Editor’s Note: We do not have the staff resources to fact check articles. So we do not usually publish articles that make factual claims that we’ve not seen validated by other reliable sources. We are making an exception in this case because we fear that the Trump Administration is going to involve us in a war with Iran not because that would help improve US security, but because it might be helpful to the Trump reelection campaign. As the impeachment process has revealed, the Trump Administration puts reelection of the President above national security and foreign policy concerns. On the other hand, the article below fails to address the human rights violations of Iran, its oppression of the BAHA’I religion, and its continuing threats to eliminate the State of Israel, all matters of legitimate concern that are ignored below. So while we have great respect for the author, we want to call attention to our concerns. —Rabbi Michael Lerner
The 2015 Iran nuclear agreement was an international diplomatic success. The herculean effort which led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had the potential to reshape the turbulent relationship between Washington and Tehran.
Pragmatic leadership was required by Iran’s leaders to accept the constraints of the JCPOA, which subjected the country to greater restrictions and more intrusive monitoring than any state with nuclear programs or weapons.
Imprudently, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018, and adopted policies meant to collapse the Iranian economy. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency—the U.N. nuclear watchdog—and the U.S. State Department, Iran had been fulfilling its obligations under the JCPOA. The same could not be said of the remaining signatories, who have been unable to help Iran circumvent Washington’s economic “maximum pressure” campaign.
Iran announced in November 2019 that it would increase its production of enriched uranium—all supervised by U.N. inspectors—breaching the 3.67% limit agreed to in the nuclear pact. Such a low level of enrichment is mainly applicable for civilian electricity generation. Prior to the nuclear accord, Iran had reached 20% enrichment—weapons grade level is 90%. President Hassan Rouhani also announced that all the steps Iran has taken are reversible.
Like many nations, Iran has a civilian nuclear energy program; a program that has cultivated scientific innovation and national pride. The relentless campaign by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia to paint Iran as a nuclear threat, as well as a conventional threat, does not correspond to the country’s capabilities, intent or danger. There is no evidence that Iran has ever developed nuclear weapons or that it has intended to build a bomb.
It is important to distinguish between the capability or know-how to produce nuclear weapons if needed, as opposed to an operational nuclear program with military dimensions. The 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate found that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003—a nuclear program of options is not a bomb.
On January 31, 2012, James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that there was no evidence Iran was building a bomb, but that Tehran was “…keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so.” And the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has never reported that Iran has attempted to build nuclear weapons.
American politicians and the corporate media continue to promote the fallacy that the Iran nuclear agreement had ended an ongoing, existing weapons program.
Iran has argued that nuclear weapons are incompatible with Islam, citing the opposition of its religious leaders. Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei have both issued fatwas against chemical and nuclear weapons, declaring them “haram,” forbidden by Islamic principles. Fatwas issued by Iran’s supreme leaders are legally binding on the entire state, having greater status than legislation.
To understand the probity of Iran’s aversion to developing chemical and nuclear weapons, one needs only to examine its actions during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.
Although Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iranian troops and civilians, killing and injuring thousands, Iran—though capable of manufacturing chemical weapons—refused to resort to chemical warfare. Ayatollah Khomeini banned the production or use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons even though it disadvantaged Iranian forces. He insisted instead on non-WMD defensive protection for the troops. Iraq’s chemical attacks and Iran’s unwillingness to respond in kind, was one factor in the Ayatollah’s “bitter decision” to consent to a cease-fire with Iraq in 1988.
Tehran’s efforts to engage in a policy of nuclear hedging is deeply rooted in its memory of the brutal war begun by Saddam Hussein on September 22, 1980; a war for which Iran’s post-revolutionary government was ill-prepared. While the United States, Europe and Arab neighbors provided Saddam with funding, arms, and intelligence, Iran had no real allies.
The international community remained silent as hundreds of missiles rained down on Iranian cities, and as Saddam used chemical weapons on Iranian soldiers and civilians—the raw materials for such weapons provided by the United States.
Iran’s current foreign policy, based on self-reliance and defense, has been shaped by this bloodiest of wars. Its military policy ever since has been designed to deter an attack. Any aspirations Tehran may have had to develop nuclear weapons capability can be directly aligned with its central priority of survival in what it sees as a very hostile environment.
In an April, 2010 report, the Pentagon concluded that, “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” And a 2017 Congressional and Research Service report also affirmed that Iran’s national security policy involves protecting itself from the United States and others’ efforts to intimidate or change the regime.
Iran was one of the first countries to sign the 1968 U.N. Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. As a signatory, it is prohibited from developing or using nuclear weapons, but has the right to manufacture and enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
As a full NPT member, Iran—a non-nuclear weapon state—has placed its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and has for decades submitted its nuclear facilities to the full range of inspections.
While the West vexes over the possibility that Iran may someday become a nuclear power, Israel—the only nuclear-weapon state in the Middle East—refuses to declare its nuclear arsenal, to sign the NPT or accept inspections of its nuclear facilities. The United States continues to support Tel Aviv’s strategy of nuclear ambiguity, refusing to even mention Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities.
And while attention is directed at Iran, Washington continues to arm Iran’s neighbors. The Trump administration has approved the transfer of sensitive American nuclear technology and know-how to Saudi Arabia, has authorized the defense firm, Raytheon, to team with the Saudis to build high-tech bomb parts in the kingdom, and has moved ahead with the sale of $7 billion in precision-guided munitions to the kingdom. In addition, Washington has plans to replace and modernize its 6,000 nuclear warheads, missiles and aircraft delivery systems at an estimated cost of $2 trillion over the next 30 years.
In 2015, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, wrote that the JCPOA cemented Iran’s status as a zone free of nuclear weapons, and called for the zone to encompass the entire Middle East. In December 2018, Iran—along with 171 countries—voted for a UN General Assembly resolution calling for the “Establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region of the Middle East.” Only the United States and Israel dissented.
The JCPOA was the first step in what could have been regional cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and weapons elimination. But such goals would have been incongruous with American, Saudi Arabian, United Arab Emirates and Israeli plans to contain Iran and hold sway over the Middle East.
Without nuclear weapons Iran finds itself threatened and under siege. U.S. military bases encircle Iran, over 100,000 American troops are within close proximity, American warships, bombers, drones and missile batteries are on its doorstep. In addition, the United States has security and military cooperation agreements with almost every one of Iran’s neighbors. Israel and the Gulf states spend about fifty times as much as Iran on their armed forces. While its neighbors procure state-of-the-art weapons, U.S. economic sanction have hampered Tehran’s ability to purchase advanced technology, leaving it with outdated weapons and surveillance systems.
Nuclear weapons are a security guarantee that Iran has not sought. It has, instead, committed to non-proliferation; thereby, limiting its strategic deterrence and security. Washington’s fears that a nuclear-armed Iran would establish hegemony in the region were mitigated with the signing of the JCPOA. The accord also challenged the long-held narrative of Iran as a menace to the region and opened the door to engagement.
The security of the Middle East is threatened not by Iran’s civilian nuclear program, but by Washington’s continued interference, threats, crippling sanctions, and its ill-advised and destabilizing withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement.