Israel. It is true that Israel is the one state that Iran has threatened to wipe off the map, but the Arab states are also on the front line and petrified of a nuclear Iran. This is why the Saudis explicitly called for a military attack on Iran.123 A nuclear arms filled Middle East, however, will ultimately pose a threat to global peace and stability. International action is needed to ensure that Iran does not get the bomb and set in motion the nuclearization of the Middle East.
"The United States is committed to ensuring a complete halt to the Iranian nuclear program."
In a surprising and significant move, the Obama administration has reportedly agreed to allow Iran to continue enriching uranium to the 5 percent purity mark in return for Iranian commitments to accept unrestricted inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), stricter oversight by the international community, and nuclear safeguards long demanded by the United Nations. This concession is a retreat from the president’s previous declaration that “the United States must lead the world in working to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program.”172
Such a bargaining position would be problematic for a number of reasons. First, it violates Obama’s commitment to halt Iran’s enrichment program. It also undermines his pledge that he would not accept “a policy of containment” with regard to the Iranian nuclear program.173 Second, it ignores the strong bipartisan sentiment in Congress calling for tougher legislation to force Iran to cease all enrichment programs.174
The United States has agreed that Iran has a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but this does not require any enrichment of uranium by the Iranians. Russia has already supplied Iran with a nuclear power facility that can meet its immediate needs, which are minimal given Iran’s vast oil reserves.
Negotiators appear desperate to reach some agreement with Iran in the hope of staving off a military attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. By agreeing to allow Iran to continue enriching uranium to the 5 percent purity concentration – agreed by scientists as the upper-end for civilian nuclear needs – the United States would be running the risk of giving the Iranians time to assemble the know-how and the infrastructure to develop a nuclear weapon at a later date. Obama would also be letting Iran evade the harshest of economic sanctions set to hit the country during the summer of 2012 before seeing if they will force Iran to give up its program entirely.
Uranium is considered weapons-grade at 90 percent purity, though anything enriched above the 20 percent level signifies a move toward weaponization, and the jump from 20 to 90 percent is deemed relatively easy.175 At present, the majority of Iran’s uranium, about 5 tons, is enriched at the 5 percent level, but it has produced approximately 200 pounds at the 20 percent mark, demonstrating its ability to enrich to a higher level.176 IAEA Secretary General Yukiya Amano affirmed that “what we know suggests [Iranian] development of nuclear weapons.”177
To date, the Iranians have shown a willingness to string out negotiations while continuing their nuclear program. Talks end without an agreement while the Iranians move closer to building the bomb. As early as July 2006, the UN Security Council called on Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment and implement transparency measures for its nuclear facilities; Iran refused.178 In 2008, the P5-plus-1 (the U.S., Russia, China, France, U.K. and Germany) offered Iran technical and commercial incentives to freeze high-level enrichment; Iran not only rebuffed the offer, but vowed to cease cooperating with inspectors.179 Now, after years of complacency by the West, why should anyone expect the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions or to adhere to any agreement they might sign? After all, Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty more than 40 years ago but still secretly disregarded the treaty’s terms and proceeded with nuclear weapons development.
Members of Congress, as well as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have said that U.S. interests are threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran. According to one source, the bipartisan opposition to the reported Obama compromise is so strong that any deal allowing continued Iranian enrichment "would be dead on arrival" in Congress.180
The Iranians should be allowed to use uranium for peaceful energy generation but they do not need to do their own enrichment – fuel stocks can easily be purchased from a half dozen different countries or through the international Uranium Enrichment Consortium (URENCO).181
While a compromise with Iran may reduce the chance of a military strike on Iran in the short-run, it could easily result in a more dangerous situation in the long-run. The Iranians may use the time they are given to continue to make technological advances toward weapons development, as well as to better prepare their defenses.
The understandable desire to forestall the need to take military action should not be an excuse for appeasement. The United States must not back down from its insistence that the Iranian nuclear program be permanently shut down. If an agreement is reached to end the program, it must be scrupulously monitored. Negotiators should remember Ronald Reagan’s adage with regard to negotiations with the Soviet Union – trust but verify.
Intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program may be as faulty as the information about Iraq’s.
After what happened in Iraq, people may be skeptical about intelligence claims regarding Iran; however, the cases are completely different. It is not only intelligence agencies from multiple countries that believe Iran has accumulated the know-how and most of the components for a nuclear bomb, it is also the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has been monitoring Iran’s activities.
The IAEA, for example, reported in 2010 that Iran had raised the level of uranium enrichment up to 20 percent, far beyond the 4 percent needed to run nuclear power reactors that Iran claims is the purpose of their program. The agency also reported that Iran had set up additional centrifuges to increase the level of enrichment to weapons grade.232
In August 2012, the IAEA said Iran had more than doubled the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges at its underground facility at Fordow. The IAEA report also noted that "extensive activities" at the Parchin complex, which has yet to be inspected, prove that Iran is leading a determined effort to cleanup that site from any evidence of illicit nuclear-weapons-linked testing.233
IAEA officials have also said that Iran has advanced its work on calculating the destructive power of an atomic warhead through a series of computer models. This information, gathered by the U.S., Israel, and at least two other Western nations, reinforced IAEA concerns that Iran was working toward a nuclear weapons capability.234
When former President Bill Clinton was asked whether America could risk another flawed military action if it turned out Iran is telling the truth about its intentions, Clinton said the situations were completely different. In the case of Iraq, he said, “I personally never saw any intelligence that was at all persuasive on the nuclear issue.” Iran, he noted doesn’t even pretend that “they don't have centrifuges, that they can't enrich uranium.” Clinton added, “they have the capacity to go well beyond what is necessary to generate the kind of material necessary to turn on the lights, to generate electricity. So I think it's a very, very different thing.”235
If Iran is not building a nuclear weapon, then how can it’s behavior be explained? “If you don't want a nuclear weapon, then why won't you comply with the international community's inspection regime,” Clinton observed. “If you don't want a nuclear weapon, you have been given nine ways from Sunday to prove that.”236
In fact, Iran routinely boasts when it increases the number of centrifuges it is running and enriches uranium to a higher level of purity. The day after the Obama Administration announced new sanctions on Iran in February 2010, for example, the Iranians themselves publicized that they had started to enrich uranium at the 20 percent level.237
Multiple UN resolutions have been adopted, and international sanctions have been imposed on Iran, because most of the world believes Iran is developing a nuclear weapon and should be prevented from doing so.
We will know when Iran has a nuclear weapon and can take action at that time.
If there is one thing we have learned over the years it is the need for a healthy dose of skepticism about what intelligence agencies know and when they know it. We have myriad examples from the failure to predict the fall of the Soviet Union to the misinformation about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to the inability to anticipate the current Arab turmoil. In the case of Iran, the failure of the intelligence community to detect Iran’s secret nuclear program, and continued doubts about whether all of Iran’s activities are known, should give pause to anyone who wants to trust the future of the Middle East to the analysts in Langley or anywhere else.
The question for the international community is whether it can afford to risk the possibility of Iran achieving a nuclear capability without being detected.
Moreover, what will be the implications if the information is wrong or too late? Once Iran has even one nuclear bomb, will any country risk military action against it?
Iran should be allowed a nuclear weapon since Israel has one.
Iran and some of its supporters have made the argument that there is no justification for Israel and other nuclear powers to have bombs while denying Iran the right to have one as well.
First, the Iranians can’t have it both ways. They can’t say that they are not building a bomb but should be allowed to have one. If they weren’t interested in nuclear weapons, the argument would be irrelevant.
Second, other nuclear nations do not behave the same way the Iranians do. They do not threaten the destruction of a fellow member state of the UN, as they have threatened Israel, and they do not support global terrorism. As former President Bill Clinton observed, “Israel is not supporting Hezbollah. Israel doesn't send terrorists to cross Syria to train in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon....no one thinks that Israel is about to drop a bomb on Tehran. So the difference is this is a government with a record of supporting terror.”239
Clinton’s point about terrorism is a crucial one. He noted that the more nuclear states, the more likely that fissile material will be lost or transferred to third parties. “So the prospect of spreading, in a way, dirty nuclear bombs with smaller payloads that could wreak havoc and do untold damage, goes up exponentially every time some new country gets this capacity.”
Another important distinction is that Israel is presumed to have first developed nuclear weapons in the 1960s, but none of its neighbors have been sufficiently concerned that Israel might use them to feel the need to build their own. Furthermore, Iran’s drive for the bomb is not a response to a threat from Israel; their program began out of the fear that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq might build one.
If Iran obtains a weapon, however, it would also set off a nuclear arms race in the region as many of the Arab states will feel the need to have a bomb in the hope it will deter the Iranians. The Saudis, for example, have explicitly said that if Iran gets the bomb, they will get one too.240
Iran does not believe that it can win a nuclear war.
One of the reasons that deterrence worked during the Cold War is that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union believed it could win a nuclear war, or at least not achieve a victory without suffering unacceptably horrific losses. Some argue that Iran knows Israel would use its own nuclear weapons to retaliate if it were ever hit by Iranian nuclear missiles and therefore would never risk a first strike.
The problem with this analysis is that some Iranians do believe they can win a nuclear war. Hashemi Rafsanjani, the President of Iran from 1989 until 1997, was just as adamant about destroying Israel as his successor. He said that "Israel is much smaller than Iran in land mass, and therefore far more vulnerable to nuclear attack." Since Iran has 70 million people and Israel has only seven million, Rafsanjani believed Iran could survive an exchange of nuclear bombs while Israel would be annihilated.249
In a 2001 speech, Rafsanjani said: “If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything … [and] only harm the Islamic world.”250
He does have a point since just three bombs, one for Haifa, one for Tel Aviv and one for Jerusalem would wipe out most of Israel’s population and industry. Iran could have a potentially devastating impact on Israel even if it did not start a nuclear war. How many Israelis would want to live in a country under constant nuclear threat? How many people would want to immigrate? Would tourists still visit Israel? Would foreign companies want to set up businesses in a country under a nuclear cloud? Israel’s freedom to act against other threats from its neighbors and terrorists would also be constrained by the risk of provoking a nuclear response from Iran. This is why Israel is so adamant about preventing Iran from having the capability to carry out the threats issued by Rafsanjani and other Iranian officials.
The danger is becoming increasingly acute as Iran inexorably progresses toward the completion of the nuclear fuel cycle and the capability to build a weapon. So far, neither pressure from international sanctions nor official United Nations inspections have convinced Iran to give up its nuclear program.251
Israel has the right to defend itself, but the Iranian threat extends beyond Israel to the Arab countries of the Gulf, U.S. military bases and European capitals. The threat of Iran giving terrorists nuclear materials poses a global threat.
A nuclear Iran that is not afraid of the consequences of nuclear war cannot be deterred or contained. This is why an international consensus exists that Iran must not be allowed to develop the capability to build a nuclear bomb.
Iran wants to control its nuclear stockpile and would never give a bomb or nuclear material to terrorists.
This is another one of those propositions where the world is asked to place its faith in the goodwill of the Iranians. The truth is the Iranians are global sponsors of terror and the question is really whether it is worth the risk of giving them the means to supply terrorists with material that would give them the capability to launch attacks that would be exponentially worse than 9/11.
At the United Nations in 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad said that “Iran is ready to transfer nuclear know-how to the Islamic countries due to their need.”252 Iran has also been sending weapons to Hezbollah, which has targeted Americans, as well as Hamas, which has resumed firing rockets into southern Israel. Imagine if either of these groups were given any radioactive materials.
Former President Bill Clinton noted, “the more of these weapons you have hanging around, the more fissile material you've got, the more they're vulnerable to being stolen or sold or just simply transferred to terrorists.” He added, “even if the [Iranian] government didn't directly sanction it, it wouldn't be that much trouble to get a Girl Scout cookie's worth of fissile material, which, if put in the same fertilizer bomb Timothy McVeigh used in Oklahoma City, is enough to take out 20 to 25 percent of Washington, D.C. Just that little bit.”253
If Iran has a bomb, it can be deterred the way the U.S. deterred the Soviet Union.
In the debate about Iran, it is sometimes suggested that Iran is irrational and that is why it should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. Others then argue that calling Iranians irrational reflects a Western bias. The truth is that Iranians are rational, but they may be acting according to a different rationale than people in the West.
The Islamic regime’s logic is rooted in a potentially lethal cocktail of history, religion and politics. It is the religious aspect, in particular, that differentiates Iran from the Soviet Union and other nuclear powers. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes the most important task of the Iranian Revolution was to prepare the way for the return of the Twelfth Imam, who disappeared in 874, bringing an end to Muhammad’s lineage. This imam, the Mahdi or “divinely guided one,” Shiites believe, will return in an apocalyptic battle in which the forces of righteousness will defeat the forces of evil and bring about a new era in which Islam ultimately becomes the dominant religion throughout the world. While Shiites have been waiting patiently for the Twelfth Imam for more than a thousand years, Ahmadinejad may believe he can hasten the Mahdi’s return through a nuclear war. It is this apocalyptic world view, Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis notes, that distinguishes Iran from other governments with nuclear weapons.281
Lewis quotes a passage from Ayatollah Khomeini cited in an 11th grade Iranian schoolbook, “I am decisively announcing to the whole world that if the world-devourers [the infidel powers] wish to stand against our religion, we will stand against the whole world and will not cease until the annihilation of all of them. Either we all become free, or we will go to the greater freedom, which is martyrdom. Either we shake one another’s hands in joy at the victory of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours.”282
Would leaders who did not hesitate to use children as cannon fodder in the war with Iraq, or who send suicide bombers to kill the innocent, be reticent about using nuclear weapons? How can the idea of Mutual Assured Destruction that prevented a superpower clash apply to people who believe the end of the world will lead to “eternal life and martyrdom?”
Some might argue they don’t mean what they say and when the time came, the Iranians would “love their children too” and back down from the nuclear brink, but would you be willing to take that chance with your children?
Israel has nothing to fear from a nuclear Iran.
Jews have learned from painful history that when someone threatens to kill them, they should take it seriously. Therefore, no one should be surprised at the alarm expressed by Israel after hearing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaim, "This origin of corruption [Israel] will soon be wiped off the Earth's face!" and Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i, Iran's Supreme Leader, declaring, "Israel is a cancerous tumor. So what do you do with a cancerous tumor? What can be done to treat a tumor other than removing it?"
Some argue Iran would never launch a nuclear attack against Israel because no Muslim leader would risk an Israeli counterstrike that might destroy them. This theory doesn't hold up, however, if the Iranian leaders believe there will be destruction anyway at the end of time. What matters, Middle East expert Bernard Lewis observed, is that infidels go to hell and believers go to heaven. Lewis quotes a passage from Ayatollah Khomeini, cited in an 11th grade Iranian schoolbook, "I am decisively announcing to the whole world that if the world-devourers [the infidel powers] wish to stand against our religion, we will stand against the whole world and will not cease until the annihilation of all of them. Either we all become free, or we will go to the greater freedom, which is martyrdom. Either we shake one another's hands in joy at the victory of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours."288
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes the most important task of the Iranian Revolution was to prepare the way for the return of the Twelfth Imam, who disappeared in 874, thus bringing an end to Muhammad's lineage. Shiites believe this imam, the Mahdi or "divinely guided one," will return in an apocalyptic battle in which the forces of righteousness will defeat the forces of evil and bring about a new era in which Shi'a Islam ultimately becomes the dominant religion throughout the world. The Shiites have been waiting patiently for the Twelfth Imam for more than a thousand years, but Ahmadinejad may believe he can now hasten the return through a nuclear war. It is this apocalyptic world view, Lewis notes, that distinguishes Iran from other governments with nuclear weapons.
There are those who think that Iran would never use such weapons against Israel because innocent Muslims would be killed as well; however, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad's predecessor, explicitly said he wasn't concerned about fallout from an attack on Israel. "If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in its possession," he said, "the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world." As one Iranian commentator noted, Rafsanjani apparently wasn't concerned that the destruction of the Jewish State would also result in the mass murder of Palestinians as well.289
Iran will not have to use nuclear weapons to influence events in the region. By possessing a nuclear capability, the Iranians can deter Israel or any other nation from attacking Iran or its allies. When Hezbollah attacked Israel in 2006, for example, a nuclear Iran could have threatened retaliation against Tel Aviv if Israeli forces bombed Beirut. The mere threat of using nuclear weapons would be sufficient to drive Israelis into shelters and could cripple the economy. Will immigrants want to come to a country that lives in the shadow of annihilation? Will companies want to do business under those conditions? Will Israelis be willing to live under a nuclear cloud?
If you were the prime minister of Israel, would you take seriously threats to destroy Israel by someone who might soon have the capability to carry them out? Could you afford to take the risk of allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons? How long would you wait for sanctions or other international measures to work before acting unilaterally to defend your country?
Attacking Iran will create more instability in the Middle East.
More instability?! Have the proponents of this idea been following the news for the last two years?
Even in the best of times, the Middle East is an unstable region because of ongoing disputes between various Arab states. Now, an increased level of chaos has spread across the region as a result of upheavals in North Africa, Yemen and the Persian Gulf, continuing unrest in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a bloody civil war in Syria.
Among the possible worst case scenarios, it is conceivable that a military strike on Iran would cause a backlash among peoples in the region angered by an attack on a Muslim nation; it may unite the Iranian people in defense of their country; or, current rulers of conservative regimes may come under attack for complicity in the attack.
The consequences of a strike could, however, have positive consequences for the region. The Israeli military strikes on nuclear facilities in Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007), for example, did not provoke greater instability in the Middle East despite lacking any international consensus. Both attacks eliminated potentially destabilizing nuclear weapons programs and discouraged a nuclear arms race in the region. Arab leaders now are petrified of a nuclear Iran and will, at least tacitly, support measures that would eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat.295
While the negative scenario envisions the Iranian population rallying around its leaders in the event of a military strike, it is also possible that, when liberated from the intimidation of the mullahs, the Iranian people will launch a “Persian Spring” demanding freedom and democracy from their government. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is obviously nervous about this possibility, noting in April 2012 that he believes Libya’s abandonment of its nuclear program in 2003 eventually hastened the overthrow of Qaddafi.296
In the short-term, an attack on Iran might have a deleterious impact on oil prices as speculators react to the possibility of reduced supplies; however, in the long-term, an attack could actually help stabilize the oil market as it would hamper Iran’s ability to threaten global oil supplies and weaken its position within OPEC, where it has advocated stricter quotas to drive up prices.
A successful strike on Iran could also help free two countries that have been under its thumb for three decades. Without the support of the radical Shiite leaders in Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will lose his principal patron in the region and Syria will no longer serve as a forward Iranian base for harboring terrorists and interfering in the affairs of Lebanon. The fall of Iran’s leadership would also put an end to its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, effectively thwarting the organization’s ability to terrorize Israel and control Lebanese affairs.
Furthermore, destroying the Iranian nuclear program would eliminate the threat of Iranian sponsored nuclear terrorism and proliferation, and would signal to the rest of the region that nuclear weapons programs will not be tolerated. This outcome is especially important in light of nuclear agreements signed by more than a dozen Arab countries in response to Iran’s continued nuclear developments.
It is easy for opponents of military action to construct nightmare scenarios that will scare the public and sway world leaders away from confrontation with Iran. However, military planners and statesmen must analyze the current situation objectively and weigh the risk of a negative outcome, as well as the danger posed by inaction, against the potential benefits of a proactive strike against Iran.
An Israeli attack on Iran would endanger U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Israel is doing everything possible to avoid the necessity of launching a self-defense operation to stop Iran’s nuclear program; nevertheless, it is conceivable that military action may be required if sanctions and negotiations continue to fail. Some, like former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have warned that an attack on Iran will “haunt us for generations” in the Middle East.343 The truth is that U.S. interests are already threatened in the region, and will become more tenuous if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon.
This is not the first time that U.S. officials have feared dire consequences as a result of Israeli strikes against Arab threats. However, in the two prior examples of Israel attacking Arab nuclear sites – Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007 – the threats were eliminated without any harm to American interests. In fact, in the former case, Israel ensured the United States would not face the possibility of an Iraqi nuclear response during the 1991 Gulf War.
Some analysts have warned that Iran will attack U.S. targets if Israel acts against Iran. This would be counterproductive since no one expects an Israeli military strike to be as effective as an American one. If Iran were to retaliate against the United States for any Israeli operation it would only provoke American forces to respond to protect our interests and exponentially increase the punishment inflicted on Iran.
Some analysts have warned that Iran will attack U.S. targets if Israel acts against Iran. This would be counterproductive since no one expects an Israeli military strike to be as effective as an American one. If Iran were to retaliate against the United States for any Israeli operation it would only provoke American forces to respond to protect our interests and exponentially increase the punishment inflicted on Iran.
This is not to say that American interests in the Middle East are not in danger, but the threats are unrelated to any action against Iran. Radical Islamists already threaten U.S. interests in the region and will continue to do so regardless of how the Iranian nuclear issue is resolved because they are determined to drive America out of the Middle East and to restore the Muslim empire.
The election of Hassan Rouhani eliminates the Iranian nuclear threat.
The Iranian regime has apparently succeeded in bamboozling the Western media by portraying newly elected Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, as a moderate who could end the Islamic Republic’s showdown with the international community over its nuclear program. The Guardian, CNN, Reuters and Yahoo News all headlined stories about “Rouhani the Moderate” while The Washington Post went even further with the headline, “Rouhani seen as best hope for ending nuclear standoff with West.”347
The election of Rouhani, however, changes nothing in Iran’s strategic vision for its nuclear program and may even be a tactical victory for the Ayatollahs. As Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in the early 2000s, Rouhani never agreed to any real compromise with the West and later admitted that the temporary suspension of certain elements of the program in 2003 was a ploy to enable Iran to build up its nuclear infrastructure. In 2004 he spoke of using a “calculated strategy” in negotiations with the EU3 – France, UK, and Germany – to buy time, and then finding “the most suitable time to do away with the suspension.”348 In his first press conference as president-elect, he firmly announced that “the era of suspension is gone.”349
Moderation is a relative term. Compared to the genocidal anti-Semite he will succeed, Rouhani may seem reasonable, but he has always been a staunch supporter of the Islamic Revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini. He became a close political ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and served as his personal assistant to the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). Rouhani also served as national security advisor to past presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani who oversaw the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program.350
Rouhani’s comparative restraint, however, is irrelevant to the nuclear question since Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard control Iran’s nuclear policy.351 Rouhani has no mandate to modify Iran’s position toward its right to enrich uranium and has given no indication that he has any desire to do so anyways. Following his electoral victory, Rouhani pledged to continue to safeguard Iran’s “inalienable rights” to nuclear power.352
Rouhani’s election gives comfort to Iran’s apologists who now argue he should be given an opportunity to play his hand in negotiations. Some even argue that sanctions should be lifted and harsher measures delayed. That, however, would be an irreversible mistake that would give Iran more time to continue to advance toward the breakout point where it cannot be prevented from building a nuclear bomb. Already, Iran is closing in on this red line – in mid-June, International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Yukiya Amano reported that Iran has made a “steady increase in capacity and production” of its nuclear program despite punitive measures taken by the West.353
If Rouhani is willing and able to shift Iran’s policy to comply with United Nations resolutions, then he should act accordingly; otherwise, he is just Ahmadinejad in a more palatable package.
Iran Supreme Leader Khamenei issued a fatwa against producing nuclear weapons.
