By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
As long as the theocratic establishment is in power, it is extremely unlikely that the Iranian regime will give up pursuing its nuclear ambitions or that any deal will put an end to Tehran’s nuclear threat.
By examining the Iranian regime’s nuclear file, it ought to become evident that achieving its nuclear ambitions is a key priority for Tehran.
In 1984, five years after coming to power, the regime appeared to make the advancement of its nuclear program a top item on its agenda. Over the following decade, it began working on its nuclear program with the help of intermediaries such as Russia, China and Pakistan. In 2005, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, acknowledged that Pakistan had assisted Tehran. He said: “I do have information that, some years ago, through intermediaries, we received pieces for centrifuges.” According to US intelligence, A.Q. Khan, who was known as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, sold expertise and equipment to North Korea, Libya and Iran, making more than $50 million.
Since then, the Iranian regime has been progressing steadily and investing in its nuclear program for more than three decades. It has now reached the point where it is close to the nuclear threshold. The regime is thought to be only weeks away from obtaining the weapons-grade materials necessary for a nuclear weapon.
The New York Times reported: “Iran has come within roughly a month of having enough material to fuel a single nuclear weapon, crossing a threshold that may raise pressure on the US and its allies to improve the terms of a potential deal to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement.” Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz last year told ambassadors from countries on the UN Security Council, during a briefing at the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, that the Iranian regime “is only around 10 weeks away from acquiring weapons-grade materials necessary for a nuclear weapon.”
The Iranian regime has supposedly scaled back its nuclear program during some periods, but it is critical to understand why. Such hiatuses in Iran’s nuclear program have only occurred for a short period of time and for two important reasons.
The first is linked to the drastic economic sanctions that threatened the hold on power of the ruling clerics, forcing the leadership to recalculate its priorities. The sanctions prior to the 2015 nuclear deal were significant, as they endangered the hold on power of the ruling clergy and ultimately brought the Iranian leaders to the negotiating table between 2013 and 2015.
There were four rounds of sanctions. The five permanent members of the UNSC unanimously called on all countries to freeze the financial assets of Iranian entities linked to the nuclear program, to ban Iran’s import and export of “sensitive nuclear material and equipment,” and to sanction the supply or sale of nuclear-related equipment and technology. They also imposed restrictions on Iranian bank transactions and called on countries to inspect Iranian ships and cargo planes where there were reasonable grounds to believe that the regime was smuggling prohibited products.
But after the Iranian regime was able to make the world powers lift these major economic sanctions, it once again began clandestinely pursuing its nuclear ambitions, even within the nuclear deal. For example, the detection of radioactive particles in Turquzabad, Iran’s reluctance to answer simple questions about that secret facility and nonpartisan evidence about Iran’s nuclear activities at the location all point to the fact that Tehran had most likely violated the 2015 nuclear deal ever since it came into effect.
The second reason that the Iranian regime may have scaled back on achieving its nuclear ambitions is the fear of military operations against it. For instance, after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the Iranian leaders rushed to offer the Bush administration a deal that would have reportedly curtailed their nuclear program. This was probably because the regime was concerned that the US might attack Iran or its nuclear facilities next. In fact, then-US President George Bush did debate bombing Iran, as he pointed out in his memoir: “I directed the Pentagon to study what would be necessary for a strike.” He added: “This would be to stop the bomb clock, at least temporarily.”
In conclusion, do not expect the Iranian regime to give up its nuclear ambitions. Also, it is very unrealistic to expect that any deal between the world powers and Iran will force the regime to stop its nuclear program, which it has been investing in for more than three decades.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh