The Day After Iran Gets the Bomb
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Ignoring this recent history, a July 2004 Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Task Force on Iran report suggested a grand nuclear bargain to the ruling clerics in Tehran. Under the CFR proposal,
Iran would be asked to commit to permanently ceasing all its enrichment and reprocessing activities, subject to international verification. In return, the international community would guarantee access to adequate nuclear fuel supplies, with assurances that all spent fuel would be returned to the country of origin, and to advanced power generation technology (whose export to Iran is currently restricted).
But Tehran's leaders have already rejected this approach; saying "pretty please" won't help. The Islamic Republic wants to retain these capabilities because it wants to use the "legend" of nuclear power to mask its break-out capabilities. Iran's negotiating record with the IAEA shows that the only nuclear bargain it finds of interest is one that runs out the clock, playing on the delusions of the willfully naïve and the appeasers until Iran has enriched enough uranium for a modest arsenal. France, Britain, and Germany have further encouraged Iran toward intransigence by allowing it to break the IAEA seals on centrifuge production equipment with impunity.
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The chronology of Iranian nuclear development, which has accelerated rapidly since the September 11, 2001, attacks on America, strongly supports the view that Iran's leaders believe they can deter an American conventional attack with the threat of nuclear retaliation. "Iran's national defense doctrine has been based on the assumption that it will, one day, fight a war with the United States, plus its Arab allies and Israel," writes Iranian analyst Amir Taheri.
The central assumption of Iranian strategists is that the U.S. cannot sustain a long war. It is therefore necessary to pin down its forces and raise the kill-die ratio to levels unacceptable to the American public. In the meantime, Iran would put its nuclear weapons program in high gear, and brandish the threat of nuclear war as a means of forcing the U.S to accept a ceasefire and withdraw its forces from whatever chunk of Iranian territory they may have seized.
Iran's leaders have become increasingly bold in brandishing the threat of using nuclear weapons against Israel should the Israelis attempt a conventional strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. This is dramatically different from the Cold War logic of mutually-assured destruction, since it states that Iran would escalate a conventional conflict into a nuclear exchange.But they have also hinted that they seek nuclear weapons (and the missiles needed to deliver them) to give them new offensive capabilities. Iran's Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told reporters after a September 25, 1998, military parade that Iran would strike "in a way the Israelis cannot imagine" in the event Israel should launch a preemptive attack on Iran. "Today, we are much stronger than in the past. The most clear example is the Shahab-3. It will make the Israelis ponder about putting an end to the arms race one day," he said. Banners with the slogan, "Israel must be wiped off the map" in both Farsi and English, were hung from the Shahab-3 missiles put on parade. Shamkhani explained: "We have written on the warhead of the Shahab-3 that this will not land in any Islamic country. . . . Of course, this program will be pursued, and we will have the Shahab-4 and even the Shahab-5 to respond to our defense needs."
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Other government spokesmen have reinforced Rafsanjani's threats, as Israeli officials began warning publicly that a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites could become necessary. Seyed Masood Jazayeri, spokesman for Iran's Revolutionary Guards, accused Washington of using its "wild dog"—Israel—to go after Iran's nuclear programs. If Israel tried to disrupt the Iranian program, it "would be wiped off the face of the Earth and U.S. interests would be easily damaged," he warned in July 2004. President Khatami added that Iran would consider the United States co-responsible for an Israeli attack. "In the international arena, America's capital is Tel Aviv, not Washington. It's the Zionists who dominate the United States," he told reporters as he emerged from a Cabinet meeting. He also announced that Iran had resumed uranium enrichment activities.The clarity of Iran's threats should not be dismissed as mere exaggeration or wishful thinking. A nuclear-ready Iran is likely to goad Israel into launching a preemptive attack, after it has dispersed its nuclear material to ensure that it survives the strike. If the regime feels threatened—from domestic dissent, or foreign attack—the risk of nuclear miscalculation is enormous.
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Maintaining the Islamic Republic at all costs, starting with the system of Velayat-e faghih (absolute clerical rule). Iran's ruling clerics understand that their regime is increasingly unpopular at home. In July 1999, students at universities across the country revolted. While the regime has managed through heavy-handed repression to break the back of organized opposition, the signs that trouble is brewing just beneath the surface are many.On the eve of the February 2004 parliamentary elections, reformist members of Parliament resigned en masse to protest having been barred from running. The reformers had been seeking a "kinder, gentler" Islamic Republic, not an end to absolute clerical rule. The resulting election sweep by hard-liners effectively marked the end of the reform movement mirage. Iranian voters massively boycotted the elections but as of yet have not managed to otherwise challenge the regime, which has emerged emboldened from the election crisis.At the same time, regime leaders fear foreign support for the prodemocracy movement, and increasingly view the proliferation of satellite radio and television broadcasts into Iran from abroad with alarm. As the United States contemplates providing support for the pro-democracy movement, we must understand that Iran's new nuclear capabilities increase the stakes. A nuclear-ready Iran will not stop at violently suppressing domestic dissent, but will actively seek ways of lashing out at what it sees as the sources of that dissent: the United States and Israel. Similarly, any outbreak of dissent inside Iran, whether fueled by outside forces or not, will be blamed on the United States and Israel.