If ever there was doubt that Iran is working hard to help U.S. President Barrack Obama restrain Israel (and that Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a dangerous propagandist) it had just been replaced with surety.
On the occasion of his recent visit to Tehran, Erdogan said that the leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has said clearly and openly that Iranians and Islamic beliefs do not allow for the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that there was no place for such weapons in Iran’s defense strategy.
In an interview with IRIB’s channel two TV station the Turkish leader went on to say:” I have shared the [Iranian] leader’s statement with [President] Obama and told him that in face of this assertion I do not have a different position and they [the Iranians] are using nuclear energy peacefully.”
Of course this was not the first time Khameini has made such statements. As early as 2005 he issued a fatwa declaring the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons as forbidden under Islam.The fatwa was even cited in an official statement by the Iranian government at an August 2005 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
However, it should be noted that the terms used by Khameini leave wide open the possibility of researching, developing and amassing the individual components required for such weapons as well as the means to deliver them which is exactly what Iran is busy doing. Thus, according to Khanmeini’s formulation, attainment of a turn-key capability in readiness for a speedy assembly of nuclear weapons once the Supreme Leader so decrees is entirely permissible under Islam.
It could be argued that a turn-key capability is by far preferable to Iran actually possessing nuclear weapons. However such relief would be premature. Stopping on the threshold of acquiring nuclear weapons rarely means a country’s leadership has second thoughts or that it had been suddenly afflicted by a bout of anti-proliferation sentiments. Rather, its conduct indicates that its leaders believe the political and geopolitical circumstances may well warrant the acquisition of unconventional weapons yet are seeking to minimize the potenial ramifications which such a move could incur. In fact, it is preparing the groundwork so that when the decision to go nuclear is finally made it would be a fait accompli—i.e. too late for outside powers to stop it. Adopting a threshold posture is thus a way to shorten the lead-time to whence the nuclear crossing is made at the minimum cost.
In the case of Iran, by developing a turn-key capability Tehran does not violate the “red line” drawn by President Obama for a military strike (as it has not taken a decision to build, nor is formally constructing, a nuclear weapon) even as its steady expansion of its nuclear infrastructure puts its capacity to quickly assemble such weapons closer at hand.
Such a posture would not necessarily help alleviate the specter of a nuclear arms race in the Middie East either. It is easy to conceive of other regional countries acting to similarly equip themselves with on-demand nuclear weapons capabilities.
On top of this the precedent laid down by the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini must be considered. In the 1980s, the revolutionary leaders of the new Islamic Republic of Iran swore off WMD as un-Islamic. However, faced with repeated CW (chemical weapons) attacks by Iraq against Iranian troops, Khomeini reversed his position and restarted the country’s chemical weapons program. In the process, he created a precedent for overriding religious edicts in defense of the state known as “maslahat-e nizam” or “expediency of the system.” Accordingly, the needs of the Islamic Republic as a political institution might trump even Islamic law.
The bottom line is that the doctrinal foundation and increasingly the wherewithal are in place for Iran to field WMD, including nuclear weapons, on short notice once the decision is taken. In fact, the historical record had already demonstrated as much. A CIA document on “CW Use in Iran-Iraq War” (made public after the first Gulf War) noted: “While Iran began its program as a response to Iraqi battlefield use [of CW]… since 1983, Iran has used chemical weapons every year in its war with Iran.”
Moreover, there are additional reasons to questioning whether religious teachings would act as an impediment to Iran acquiring or even using WMD. For example, Ayatollah Khameini stated in 2010 that Islam prohibits “such weapons as they are the symbol of destruction of generations.” However, the use of mustard gas by the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war does not exacty smack of concern for long-term public health or care for the environment. Thus, the “cocktail” of chemical agents which unquestionably included mustard gas used by Iraq against the Kurdish village of Halabja in March 1988, may have had a lasting genetic impact on the population, as preliminary surveys showed increased rates of birth defects. Surveys by local doctors also indicated that miscarriages, colon and other cancers, respiratory ailments, skin and eye problems, fertility and reproductive disorders were measurably higher in Halabja and other areas affected by chemical attacks.
Nor can Iran’s conduct be reconciled with Islam’s objection to nuclear weapons on the grounds of their indiscriminate nature. Iran’s wanton support for terrorism clearly contradicts such a religious denunciation. For example in October 2006, Argentinian prosecutors formally accused the government of Iran of directing the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine- Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured hundreds. It was the country’s deadliest bombing ever. They also accused Tehran’s proxy the Hizballah militia of carrying out the attack.
Similarly Iran’s equipping of Hizballah with tens of thousands of rockets, not to mention its vocal support for its proxy’s firing some 4000 of them into Israeli cities during the 2006 Lebanon War, cannot be considered as in line with Islamic principles. (Especially as 18 out of the 43 civilians killed in these attacks were Israeli Arabs.) The fact that another of Iran’s proxies–the Islamic Jihad—recently voiced deep satisfaction over the fact the a million Israelis “cowered in fear” in their bomb shelters as its Gaza-fired rockets reached deeper and deeper into southern Israel cannot be ignored either.
After all when fighting Satan—be it the Great one (the U.S.) or the Little one (Israel)—even Islamic doctrine could be expected to show some leniency toward, if not outrightly bless, “Allah’s soldiers” as they wreak total destruction on their enemies. Otherwise how can billboards of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps state (in English) that “Israel should be wiped out of the face of the world”?
On all of these grounds it is puzzling why Mr. Obama as well as his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had hurried to acknowledge the Turkish leader’s assurances that the Ayatollah is commited to a religiously-sanctioned policy of nuclear abstinence. Evidently, while boasting of the “closest ever” strategic cooperation with Israel, it is the Ayatollah and his dubious messenger that Mr. Obama trust to help him avoid war and thus secure his reelection.
Avigdor Haselkorn is the author of The Continuing Storm: Iraq, Poisonous Weapons and Deterrence (Yale University Press).