Why Iran thinks it needs the bomb

By Ray Takeyh,

Bombastic claims of nuclear achievement, threats to close critical international waterways, alleged terrorist plots and hints of diplomatic outreach — all are emanating from Tehran right now. This past week, confrontation between Iran and the West reached new heights as Israel accused Iran of a bombing attempt in Bangkok and others targeting Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia. And yet, on Wednesday, an Iranian nuclear negotiator signaled that Tehran wants to get back to the table.

What does Iran really want? What, as strategists might ask, are the sources of Iranian conduct?

The key to unraveling the Islamic republic lies in understanding Iran’s perception of itself. More than any other Middle Eastern nation, Iran has always imagined itself as the natural hegemon of its neighborhood. As the Persian empire shrank over the centuries and Persian culture faded with the arrival of more alluring Western mores, Iran’s exaggerated view of itself remained largely intact. By dint of history, Iranians believe that their nation deserves regional preeminence.

However, Iran’s foreign policy is also built on the foundations of the theocratic regime and the 1979 revolution. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini bequeathed to his successors an ideology that divided the world between oppressors and the oppressed. The Islamic revolution was a battle for emancipation from the cultural and political tentacles of the iniquitous West. However, Iran was not merely seeking independence and autonomy, but wanted to project its Islamist message beyond its borders. Khomeini’s ideology and Iran’s nationalist aspirations created a revolutionary, populist approach to the region’s status quo.

Iran’s enduring revolutionary zeal may seem puzzling because, in many ways, China has come to define our impressions of a revolutionary state. At the outset, ideology determined Beijing’s foreign policy, even to the detriment of its practical interests, but over time, new generations of leaders discarded such a rigid approach. Today, there is nothing particularly communist about the Chinese Communist Party.

By the 1990s, Iran appeared to be following in the footsteps of states such as China and Vietnam, as pragmatic leaders such as Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and reformers such as Mohammad Khatami struggled to emancipate their republic from Khomeini’s onerous ideology. But what makes Iran peculiar is that this evolution was deliberately halted by a younger generation of leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who rejected the pragmatic approach in favor of reclaiming the legacy of Khomeini. “Returning to the roots of the revolution” became their mantra.

Under the auspices of an austere and dogmatic supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a “war generation” is taking control in Iran — young rightists who were molded by the prolonged war with Iraq in the 1980s. Although committed to the religious pedigree of the state, the callow reactionaries have at times been critical of their elders for their passivity in the imposition of Islamic cultural restrictions and for the rampant corruption that has engulfed the nation. As Iran’s revolution matures, and the politicians who were present at its creation gradually fade from the scene, a more doctrinaire generation is taking command. Situated in the security services, the Revolutionary Guard Corps and increasingly the elected institutions, they are becoming more powerful than their moderate elders.

This group’s international outlook was shaped by the devastating Iran-Iraq war. In the veterans’ self-serving view, Iran’s failure to overthrow Saddam Hussein had more to do with superpower intervention and less to do with their poor planning and lack of resources. The Western states and the United Nations, which failed to register even a perfunctory protest against Iraq’s massive use of chemical weapons, are to be treated with suspicion and hostility. Struggle and sacrifice have come to displace dialogue and detente.

As with Khomeini, a central tenet of the young conservatives’ foreign policy perspective is that Iran’s revolution was a remarkable historical achievement that the United States can neither accept nor accommodate. The Western powers will always conspire against an Islamic state that they cannot control. The only way Iran can be independent and achieve its national objectives is through confrontation. The viability of the Islamic republic cannot be negotiated with the West; it has to be claimed through steadfastness and defiance.

Iran’s nuclear program did not begin with the rise of this war generation. The nation has long invested in its atomic infrastructure. However, more so than any of their predecessors, Iran’s current rulers see nuclear arms as central to their national ambitions. While the Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations looked at nuclear weapons as tools of deterrence, for the conservatives they are a critical means of solidifying Iran’s preeminence in the region. A hegemonic Iran requires a robust and extensive nuclear apparatus.

The maturing of the nuclear program has generated its share of nationalistic fervor, and the regime has certainly done its share to promote the importance of the atomic industry as a pathway to scientific achievement and national greatness. From issuing stamps commemorating the program to celebrating the enrichment of uranium, the clerical regime believes that a national commitment to nuclear self-sufficiency can revive its political fortunes.

The problem with this approach is that, once such a nationalistic narrative is created, it becomes difficult for the government to offer any concessions without risking a popular backlash. After years of proclaiming that constructing an indigenous nuclear industry is the most important issue confronting Iran since the nationalization of the oil industry in 1951, the government will find it difficult to justify compromises. The Islamic republic’s strategy of marrying its identity to nuclear aggrandizement makes the task of diplomacy even more daunting.

Yet, Iran’s determination to advance its nuclear program has come at a considerable cost. Today, the country stands politically and economically isolated. The intense international pressure on Iran has seemingly invited an interest in diplomacy.

From Tehran’s perspective, protracted diplomacy has the advantage of potentially dividing the international community, shielding Iran’s facilities from military retribution and easing economic sanctions. Iran may have to be patient in its quest to get the bomb; it may have to offer confidence-building measures and placate its allies in Beijing and Moscow. Any concessions it makes will probably be reversible and symbolic so as not to derail the overall trajectory of the nuclear program.

Can Tehran be pressed into conceding to a viable arms-control treaty? On the surface, it is hard to see how Iran’s leaders could easily reconsider their national interest. The international community is confronting an Islamic republic in which moderate voices have been excised from power.

