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May 7, 2018 9:54 am

Netanyahu’s Wake-Up Call to the World on the Iranian Nuclear Program

avatar by Dore Gold

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A map of nuclear facilities in Iran. Photo: Semhur via Wikicommons.

JNS.org – Revelations over the last 10 years have left little doubt that Tehran has been seeking a nuclear weapon, no matter what its spokesmen claimed. But the revelations put forward by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30 came from original official documents with the stamp of the Iranian regime.

Therefore, it can now be stated without any qualification that Iran had a nuclear-weapons program. Consequently, the whole Iran nuclear agreement was negotiated under false pretenses.

During the talks on the Iran deal, Iranian negotiators falsely assured the West that Iran did not seek a nuclear arsenal — because there was a fatwa, an Islamic legal ruling, forbidding the development of atomic weapons issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Both then-president Barack Obama and secretary of state John Kerry spoke about the Iranian fatwa. Now this has been shown to be plainly false.

There is a huge difference between holding negotiations with a state like Iran if you assume that it has no intention of building nuclear weapons versus a situation in which you have incontrovertible evidence that Iran is determined to become a nuclear power. The substance of an agreement will be very different.

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A different approach is therefore needed. In the nuclear realm, the verification regime must look very different for a state which has had an unquestionable goal of arming itself with nuclear weapons and delivery systems for them.

During the last 10 years, there were times when remarkable revelations were made public about the Iranian nuclear program that left little doubt Tehran was seeking a nuclear weapon.

In February 2008, Olli Heinonen, then serving as the deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), gave a highly classified briefing to representatives of 100 states in which he revealed that Iran was working on a warhead for its Shahab-3 missile that was to be detonated at an altitude of 600 meters. At that height, a conventional explosion would have no effect on the ground. But it was also the height of the explosion of the atomic bomb used at Hiroshima. The Shahab-3 had a range of 1,300 kilometers and could strike Israel from Iranian territory. It has been operational since 2003.

Three years later, the IAEA reported in May 2011 that it had concerns about the “possible existence” of seven areas of Iranian military research. One of the most alarming revelations in the IAEA report was the research being conducted on “the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replacing it with a spherical nuclear payload.”

It should be reiterated that the language of the IAEA report was only about the “possible existence” of this work. Subsequent reports were more definitive, but were based on intelligence that much of the world did not see. There could always be some doubt of the veracity of these reports that Iran’s allies would stress.

The revelations put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30 included a number of these same reports and they looked familiar to those acquainted with the work of the IAEA. But now they were coming from original official documents with the stamp of the Iranian regime. It can be stated without any qualification that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. The whole Iran nuclear agreement, consequently, had been negotiated under false pretenses. That was a significant development.

Take, for example, the assertion frequently made during these talks that Iran could not possibly have been working on a nuclear bomb because of the fatwa. Obama made reference to the fatwa on September 27, 2013. Then, on November 24, 2013, Kerry spoke about the fatwa and the fact that Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif had made reference to it. A spokesman for the US National Security Council stated at that time that Iranians raised the fatwa during their negotiations with the West.

Of course, there was no fatwa on Khamenei’s website, but the rumors about it were used by Iranian negotiators to falsely assure the West that Iran did not seek a nuclear arsenal. Now this has been shown to be plainly false.

Add to that the assumption of negotiators that Iran was moving in a “moderate” direction. This was a central theme sold to the Washington establishment by Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. Iran today is seeking regional hegemony in the Middle East, with its forces supporting insurgencies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen. Negotiations with a status quo power look very different from negotiations with a state still seeking to export the Islamic revolution.

There is a huge difference in holding negotiations with a state like Iran if you assume it has no intention of building nuclear weapons versus a situation in which you have incontrovertible evidence that Iran is determined to become a nuclear power. 

Take, for example, the whole question of whether you need a truly robust system of verification that would include undeclared nuclear sites. There is also the question of ballistic-missile restrictions.

The United Nations put such limitations on the missile arsenal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War with Resolution 687. But in the case of Iran, the P5+1 countries settled for “verification-lite” and did not restrict ballistic missiles in any way. A different approach is needed.

For this reason, the the nuclear deal must be completely revamped or scrapped. This is not a case of “trust but verify,” the adage used by former US president Ronald Reagan. It is a case of don’t trust and then verify with the most intrusive means you have.

Dore Gold is Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations and director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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