In a word
Talks between Iran and the other signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal resumed in Vienna on August 4, in a last-ditch attempt to restore the flawed deal. Yet in recent weeks senior Iranian officials have tried to up the ante, trumpeting the message that they are only one decision away from possessing nuclear weapons. More than anything, these warnings appear to reflect a heightened sense of pressure in Tehran and are a sign of weakness, with the regime acknowledging that it now faces growing threats to its goals and viability.
What was said and by whom?
- Kamal Kharrazi, Foreign Policy Advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vaunted on Al-Jazeera (July 17) that It is no secret that we have the technical capabilities to make a nuclear bomb, but we have no decision to do so. He also has said It is no secret that we have become a nuclear threshold country. It is reality. This is the fact.
- Mohamed-Javad Larijani, another senior adviser to Khamenei, said (July 17) on an Iranian television program: We do not have permission to seek weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, but if at any time we decide to do it naturally, no one can stop us. They [US and Israel] knows it too.
- Following the statements of Kharrazi and Larijani, the spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Kanani, backed down a little in referrer (July 20) to an alleged Fatwa (Islamic decree) never made public by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which would prohibit the deployment of weapons of mass destruction. There appears to have been no change in the view and position of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kanani said.
- However, just days later, Iranian lawmaker Sabbaghian Bafghi warned (August 2) that “We will ask Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to change his fatwa and his strategy on banning the production of nuclear weapons if the enemies of the Islamic Republic continue their threats.
- The head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, also claims that Iran has the technical capability to build a nuclear bomb, but has no intention of doing so.
- Finally a video job (July 29) on a Telegram channel affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ominously asked: When will Iran’s sleeping nuclear bomb wake up? Messages posted on this channel claimed that Iran could produce enough highly enriched material for an atomic warhead in the fortified underground facility at Fordow. Eslami would have confirmed this claim on August 1.
Reasons for declarations
- Internal pressures – The current government led by the President Ibrahim Raisi (aka The Butcher of Tehran, due to his role in the mass executions of the 1980s) has nothing to do with public criticism. The economy is deteriorate under international sanctions, while huge sums of money are wasted about the proxy wars in the region. Israel, possibly with other foreign actors, kill high-ranking scientists, officers and terrorists on Iranian soil and allegedly attacks nuclear and military facilities in Iran, with relative impunity.
The extremist government is desperately trying to fend off criticism even more radical wing of its own extreme faction, notably the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – which has considerable representation in the government and almost total control over it. Recent threats of a nuclear weapon at hand are intended to pressure the Biden administration into capitulating to its demands and removing stifling sanctions on Iran.
So far, the Iranians have played hard to get in the negotiations, refusing to share the same space with the Americans and making impossible demands, such as promising that no future US administration would leave the deal (like the did President Trump). in May 2018) or the removal of the world’s largest terrorist organization, the IRGC, or its economic arm, the Khatam al Anbiyaon the US terrorist list.
Meanwhile, for a year and a half now since President Biden took office, Iranians have been constantly intensified their flagrant violations of their nuclear commitments – increasing uranium enrichment to military levels, experimenting with advanced centrifuges and nuclear weapons materials, and reducing international surveillance to almost zero.
Therefore, the latest Iranian statements are designed to up the ante, signaling that the price to pay for not giving in to their demands would be Iran heading for the bomb in no time.
- A response to US discussions on a military option – During his visit to Israel in mid-July, President Joe Biden declared (July 14) that the United States is “prepared to use all elements of its national power” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. A few days earlier, he had confirmed during a interview with an Israeli journalist (aired on July 13) that he would be ready to use force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, if it is the last resort, yes. Meanwhile, Israel is openly threatening and do in the field preparations attack Iran if Tehran comes close to military nuclear capabilities.
To save face, Tehran believes it must respond to these messages and developments. This is why the mullahs have chosen to wave the nuclear card, saying that military action cannot stop Iran if it decides to produce the bomb.
- Positioning itself as a de facto nuclear threshold country – It is still unclear if Iran has really reached the technological stage where it is on the verge of becoming a nuclear-weapon state, but it is certainly getting closer close That much. The regime has everything to gain if it is considered a nuclear threshold country. Such a status will provide increased immunity to unpopular ayatollahs at home and allow Tehran to freely pursue its program of destabilization across the Middle East, directly and by proxy, under a nuclear umbrella.
- Deterrence vis-à-vis the anti-Iran axis – The regime wants to send a stern warning to its enemies in the region, led by Israel and Saudi Arabia, that Tehran will go nuclear if it feels too threatened by its neighbors. The ayatollahs have felt more isolated in recent years after many Arab countries either normalized relations with Israel or began cooperating more intensely with Jerusalem under the table, including Gulf states on Iran’s doorstep. Tehran’s response is to try to create deterrence from its enemies by claiming to be on the verge of becoming a nuclear-weapon state.
Dr. Ran Porat is a research associate at AIJAC. He is also a research associate at the Australian Center for Jewish Civilization at Monash University and a research fellow at the International Counterterrorism Institute at Reichman University in Herzliya.
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