With its suspected nuclear weapons program under the close watch of the West and its economy struggling under the pressure of economic sanctions, the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to insist that it is uninterested and morally opposed to developing weapons of mass destruction. For nearly a decade, Iran has attempted to convince world leaders that the head of its government, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued an official religious edict, a fatwa, opposing the development of nuclear weapons and calling them a sin. “Khamenei has been consistently saying at least for the past seven or eight years,” according to Iranian journalist Muhammad Sahimi, “that the production of nuclear weapons is against Islamic teaching and therefore Iran will never pursue such a path.” 393
Even President Barack Obama, in his 2013 address to the United Nations General Assembly, repeated the canard. “The Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons,” Obama said. In a press conference, Obama said a diplomatic solution can be achieved regarding Iran’s nuclear program because of this fatwa.394
The problem, however, is that Khamenei has never issued such an edict – nor has any other leading Iranian cleric. Suspicion grew when Iranian officials gave various dates for when it was supposed to have been issued - 2004, 2005 and 2012. Even Western organizations couldn’t agree on the date of Khamenei’s fatwa; for example, the Washington Institute said it was 2003 while Newsweek claimed it was 2004. 395
To clear up the confusion, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) examined Khamenei’s fatwas dating back to 2004. MEMRI found no evidence that Khamenei had ever said Islam did not allow Iran to produce nuclear arms. 396 Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, similarly noted: “Khamenei lists all of his fatwas on his webpage, but the nuclear fatwa isn’t among them.” 397
“There is no such fatwa. It is a lie from the Iranians, a deception, and it is tragic that President Obama has endorsed it,” MEMRI Founder and President Yigal Carmon said. 398
If Khameini did issue a religious edict on the subject, it has obviously been ignored and is irrelevant so long as Iran continues to violate UN resolutions, enriches uranium and, according to the IAEA, continues its steady progress toward building a nuclear weapon. 399
Iran is isolated because of the international sanctions regime.
International sanctions were imposed on Iran to isolate the regime and pressure Iran's leaders to give up their nuclear weapons program. Iran, however, was never completely isolated and now Western countries are even beginning to restore diplomatic ties with Tehran before any agreement is reached.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of the failure to isolate Iran occurred when Iran hosted the summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in August 2012. Despite U.S. efforts to discourage attendance, representatives of 120 nations attended, including several heads of state. The U.N. Secretary-General also attended.400
In October 2013, after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani swooned world leaders with his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, several European nations began thawing their relations with Iran. British Foreign Minister William Hague announced that the United Kingdom and Iran would resume diplomatic ties at the nonresident charge d’affaires level, one step below ambassador, while Germany and the Netherlands both assigned new ambassadors to Iran.401
The sanctions are meant to isolate Iran economically, but this too has largely failed as many countries have continued to trade with the Islamic Republic. In June 2013, the Obama Administration exempted a number of countries, including China, India, South Korea and Singapore, from fully complying with the terms of U.S. sanctions.402 China, for example, even went as far as to abuse the exemption and increase its imports of Iranian oil, showing an 18% increase over the previous year.403 Meanwhile, other nations, such as Turkey, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, have strengthened their own bilateral trade ties with Iran during the 2013 summer months.404
Isolating Iran and forcing its leaders to dismantle the nuclear weapons program -- without a military confrontation – necessitates the enforcement and commitment to sanctions until Iran fully complies with UN resolutions.
A negotiated compromise with Iran will remove Tehran's nuclear weapons threat.
The United States and other Western powers are expressing optimism that a negotiated compromise with Iran over its nuclear program is imminent. Officials have noted that such a deal could include between $10 and $40 billion in sanctions relief plus the recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes in exchange for a freezing of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.432
Such a deal, however, is short-sighted; allowing Iran to continue uranium enrichment without forcing the mullahs to turn over previously enriched material, remove its centrifuges and dismantle the Arak heavy water reactor accomplishes very little.
As of November 2013, Iran had already amassed 7,150 kg of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) enriched to 5% U-235 and nearly 200kg of UF6 enriched to 20% U-235.433 Though creating a nuclear bomb requires more highly enriched uranium (HEU), both totals represent a clear danger as the breakout capability to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear device is only slightly higher than this current stockpile.434 Iran also has nearly 18,000 centrifuges already installed and spinning at its Fordow and Natanz plants, to which it continues to improve with newer, more advanced versions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Iran is practically giving away nothing … I don’t think it’s a good deal. I think it’s a bad deal, an exceedingly bad deal … [Iran] is keeping its infrastructure to make nuclear bombs.”435
Though Netanyahu has been pilloried for campaigning against an arrangement he believes will leave Israel vulnerable, plenty of others have also questioned the wisdom in striking a deal with Iran.
French President Francoise Hollande agrees with Netanyahu and walked away from the first round of negotiations with Iran after effectively vetoing the deal that the Obama Administration wanted to sign.436
Saudi Arabia has likewise made no secret of its anger toward the Obama administration for its overtures to Iran. Intelligence Chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan told diplomats in October 2013 that the Kingdom is considering a “major shift” in relations with the U.S. so as not to be “dependent” on Obama’s handling of Iran.437 The Prince’s statement only adds to prior Saudi declarations that it would build a bomb in the event of an Iranian nuclear breakout, and new revelations suggest the Saudis may have already paid Pakistan to produce bombs for delivery to Riyadh.438
The U.S. Congress is also dissatisfied and wants to impose tougher sanctions against Iran. The White House, however, has lobbied to delay new sanctions legislation for fear of giving Iran an excuse to forgo negotiations.
News reports have also suggested that the Obama Administration was secretly negotiating with Iran for months, without the knowledge of its allies, and had already started to ease the sanctions regime.439 If true, this would be a clear indication that Obama’s claim that “all options are on the table” was not serious and that the Iranians knew they could continue to drag out talks while continuing their nuclear work.
