Why Iran Wants the Bomb

Why Iran Wants the Bomb: The Constraints and Fallacies of the Current Debate

Javad Zarif and John Kerry

Javad Zarif and John Kerry

By Chris Burrows

Photograph of Javad Zarif and John Kerry courtesy of Al-Jazeera

In his recent speech to the US Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made this statement: “The days when the Jewish people remain passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.” He was of course referring to Iran and their now concluded negotiations between President Obama’s administration over nuclear materials. Apart from being a quite entertaining piece of political theater, Mr. Netanyahu’s speech revealed very little that those paying the slightest bit of attention to recent rhetoric on Iran would not already know.

While lauded by many on the center-left in the United States as a remarkable accomplishment and reviled by men like Netanyahu as not being quite explosive enough, the most recent agreement between the United States and Iran is nothing more than common sense. That such an obvious solution to a largely invented problem (both the Mossad and CIA have confirmed that Iran are nowhere near building and actual bomb) has been described as so brave and groundbreaking should tell us something very important about the ideological constraints and dogmas which govern discussion over international issues in general and Iran in particular. After all, it is perfectly within Iran’s rights as a sovereign state to pursue the development of nuclear power facilities. There are no warnings of impeding genocide when Brazil utilizes radioactive materials to generate electricity for its citizenry. No boisterous speeches are made and no controversy is concocted by the press. With a draft of the agreement now concluded, much of this will likely dissipate, but it is likely that warnings of the dangers of a “nuclear Iran” will persist, popping up from time to time whenever populations become too at ease or are enjoying their civil rights a little too much. It is unlikely that the editorials will appear warning about the impeding dangers of missiles fired from Brazil, threatening to bury Florida under a layer of radioactive rubble, unless of course the Brazilian leadership becomes a little too friendly with the dreaded menace that is Venezuela. After all, Venezuela presents according to Nobel Peace Laureate President Obama “an unusual and extraordinary threat to US national security”. No doubt the impending Venezuelan invasion of the American Gulf Coast must be taken quite seriously. We must be constantly vigilant for the Latin hordes that threaten to sweep over our great fatherland. Although the Obama administration has walked back that classification, the sheer fact that it was seriously proclaimed at all is indicative of the ease with which such classifications are thrown around.

Iran’s continued classification as a “threat to national security”, as in the Venezuela case reveals something about US policy. While on the surface, with the much talked about split between Obama and Netanyahu and the wild gesticulating and posturing on both sides, there may seem to be a real divergence of opinions. The truth is that both “sides” are pursuing the same goal. The position of Israeli and American hawks is that Iran is a fundamentalist, genocidal regime intent on driving Israel into the sea via nuclear weapons. Parallels are frequently drawn between Iran and Nazi Germany, with a nuclear Iran serving as the perpetrators of a new holocaust against the Jewish people. While not employing the same apocalyptic rhetoric, American and Israeli doves basically agree with this assessment of Iran. Doves also see a nuclear Iran as unacceptable, they merely advocate different tactics in order to accomplish this end. The debate is one between hard power and soft power. The issue of a nuclear Iran is not under debate, that decision has been made. Neither the United States or Israel are willing to tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons, the recent agreement between the US and Iran was simply the more rational, “liberal” solution to the problem that is Iran. It should go without saying that neither the United States nor Israel cares at all about “security” or “stability” in the Middle East in the real sense of the terms (as opposed to their official usage), that much should be clear by the events of the last 14 years specifically and the last century more generally. While this may seem hyperbolic, it becomes far more reasonable once the official meanings of the terms are understood. “Security” means security for US and Israeli corporate and hegemonic interests first and foremost, with the actual security of the American and Israeli people a rather distant second. It should go unsaid that security for the people in the Middle East is not a priority. “Stability” refers to a balance of power that favors the furthering of US and Israeli interests, this is not concerned with the rule of law or human rights directly, only so far as they impact the bottom line or make pursuit of US and Israeli interests more difficult. Security or stability in the real sense, meaning for the actual people who live in the region is not and has never been a priority. One can look at the plight of the Palestinian people as clear evidence of this fact, or just read between the lines of official statements. It is with these definitions in mind that one must examine the current rhetoric over Iran and the supposed danger they pose to the “security” and “stability” of the region. Once this is done the conflict becomes remarkably simple. Like most real world politics the question of Iran has absolutely no relationship to any fanciful ideas about ideals, or democracy, or human rights. History’s Great Powers (of which the United States is the most recent) have repeatedly demonstrated that these words are completely empty of any substantive meaning. They are about as meaningful as the title Pravda was in the Soviet Union. They are helpful concepts, useful shields, they look good on treaties and charters, and sound good in speeches, but they often stand in the way of the actual goals of states. Like all geopolitics the issue of Iran is about power, pure and simple. Iran is not allowed to have a nuclear weapon because it is a threat to US and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East.

