America, the European Union and Israel have definite proof that Iran has stalled its nuclear program a step before weaponization. One inhibitor is the serious division among its leaders. The go-ahead on completing the fuel cycle is not at issue. On that there is consensus. But horns are locked on the ultimate stage of the program which is still in the future, the ability to manufacture a compact, deliverable nuclear device.
That stage calls for a different, very complex technology which is still beyond Iranian nuclear scientists. The hardest part to get right is the detonating mechanism.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources, president Mahmoud Ahmanadinejad leads the school demanding that Iran go full speed ahead for a weapon.
He calls the nuclear bomb the weapon of the Musdtadh a-Fin (Damned on Earth), that is the persecuted and downtrodden peoples whom he claims to champion.
He argues that the Damned on Earth must possess a nuclear bomb because of its compelling quality which transcending the political-military, epitomizes equality as a supreme social value.
The contentious president also claims to speak for the veterans of the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s, the Islamic republic’s most traumatic experience. He confided recently to his circle of close associates:
” If Iran had had the bomb in 1980, Saddam Hussein would not have dared to attack us, history would have been different and one million dead Iranians saved.”
Some of his supporters among the Revolutionary Guards and radical conservatives say Iran should quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty altogether.
Ahmadinejad is egged on by a group of firebrand ayatollahs led by his teacher and mentor, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi (See DNW 242). Mesbah-Yazdi produced a fatwa contradicting the established clergy’s ban and authorizing a nuclear bomb “for the purpose of a retaliatory strike against those aspiring to attack us with nuclear weapons.”
The president’s tame clerics are useful as religious foils against the supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is also strongly backed by the Revolutionary Guards and their commander Gen. Rahim Safavi. But to push hard and fast all the way, he needs the permission of the 9-member Supreme National Security Council, of which Safavi and others are ex-officio members. So far he has enlisted only one third of its support. Khamenei has the authority to veto a SNSC decision, but has never exercised it before.
Opponents: radical threats erode Iran’s standing
The radical president faces some pretty cogent arguments against the great leap to the bomb.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources sum them up and name their proponents.
The new National Security Council secretary, Dr. Ali Larijani, wants to keep the diplomatic ball rolling and opposes confrontation with the West.
He is backed by the Constructionist Faction and, most powerfully, by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who headed the nuclear program before Ahmadinejad defeated him in the presidential election last year. This old warhorse of Iranian revolutionary politics favors a freeze on the weapons program.
He carries with him the top brass of the armed forces, which are systematically sidelined by the president’s backers, the pro-weapon Revolutionary Guards.
Their foremost arguments are as follows:
For the Islamic Republic, a nuclear bomb would not be a deterrent to a US or even a Israeli strike, because Iran is short of an effective anti-missile, anti-air system as well as an up-to-date communications network. Therefore, the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would simply invite outside aggression and isolation.
Iran is in no position to use – or even threaten to use – weapons of mass destruction. A fully-fledged atom bomb would provide less protection than a program that stopped short of one.
Rafsanani goes even further. Once Iran acquires a nuclear bomb, he warns, the Gulf emirs will appeal to Washington for an American security umbrella to encircle Iran. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt will go shopping for their own bombs.
In the last six months, Ahmadinejad’s opponents charge, Tehran’s international and strategic standing has been undercut by its radical and threatening posture. In this short period, Iran has lost the contest against America for European sympathies. France, in particular, is now an adversary. The Islamic republic has even lost its great historic friend and ally, India, which now refuses to have any military truck with Tehran. Russia is also pulling away from relations with Iran in the light of China’s promotion to senior trading partner.
China cleans up
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources report that those relations are advancing apace.
This week, a big delegation representing the Chinese military and nuclear energy commission held lengthy talks with officials of Iran’s nuclear energy commission on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf on the multibillion concession offered Beijing to build nuclear powers stations in Iran. They also discussed terms for Chinese nuclear power, weapons and missile technologies to be granted Iran in exchange for Chinese services for developing and upgrading Iran’s dilapidated oil industry.
Beijing is also the beneficiary of huge oil and gas deals as well as investing heavily in the oil wells of southern Iranian Khuzestan.
The controversy roiling back and forth in Tehran over the pros and cons of taking the national nuclear program on to the last stage has reached a standoff.
Khamenei and Rafsanjani have joined forces to wield the argument as a tool to whip up opinion against the president in the Qom and Mashhad clerical establishments, many of whom accuse him of adventurism.
Pamphlets are circulating warning of the hazards of a nuclear weapon. They are signed by a group called the Islamic Participation Party. The main issue now is whether or not to strike a deal with Moscow for the transfer of part of Iran’s uranium enrichment processing to Russia, while keeping its hands on the project.
Although the president’s campaign is gaining ground by mobilizing the public to the view that Iran must have a nuclear weapon as a matter of national pride, the anti-weapon faction in Tehran is ahead of the game.
But Ahmadinejad is still fighting.