Sometime this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will release a report which, according to press leaks, concludes that Iranian nuclear scientists have sought to create a nuclear-bomb trigger and conducted extensive computer modeling of a nuclear weapon. Such findings end the fiction that energy concerns motivate the Islamic Republic’s nuclear quest.
Tehran’s explanation that all it wanted was energy security never made sense. After all, Iranian officials had said they planned to build eight nuclear reactors by 2020. The Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center calculated that, given Iran’s indigenous uranium reserves, it would exhaust its nuclear fuel by 2023 if all eight proposed reactors operated at capacity. That is hardly the stuff of energy independence. The explanation makes even less sense given that, for a fraction of the investment, Tehran could expand its gasoline pipeline network and upgrade its oil-refinery capability to ensure energy security for centuries to come.
Nor do the lengths to which the Iranian regime went to keep its enrichment program secret suggest a civilian-energy motivation. Civilian power plants do not need to be constructed either in secret or under mountains. That the IAEA has repeatedly caught Iranian officials lying with regard to their facility’s activities and the origins of its equipment simply adds to the suspicion.
Iran’s Manhattan Project
While Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has said that the Islamic Republic harbors no nuclear-weapon ambitions, his denial is disinformation. Within Shiite jurisprudence, there is a concept called taqiya, best defined as religious dissimulation. Classical Shiite theology limits taqiya to self-preservation in the face of tyranny, but Iranian authorities have developed a broader notion. As Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi, an important theologian close to the supreme leader, explained in May 2008, the Islamic Republic considers taqiya to be “secret holy warfare.”
Many Iranian leaders — especially those close to Khamenei — embrace Iran’s nuclear goals much more openly. Almost a decade ago, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president whom many diplomats consider a pragmatist — declared, “The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would totally destroy Israel, while the same against the Islamic world would only cause damage. Such a scenario is not inconceivable.” On Feb. 14, 2005, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi, the head of Iranian Hezbollah, declared, “We are able to produce atomic bombs and we will do that.”
Declarations of nuclear ambition have, in Persia, become the rule rather than the exception. Each week, clerics appointed by the supreme leader give Friday sermons in Tehran and the provincial capitals. The theocratic equivalents of the State of the Union address, the sermons are designed to outline Khamenei’s thinking. On May 29, 2005, Gholam Reza Hasani, the supreme leader’s personal representative to the West Azerbaijan province, declared possession of nuclear weapons to be one of Iran’s top goals. “An atom bomb . . . must be produced as well,” he said. “That is because the Qur’an has told Muslims to ‘get strong and amass all the forces at your disposal to be strong.’” The following year, a Qom theologian close to Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi said that possession of nuclear weapons was only “natural” for the Islamic Republic.
The IAEA’s findings are not only an indictment of Iran, however. They also reveal the fundamental corruption of Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian diplomat who was the IAEA’s director general from December 1997 to November 2009. While his job was to administer a technocratic agency, ElBaradei repeatedly intervened to distort the inspectors’ findings. Rather than confront the Islamic Republic on its cheating, he coached Iranian officials on their public diplomacy. He also repeatedly ignored mounting evidence of secret Iranian facilities until these were publicly exposed by other means. ElBaradei was an ideologue empowered by the international community to pursue a personal agenda. His Nobel Prize is just one more shame upon the Norwegian Nobel Committee.