In addition to a long history of imperial meddling from Britain and Russia, Iran has been under constant US pressure and terrorism for the last sixty years, ever since the CIA overthrew the parliamentary government in 1953 and bolstered the dictatorial Shah. When the Iranians had the audacity to revolt in 1979 the United States backed an Iraqi attack upon the nascent Islamic Republic in 1980, faithfully supporting the same Saddam Hussein who would go on to become the new Hitler for two further US wars in the region. The Iran-Iraq war would go on to last for eight years and kill over one million people on both sides. The human cost was irrelevant, for after all it took place “over there” and who really cared how many faceless brown hordes perished in the dessert. The war served its purpose, to keep Iran damaged, subservient, and weak. It was during this conflict that Saddam Hussein committed the atrocities that would later be used as justification for the United States to depose him in 2003.

Since the 1990’s Iran has witnessed two American invasions of Iraq, the second one for suspicion of possession of weapons of mass destruction. The lesson that should be learned from the 2003 invasion of Iraq was that the best way to prevent an American invasion of your country for suspected possession of WMD is to actually possess WMD. The prior invasion and continuing occupation of Afghanistan, the transformation of large swaths of Pakistan into target practice for drones, and the open sponsorship for Saudi Arabia (the world’s foremost exporter of jihadist ideology) have backed Iran into a corner. Iran very understandably feels surrounded by hostile enemies. There are American military bases on all sides and Iran faces constant, credible US threats of invasion and bombing (threats which are in violation of international law). Now with the increasing disintegration of Syria, Iran finds itself even more isolated in the region. In short, Iran would be beyond stupid to not be feverishly working towards building a nuclear weapon, and preferably as many as possible.

Looking at the state of affairs from Iran’s perspective, a nuclear bomb is the only credible option that Iran has to reliably deter US or Israeli invasion or intervention. And as such, any bomb that Iran would acquire would be first and foremost a deterrent, as it would be useless as an offensive weapon. While the Iranian leadership may be oppressive and often morally repulsive this does not make them suicidal.

An Iranian bomb would not prove the far-reaching catastrophe that naysayers claim. Iran is under constant, heavy US satellite surveillance. Any attempt to launch a nuclear missile at Israel would result in a swift and brutal nuclear retaliation upon Iran, killing millions and destroying the country. For Iran to actually launch a nuclear weapon would be pointless and suicidal and everyone in the Iranian leadership knows this. Some claim that while Iran might not be able to launch a nuclear weapon it might turn that weapon over to terrorist groups to use in an attack against the US or Israel. However, this argument too is seriously flawed. It is unlikely without any outside support, that even if Iran were able to produce a viable nuclear weapon it would be able to amass any type of vast arsenal to rival that of Israel. Iran would possess at most only a few nuclear warheads. Why would the Iranian leadership turn over their precious, possibly only deterrent to a group that is outside of their complete control? If Iran developed a nuclear weapon it would be in the interest of the Iranian state to hold onto it. No other nuclear power goes around giving away nuclear secrets or materials to shadowy groups and for very good reasons, it dilutes the potency of possessing the weapons in the first place. And even if Iran were impulsive enough and able to provide weapons to a terror group without the CIA, NSA, or Mossad knowing, the Iranian leadership should know that as soon as that weapon was used in an attack against either the US or Israel a nuclear retaliation against Iran would be unavoidable, as the source of the weapon would be obvious. The United States launched a full scale invasion of Iraq for the attacks of September 11 and Iraq was not even remotely involved in those attacks. As such, any Iranian nuclear weapon would have no offensive capabilities, but would serve only as a deterrent and thus pose no danger to US or Israeli “security”, such a claim collapses underneath even the most basic examinations of reality.

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