Iran has two nuclear options

The Islamic republic can go either the Israeli way or the Egyptian way.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi and EEAS Secretary General Helga Schmid attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria on July 28, 2019 [Kirsti Knolle/Reuters]
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi and EEAS Secretary General Helga Schmid attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria on July 28, 2019 [Kirsti Knolle/Reuters]

When on July 14, 2015 Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the Obama administration, its European partners, Russia and China, it radically compromised its national sovereignty in exchange for the gradual lifting of crippling economic sanctions imposed to halt its nuclear project.    

This was a capitulation of the national sovereignty of a nation over which Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei has absolute theocratic power and authority. Yet, he found a nonsensical phrasing to justify his endorsement of the nuclear deal – he called it “narmesh-e-qahremananeh”, Persian for “heroic flexibility”.

Khamenei is leading a state that lacks enduring institutional legitimacy and must act in its own best interests in the sea of troubles where it is located. But the best interests of the ruling Islamic republic rarely coincide with the best interests of the Iranian people. Most of the time they diverge.

Today, faced with the failure of his “heroic flexibility”, Khamenei is presiding over yet another failing strategy which goes against the interests of the Iranian people.

In the context of the hostile backbiting and petty squabbles between Muslim nations of the Middle East, the Iranian response to the US withdrawal from the JCPOA – a series of pitiful, cowardly half-measures – seems increasingly cliche-ridden and banal, fearful at times, bellicose at others and altogether desperate. 

Needless to say, this approach is unlikely to force the Trump administration to revise its decision on the JCPOA. 

With the nuclear deal officially dead, Iran realistically has two options regarding its nuclear programme: to go either the Israeli way or the Egyptian way. 

The Israeli option 

Iran could choose to follow Israel’s example and develop nuclear weapons in defiance of international agreements on denuclearisation. It could withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and build with haste a nuclear arsenal to match Israel’s. The Iranians have the knowledge, the technology, and the raw materials. Whatever they do not have, they can adopt the Israeli approach to acquire it illicitly.

As stated some years ago by the Guardian’s world affairs editor, Julian Borger, we know that the Israeli state has been “stealing nuclear secrets and covertly making bombs since the 1950s”.

Borger continues: “Israeli agents, charged with buying fissile material and state-of-the-art technology found their way into some of the most sensitive industrial establishments in the world. This daring and remarkably successful spy ring, known as Lakam, the Hebrew acronym for the innocuous-sounding Science Liaison Bureau, included such colourful figures as Arnon Milchan, a billionaire Hollywood producer behind such hits as Pretty Woman, LA Confidential and 12 Years a Slave, who finally admitted his role last month.”

In this regard, the Iranians could do exactly as Israelis have done – steal, cheat, conceal and lie their way towards a massive nuclear arsenal.

As Borger points out, “Western governments, including Britain and the US, turn a blind eye. But how can we expect Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions if the Israelis won’t come clean?” Excellent question, if the US or EU cared to comment. 

Why should Israel have nuclear power and not Iran – just because they are a European white settler colony? It does not make sense. 

The enormity of the Israeli nuclear arsenal could be the blueprint for Iran. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an international watchdog organisation specialising in nuclear proliferation, has recently reported Israel has close to 100 nuclear warheads.

Its arsenal includes “30 gravity bombs capable of delivering nuclear weapons by fighter jets; an additional 50 warheads that can be delivered by land-based ballistic missiles; and an unknown number of nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missiles that would grant Israel a sea-based second-strike capability”.

Iran could match the Israeli nuclear capabilities one-to-one and rest assured it would not be threatened or intimidated by Israel, the US or their client Saudi Arabia. In fact, the Israelis have repeatedly said that the Islamic republic is much closer to having a nuclear bomb than suspected before.

As one Israeli expert who evidently knows about these things recently wrote: “Under the pre-JCPOA countdown clock assuming no secret programs or outside help, Iran would now be one year away from breakout point and about one-and-a-half years away from a deliverable nuclear weapon. But given the advances of Iran’s nuclear program under the JCPOA, Iran’s breakout could now be only four months – or less, if a few thousand of its more sophisticated centrifuges are brought online. In this case, Iran’s time to a deployable nuclear weapon could be six months or less.”

The Israeli option thus seems perfectly plausible for Iran.  

The Egyptian option 

The second option, the one that a peaceful and sane world would prefer and propose, is the Egyptian one. Iran should follow in the footsteps of Egypt and mobilise other countries in the region to launch a global quest for a nuclear-free Middle East. 

Back in 2015, Egypt proposed that then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convene a regional conference to explore the possibility of imposing a ban on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.

Who ended up blocking such an excellent idea? Well of course, Mr Barack Obama himself and his secretary of state, John Kerry, for which the two received special thanks from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

This pernicious move, along with many others undertaken during the two Obama terms, are conveniently swept under the carpet, as the liberal media focuses its attention exclusively on Donald Trump’s endless vagaries. This historical revisionism makes people blind to a much more sustained course of Washington’s imperial attitude.

To be sure it was not just the US that prevented the creation of a nuclear-free Middle East, the United Kingdom and Canada also participated in the effort to block the initiative. 

So what credibility could any one of these countries – US, Canada, and UK – have in pointing a finger at Iran? What barefaced vulgarity would allow Israel to find fault with Iran? Prithee do tell! 

In the face of such duplicity, Iran should take the courageous and principled position of calling for a nuclear-free Middle East. It should seek to guarantee its own security and that of its neighbours by giving up its nuclear programme in exchange for a region-wide ban on WMDs which should include Israel. 

This would expose the Israeli charlatanism and deny it the opportunity to hide its own illegal nuclear programme behind its constant accusations that Iran poses an existential threat to the region. It would also lay bare the unsurpassed hypocrisy and racism of US and Europe, and change the very vocabulary of how we think about getting rid of these and all other weapons of mass destruction rich and powerful countries sell to corrupt and useless governments in the Arab and Muslim world, with Israel as their main military base of operation.

Today the world is becoming increasingly insecure, as global powers – including the US, Russia and China – disregard international agreements and choose proliferation of WMDs over peace and cooperation. Iran and other regional powers can be part of the solution by leading the way in calling for a nuclear-free world. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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