The Iranian Dilemma: Preventing Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Capabilities

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 27

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Many realize that the most important task confronting the international community today is the prevention of Iran’s nuclearization. It is clear that a radical religious regime—convinced that all of its actions and decisions are directed by Allah, that its leaders are infallible, and that all others are heretics who have no right to interfere with the only real believers—must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. Opinions are divided, however, on the question of how to stop Iran without causing too much damage to other countries, from the Gulf States to Israel, from the Arab world to the US.

Iranian Society

In order to answer this question, it is necessary to understand the internal state of affairs in Iran and the resulting order of priorities of the country’s leadership.

The situation in Iran is extremely unusual: most Iranian citizens lead a free, secular lifestyle, scorn the religious leaders who tyrannize them, and survive economically in a twisted and corrupt system. The leadership knows the population and its system of priorities, and imposes its regime by means of force—from executing people in the city square to lashings and other forms of physical and mental punishment— according to Shiite practice.

At the same time, the regime offers its citizens numerous employment opportunities, allowing them to open businesses and engage in economic activity, and ignores violations of the ban against installing satellite dishes that provide many Iranian households with access to European adult entertainment channels. The average Iranian citizen enjoys relative personal freedom, as long as he or she refrains from engaging in political activity, organizing demonstrations, and inciting others to rebel against the regime. Iranian citizens prefer to protect their lives and livelihoods rather than participate in practices that could replace the current religious dictatorship with another type of dictatorship, perhaps one reminiscent of that of the Shah, whose tyranny and brutal methods are missed by few. Therefore, as long as the internal situation in Iran continues as it is today, there is no reason for Iranian citizens to take to the streets, demonstrate or take other means of action to destabilize the regime.

Government Objectives: The Quest to Acquire Nuclear Weapons

From time to time, the Ayatollah leadership exerts the required amount of pressure on the populace in order to preserve the status quo. The government’s highest priority is to preserve its own status as a radical religious regime governing a population that for the most part has no interest in its leadership.

The Iranian government’s second aim is to obtain nuclear weapons, which will serve as a type of “insurance policy” for Iran against foreign intervention in its affairs. Iran learned from the North Koreans that nuclear weapons afford a country protection and drastically improve its position in negotiations. Iran strives to attain a winning combination of submarines, missiles and nuclear warheads, enabling it to threaten any point on the globe while providing its nuclear weapons with a high level of immunity against advance attacks.

An additional reason for obtaining nuclear weapons deals with the implications of such an achievement for Iranian nationalism. Many Iranians, while disagreeing with the regime’s religious outlook, would like to see their country become a nuclear power. Leaders are aware of this and play on national pride in order to enlist the support of the masses for the regime.

Solutions: Pressuring Iran into Compliance

The experience in recent years has proven that negotiations have no chance of halting Iran’s nuclear plan. Iran is set in its decision to obtain nuclear weapons. In its view, no one has a right to tell Iran what to do and what not to do—especially not alcohol consuming heretics. Allah is on Iran’s side and stands behind its achievements.

In the combination of the Iranian leadership’s primary interest in preserving its own power and secondary interest in achieving nuclearization, lies the key to finding the means of forcing Iran to peacefully relinquish its nuclear plan. The world must address Iran’s leaders: “You must choose between staying in power and obtaining nuclear weapons. We will not allow you to realize both objectives. If you wish to stay in power, you must forego your nuclear plan, pack all the equipment from your nuclear facilities on boats and send it to us, just as Ghadafi, the president of Libya, did. If you adhere to your nuclear plan, you will become the target of a harsh and unremitting air strike, which will bring an end to yourselves and your regime. There will be no negotiations on any matter connected with this ultimatum, and no possibility of receiving an additional extension.”

Issuing such an ultimatum requires preliminary measures, first and foremost the construction of a system for protecting the oil fields and the production, shipping and purification facilities in the Gulf region, a procedure that will require some time. The West must undertake these steps in the immediate future in order to ensure their completion before Iran obtains nuclear weapons and any such ultimatum becomes impossible.

If a unified front of Western countries forces the Iranian regime to choose between survival and nuclearization, and if the West succeeds in convincing the Ayatollahs that this time the ultimatum is serious and that it will unquestionably be implemented, they will choose survival and sacrifice their nuclear plan on the altar of their continued leadership. They are not mad and well understand the nature of the threat.

The enlightened world must take this course of action before the Ayatollahs lay their hands on atomic weapons. If the world continues sleep-walking it will wake up one morning to find a submarine of Iranian missiles with atomic warheads threatening London, Washington, Sydney and Tokyo. And even if there is no more than a one- in-a-hundred chance that this scenario will actually come to pass, how can the enlightened countries of the world knowingly allow it to become a reality?

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Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar

Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a lecturer of Arabic studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Email: [email protected]