However, it may still be possible to disarm Iran without using force. The key figure remains Khamenei, who maintains the authority and stature to impose a decision on his reluctant disciples. A coercive strategy that exploits not just Khamenei’s economic distress but his political vulnerabilities may cause him to reach beyond his narrow circle, broaden his coalition and inject a measure of pragmatism into his state’s deliberations. As with most ideologues, Iran’s supreme leader worries more about political dissent than economic privation. Such a strategy requires not additional sanctions but considerable imagination.

Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs.”

Washington Post

  • 5thDrawer

    The picture says it all.
    Having to listen to a speech by the ill-educated Ahmadinejad while looking at the ugly wallpaper behind him is a form of mental torture and highlights the brainwashing they all went through. The simple cost of maintaining a military nuclear capability is more than they can afford, so some economic measures also have an influence – which is to deprive the population of the country more than anything else. The purpose of a huge ‘Revolutionary Guard’ is to simply feed a pack of peasants and brain-wash them at the same time so they won’t revolt. Eliminating the educated was one of their priorities as we saw with the hits on universities, which the peasants were happy to do because of jealousy – even of their fellow citizens.
    Not-so-Secret police are another pack of feeders at the tough … picked more for their lack of morals than anything else, they are the cream of the peasants more than happy to inflict broken bones and heads because they can. Iran and Syria use them extensively, and they probably live better than the guards running around on parades or blowing themselves up on air basses while handling munitions.
    Which is what the international community worries about mostly.
     Setting off a nuclear bomb by accident will affect a few more than the handlers.

  • Anonymous

    The picture says it all.
    Having to listen to a speech by the ill-educated Ahmadinejad while looking at the ugly wallpaper behind him is a form of mental torture and highlights the brainwashing they all went through. The simple cost of maintaining a military nuclear capability is more than they can afford, so some economic measures also have an influence – which is to deprive the population of the country more than anything else. The purpose of a huge ‘Revolutionary Guard’ is to simply feed a pack of peasants and brain-wash them at the same time so they won’t revolt. Eliminating the educated was one of their priorities as we saw with the hits on universities, which the peasants were happy to do because of jealousy – even of their fellow citizens.
    Not-so-Secret police are another pack of feeders at the tough … picked more for their lack of morals than anything else, they are the cream of the peasants more than happy to inflict broken bones and heads because they can. Iran and Syria use them extensively, and they probably live better than the guards running around on parades or blowing themselves up on air basses while handling munitions.
    Which is what the international community worries about mostly.
     Setting off a nuclear bomb by accident will affect a few more than the handlers.

  • josephphdman

    he is well educated evil ; he could order the killing of  innocent women and children of his own people ,  and his support of terrorrism all over the world , his crimes against lebanon creating a state within a sate in the south of lebanon , destabilizing and using lebanon ,for the interrest of iran,threatenning the us many times  , all of this it will classify him as the educated devil ,
    this man and his regeme had commited the worst crimes in history , killing women in the street of iran in cold blood , if he could commit those crimes he will easily lie, and lie and lie , about his nuclear weapons ; his main goal and ideology is to wipe israel out of the map once he has the nuclear bomb and then attack and invade the arab conutries who are  ruled by sunnis , to convert the arab world  from sunnis into a persian shia,s impire ; and then attack europe,russia  and the rest of the world  with his long range nuclear missiles  , the world should act to stop this man from obtaining a nuclear weapons , he should be disarm from all weapons , the world should,nt trust this evil regeme tobe armed not even with a kitchen knife !!
    not toolong ago in history the international community made a mistake and allow nazi hitler,s to build arms only a few years later he destroy most of the world by causing a world war 2 as a results more than 50 millions people lost their lifves; the international community should  have learned from history and act now against iran ;  as of a similar ideology naziism and shiaisim , will lead the world to a world war 3 and unlimited number  of casulties , if iran allowed to get nuclear bomb .   

  • Anonymous

    he is well educated evil ; he could order the killing of  innocent women and children of his own people ,  and his support of terrorrism all over the world , his crimes against lebanon creating a state within a sate in the south of lebanon , destabilizing and using lebanon ,for the interrest of iran,threatenning the us many times  , all of this it will classify him as the educated devil ,
    this man and his regeme had commited the worst crimes in history , killing women in the street of iran in cold blood , if he could commit those crimes he will easily lie, and lie and lie , about his nuclear weapons ; his main goal and ideology is to wipe israel out of the map once he has the nuclear bomb and then attack and invade the arab conutries who are  ruled by sunnis , to convert the arab world  from sunnis into a persian shia,s impire ; and then attack europe,russia  and the rest of the world  with his long range nuclear missiles  , the world should act to stop this man from obtaining a nuclear weapons , he should be disarm from all weapons , the world should,nt trust this evil regeme tobe armed not even with a kitchen knife !!
    not toolong ago in history the international community made a mistake and allow nazi hitler,s to build arms only a few years later he destroy most of the world by causing a world war 2 as a results more than 50 millions people lost their lifves; the international community should  have learned from history and act now against iran ;  as of a similar ideology naziism and shiaisim , will lead the world to a world war 3 and unlimited number  of casulties , if iran allowed to get nuclear bomb .   

  • Matthew 24
    Jesus Predicts the Destruction of the Temple and the end of the age.4 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” The Signs of the Times and the End of the Age3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all[a] these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences,[b] and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. The Great Tribulation15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’[c] spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. 23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. The Coming of the Son of Man29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. The Parable of the Fig Tree32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it[d] is near—at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. No One Knows the Day or Hour36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,[e] but My Father only. 37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 

  • Plumbline

    Matthew 24
    Jesus Predicts the Destruction of the Temple and the end of the age.4 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” The Signs of the Times and the End of the Age3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all[a] these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences,[b] and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. The Great Tribulation15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’[c] spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. 23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. The Coming of the Son of Man29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. The Parable of the Fig Tree32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it[d] is near—at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. No One Knows the Day or Hour36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,[e] but My Father only. 37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.