Unislamic or underhanded?

Iranian leader says religious edicts do not allow use of weapons of mass destruction.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 311 (R) (photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
Anyone who sought additional proof that Iran is laboring hard for US President Barack Obama to restrain Israel – and that Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan also spreads dangerous propaganda – just had their wishes answered.
On the occasion of his recent visit to Tehran, Erdogan expressed his trust in leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei's statements that Iranians and belief in Islam do not allow for the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and that there is no place for such weapons in Iran's defense strategy.
In an interview with Iran's state run Channel 2, the Turkish leader went on to say, "I have shared the [Iranian] leader's statement with [President] Obama and told him that in face of this assertion I do not have a different position and they [the Iranians] are using nuclear energy peacefully."
Of course this was not the first time Khamenei has made such statements. As early as 2005 he issued a fatwa declaring the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons as forbidden under Islam. The fatwa was even cited in an official statement by the Iranian government at an August 2005 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
However, it should be noted that the terms used by Khamenei leave wide open the possibility of researching, developing, amassing the required components, and delivering such weapons, which is exactly what Iran is currently doing. Thus, according to Khanmeini’s formulation, Islam allows the attainment of a turn-key capability readiness for the speedy assembly of nuclear weapons at the behest of the Supreme Leader.
It could be argued that a turn-key capability is by far preferable to Iran actually possessing nuclear weapons, but such relief would be premature. Stopping at the threshold of acquiring nuclear weapons rarely means a country’s leadership has second thoughts or that it has suddenly been afflicted by a bout of anti-proliferation sentiments. Rather, such conduct indicates that while the leaders view political and geopolitical circumstances as potential cause for the acquisition of WMD, they want to minimize the potential ramifications of making such a move.
In fact, this conduct means preparing the groundwork so that when the decision to go nuclear is finally made, it would be a fait accompli—i.e. too late for outside powers to stop it. Staking out a position at the threshold is a way to shorten the lead-time to the nuclear crossing, and to do so at the minimum cost.
In the case of Iran, developing a turn-key capability allows the country to remain on the right side of the red line drawn by President Obama for a military strike, as it has not decided to build a nuclear weapon.
Iran's stated position that it seeks nuclear energy for peaceful purposes does not help alleviate the specter of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East either. It is easy to conceive of other regional countries viewing Iran's true motives as dangerous and acting to likewise equip themselves with on-demand nuclear weapons capabilities.
The precedent established by Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini must also be considered. In the 1980s, revolutionary leaders of the new Islamic Republic of Iran swore off WMD as un-Islamic. But when Iranian troops were repeatedly the targets of Iraq's chemical weapons, Khomeini reversed his position and restarted the country’s chemical weapons program. In the process, he created a precedent for overriding religious edicts in defense of the state known as “maslahat-e nizam” or “expediency of the system.” Accordingly, the needs of the Islamic Republic as a political institution might trump even Islamic law.
There are additional reasons for skepticism that religious teachings would act as impediments to Iran employing WMD. For example, Ayatollah Khameini stated in 2010 that Islam prohibits “such weapons as they are the symbol of destruction of generations.” During the Iran-Iraq war, however, Iranian used mustard gas, a tactic which does not exactly smack of concern for long-term public health.
Iran’s conduct can also not be reconciled with Islam’s objection to nuclear weapons on the grounds of their indiscriminate nature. Iran’s wanton support for terrorism clearly contradicts such a religious denunciation. For example in October 2006, Argentinian prosecutors formally accused the Iranian government of directing the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured hundreds. It was the country’s deadliest bombing ever. They also accused Tehran’s proxy, the Hezbollah militia, of carrying out the attack.
Iran also equips Hezbollah with tens of thousands of rockets and voiced support for its proxy’s firing some 4000 of them into Israeli cities during the 2006 Lebanon War. None of this can be considered to be in line with Islamic principles – especially as 18 of the 43 civilians killed in the attacks were Israeli Arabs. The fact that another of Iran’s proxies--the Islamic Jihad—recently expressed deep satisfaction over the fact the a million Israelis “cowered in fear” in their bomb shelters as its Gaza-fired rockets reached deeper and deeper into southern Israel cannot be ignored either.
After all when one fights Satan—be it the great one (the US) or the little one (Israel)—even Islamic doctrine could be expected to show some leniency toward, if not outrightly bless, jihadists as they wreak total destruction on their enemies.
On all of these grounds it is puzzling that President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would hurriedly acknowledge the Turkish leader’s assurances that the Ayatollah is committed to a religiously-sanctioned policy of nuclear abstinence. Evidently, while Obama boasts of unprecedentedly close strategic cooperation with Israel, it is the Ayatollah and his dubious Turkish messenger that the US president trusts to help him avoid war and thus secure his reelection.
The writer is the author of The Continuing Storm: Iraq, Poisonous Weapons and Deterrence.