Equally disturbing is the apparent rush by European and Asian countries to normalize relations with Iran even before a deal is reached, reinforcing the Iranians’ longstanding belief that they can weather the sanctions storm and eventually be accepted as a nuclear power. British Foreign Minister William Hague, for example, announced that the U.K. and Iran would resume diplomatic ties at the nonresident charge d’affaires level while Germany and the Netherlands both assigned new ambassadors to Iran.440 French parliamentarians met with their Iranian counterparts to discuss opening a new chapter in bilateral relations, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida scheduled a visit to Tehran to discuss issues of mutual benefit and Tajikistan authorized an official visit from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.441 Additionally, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said that oil companies are lining up to restart business with and that it would take no longer than two years for Iran to reach its previous sales records if the sanctions are removed.442
The only way to remove Iran’s nuclear weapons threat, without resorting to force, is to keep the pressure on Tehran and force a deal that categorically ends its nuclear program. Over the past three years, the sanctions regime has caused about $100 billion in damage to the Iranian economy and it is specifically because of this that President Rouhani has finally led the Islamic Republic to the brink of a nuclear deal. However, any deal that falls short of ensuring a full cessation of enrichment, removal of centrifuges and destruction of the Arak reactor is a win for Iran and will leave it with the capability to build nuclear weapons in the future.
34 Director General, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” International Atomic Energy Agency, (November 8, 2011.
35 David E. Sanger, “America’s Deadly Dynamics with Iran,” New York Times, (November 5, 2011).
115 Jason Burke, “Riyadh will build nuclear weapons if Iran gets them, Saudi prince warns,” The Guardian, (June 29, 2011).
116 Summer Said, “Saudi Arabia, China Sign Nuclear Cooperation Pact,” Wall Street Journal, (January 16, 2012).
117 ESI-Africa.com, “Egypt’s el-Dabaa nuclear power station will go ahead,” ESI-Africa.com, (January 20, 2012).
118 BBC, “South Korea awarded UAE nuclear power contract,” BBC, December 27, 2009).
119 World Nuclear Association, “Emerging Nuclear Energy Countries,” World Nuclear News, (February 2012).
120 Federation of American Scientists, Israel's Strike against the Iraqi Nuclear Reactor 7 June, 1981, Jerusalem: Menachem Begin Heritage Center, 2003.
121 Seymour M. Hersh, “A Strike in the Dark: Why did Israel bomb Syria?” The New Yorker, (February 11, 2008.
122 Jeffrey Goldberg, “Obama to Iran and Israel: ‘As President of the United States, I Don’t Bluff,” The Atlantic, (March 2, 2012).
123 Gavriel Queenann, “Report: Arab Nations Pressing for Iran Strike,” Arutz Sheva, (November 18, 2011).
172 “2008 President Candidates Views on the Middle East – Barack Obama,” Jewish Virtual Library.
173“Remarks by President Obama at AIPAC Policy Conference,”The White House, (March 4, 2012).
174Michael McAuliff, “Senators Offer License to Strike Iran Nuclear Program,” Huffington Post, (February 29, 2012).
175“Uranium Production: Enriching Uranium,” Federation of American Scientists.
176“Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,”IAEA,(February 24, 2012).
177“IAEA to Press Iran Over Nuclear Concerns,” Reuters,(January 19, 2012).
178“Security Council Resolution 1696,” United Nations, (July 31, 2006).
179Borzou Daragahi, “Efforts on Iran ‘a failure,'” Los Angeles Times, (December 6, 2008).
180Paul Richter, “US Signals Major Shift on Iran Nuclear Program,” Los Angeles Times, (April 27, 2012).
181Steven Slivnick, “Questions & Answers About Iran’s Nuclear Proliferation,” Jewish United Fund, (Summer 2011).
232 David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, "U.N. Says Iran Has Fuel for 2 Nuclear Weapons," New York Times, (May 31, 2010).
233 Fredrik Dahl, "Iran doubles underground nuclear capacity: U.N. agency," Reuters, (August 30, 2012).
234 Walter Pincus, "Slick Iranian move puts U.S. in precarious place," Washington Post, (September 11, 2012).
235 Interview, Piers Morgan Tonight: One-on-One with Bill Clinton, (September 25, 2012).
237 Thomas Erdbrink and Glenn Kessler, "Ahmadinejad makes nuclear claims, stifles protests on revolution's anniversary, Washington Post, (February 11, 2010).
239 Interview, Piers Morgan Tonight, (September 25, 2012).
240 Jason Burke, “Riyadh will build nuclear weapons if Iran gets them, Saudi prince warns,” The Guardian, (June 29, 2011).
249 Jerusalem Report, (March 11, 2002.
250 Hashemi Rafsanjani, “Qods Day Speech (Jerusalem Day),” GlobalSecurity.org, (December 14, 2001).
251 AP, “UN nuclear chief: Iran not cooperating with probe of suspected secret work on nuclear weapons,” Washington Post, (November 5, 2012); Michael Segall, “Iran: Sanctions Biting, Nuclear Program Progressing,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (November 4, 2012).
252 AP, “Iran offers nuclear technology to Islamic states,” NBC News, (September 15, 2005.
253 Interview, Piers Morgan Tonight: One-on-One with Bill Clinton, (September 25, 2012).
281 Yaakov Lappin, “Bernard Lewis: Iran in apocalyptic mood,” YNet, (January 29, 2007).
282 Mitchell Bard, “Will Israel Survive?” NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp. 76-77.
288 Does Iran Have Something in Store?" Wall Street Journal (August 10, 2006).
289 "Rafsanjani Says Muslims Should Use Nuclear Weapon Against Israel," Iran Press Service (December 14, 2001).
295 Oren Kessler, “'Quiet' Arab Coalition Supports Attack on Iran,” Jerusalem Post, (November 9, 2011).
296 James Reisen, “Seeking Nuclear Insight in Fog of the Ayatollah’s Utterances,” New York Times, (April 13, 2012).
343 "Gates: No blank check from US to Israel on Iran," Jerusalem Post (October 5, 2012).
347 Shirad Bozorgmehr, “Rouhani is Iran’s Next President After Appealing to Tradition, Reform,” CNN (June 15, 2013); “Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani Pledges Path of Moderation,” The Guardian (June 17, 2013); Max Fisher, “Iran’s Next President, Hassan Rouhani, Seen as Best Hope for Ending Nuclear Standoff with West,” Washington Post (June 15, 2013).
348 Louis Charbonneau, “Rohani Once Appoved of Hiding Iran Atomic Work,” Reuters (June 19, 2013).
349 “President-elect’s First Press Conference,” Rouhani.Ir (June 18, 2013).
350 “Rafsanjani and Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Iran Affairs (February 5, 2010).
351 Avi Issacharoff, “The Regime Wanted Him to Win,” The Tower (June 16, 2013).
352 “Nukes are Iran’s ‘Inalienable rights,’ its New President Says,” JTA (June 18, 2013).
353 Fredrik Dahl, “Iran Nuclear Program Advances Despite Sanctions: IAEA Chief,” Reuters (June 17, 2013).
393 Mike Shuster, “Iran’s Nuclear Fatwa: A Policy Or A Ploy?,” NPR (June 14, 2012).
394 “Remarks by President Obama in Address to the United Nations General Assembly,” White House (September 24, 2013); "MEMRI: Iranian fatwa against nuclear weapons not real, despite Obama claim," JNS (September 30, 2013)
395 Michael Eisenstadt, “Nuclear Fatwa,” Washington Institute (September 2011); Fareed Zakaria, “They May or May Not Want the Bomb,” Newsweek (May 22, 2009).
396 “Special Dispatch: Report #5461,” MEMRI (September 29, 2013).
397 Patrick Goodenough, “Iranian Nuclear ‘Fatwa’ Cited by Obama May Not Exist,” CNS News (October 1, 2013).
398 “Phony Fatwa? Group Claims Iranian anti-nuke edict cited by Obama a hoax,” FOX News (September 30, 2013).
399 “Board Report: GOV/2013/40,” International Atomic Energy Agency (August 2013).
400 Saeed Kamali Dehghan, "Non-Aligned Movement Summit: 'You'd Think Iran was Hosting the Olympics'," The Guardian (August 30, 2012).
401 Steven Erlanger, "Britain and Iran Move to Repair Diplomatic Relations," New York Times (October 8, 2013).
402 Steven Lee Meyers, "Obama Exempts Japan & 10 European Nations from Iran Sanctions Law," New York Times (March 20, 2012).
403 FARS News Agency (September 26, 2013).
404 Con Coughlin, "Rouhani Won't Decide on Nuclear Iran," Wall Street Journal (October 1, 2013).
432 Maayan Lubell, "Sanctions Relief Worth up to $40 Billion to Iran: Israel," Reuters (November 13, 2013).
433 "Board of Governors Report," International Atomic Energy Agency (November 2013).
434 "Fissile Material Basics," Institute for Energy & Environmental Research (April 2012).
435 "Netanyahu on Iran: 'This is a Bad Deal'," CNN (November 17, 2013).
436 Herve Asquin, "France Firm on Iran Nuclear Issue, Hollande Tells Israel," Agence France-Presse (November 17, 2013).
437 Amena Bakr, "Saudi Arabia Warns of Shift Away from U.S. Over Syria, Iran," Reuters (October 22, 2013).
438 Mark Urban, "Saudi Nuclear Weapons 'On Order' from Pakistan," BBC News (November 6, 2013).
439 Eli Lake, "Exclusive: Obama's Secret Iran Detente," Daily Beast (November 8, 2013).
440 Steven Erlanger, "Britain & Iran Move to Repair Diplomatic Relations," New York Times (October 8, 2013).
441 Iran Daily Briefs (October 25, 2013; October 25, 2013; October 25, 2013).
442 Jason Rezaian, "Iran's Oil Industry is Trying for a Comeback," Washington Post (October 27, 2013).