Pictured above is Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. The following is from PPI board member Irwin Wall, a professional historian, in response to Ralph Seliger’s recent post, “Critic(s) of Iran nuclear talks — wrong, but not crazy“:
Nobody accuses or should accuse those who worry about Iranian nuclear weapons, and who consequently fear the current deal being negotiated by Iran and the concerned powers, of being crazy. We should all worry about all nuclear proliferation, and President Kennedy was the first to do so when he vehemently opposed the French effort to build a bomb in 1960. President Kennedy strongly suspected, correctly as it turned out, that the French were at the same time helping Israel to build its bomb. So proliferation was out of the bag 55 years ago. That has not lessened the need to continue to try to prevent it. The list of those countries that now have the bomb, moreover, is already frightening: it includes North Korea, Pakistan, and India. Of course Iran would be an unwelcome addition to that group.
However, nobody knows for certain that Iran wants to build a bomb. Iran is party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Although technically in violation of parts of it for the nuclear development the Iranians have done, they have not repudiated the treaty. (Israel has always refused to sign the treaty in the first place.) Iran claims it has no intention of building a bomb and has never intended to build one in the past. It claims its right under the treaty to develop nuclear industry for peaceful purposes only. And for what it is worth the Ayatollah is on record as having declared that nuclear weapons are sinful and therefore Iran will not develop them. There is some question whether this statement has the force of a Fatwa which would make it religious dogma, but many claim that it is a Fatwa in fact.
Of course few believe the Iranians mean what they say. But if they are lying, given Iranian nuclear know-how, it seems pertinent to ask why, if they want a bomb, have they refrained from building one until now? Nobody seems ever to ask this question. In 1992, Benjamin Netanyahu (then an opposition MK), claimed that Iran was three to five years away from building a nuclear weapon. In 1995, three years later, he repeated that they were three to five years away from a bomb. Nobody then questioned him about what the Iranians supposedly had or had not done during the intervening three years.
Since 1995 he has changed his tune and argues that Iran is a year away from a bomb. If that is true, they have been a year away from a bomb for the last 15 to 20 years at least. If that has been true, why then have they not yet built a bomb? Are they missing a crucial link that still eludes them? Was it the Stuxnet virus and the mysterious murders of Iranian scientists (which have been attributed to Israel)? Are they afraid of immediate American and Israeli bombardment of their nuclear facilities, if Israel and America conclude that they have in fact built a bomb? Are they further afraid that the Sunni Arab world would approve such an attack, or that Saudi Arabia and the Emirates would themselves build a bomb, or avail themselves of the Pakistani bomb if Iran builds a bomb? Is it all of the above?
The charge of Iranian irrationality, meaning that if they had one they would certainly use it against Israel no matter the cost to themselves, or give it to terrorists, seemed to have had some credibility during the reign of President Ahmadinejad. It would seem to have none during the current negotiations, the outcome of which will determine the extent of allowable nuclear development under which the West will lift their sanctions on Iran. And if, in fifteen years, as it is said, Iran by the terms of the treaty will be legally enabled to build a bomb, will any of the deterrents listed above have any less salience? Is it not equally likely for them to conclude that a bomb is not in their interest, as it has apparently not been in their interest to build a bomb until now?
What seems on the contrary to be certain is that absent a favorable outcome to the current negotiations, Iran will go full speed ahead with its nuclear development. We cannot know whether they will or will not then build a bomb. What we do know is that if we conclude that they have built a bomb, even with all the “certainty” we had that Iraq was attempting in 2003, military action will likely bring retribution on a scale that we would not want to risk and that Israel might not be able to endure. Following which, most likely, Iran will go ahead and build a bomb in the belief that it’s for self-defense.