For the past seven years, the war on terrorism has been the focal point of U.S. foreign policy. Questions on how that policy should or could have been pursued arouse strident debate, but there is no disagreement about the urgency of the threat. Nor is there any dispute that the worst-case scenario would be a nuclear-armed state-sponsor of terrorism. So it is no surprise that there has been no let up in the international scrutiny of the Iranian regime, a documented state-sponsor of terror that candidly declares “nuclear capability is our undeniable right.” Of late, however, there have been questions about what the ayatollahs are doing, and when they are doing it.
CIA Director Michael Hayden on Sunday became the third major Bush administration official to assert that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program all along. Echoing statements made by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, Hayden told NBC's Meet the Press: “Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they're doing now if they did not have, at a minimum… the desire to keep the option open to develop a nuclear weapon and, perhaps even more so, that they've already decided to do that?”
Critics were quick to point to December's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which declared with “high confidence” that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” But the director of National Intelligence, Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, appeared to disavow the NIE conclusion in congressional testimony in early February. McConnell said the wording of an unclassified version of the Estimate released to the public had been careless. “So if I'd had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.”
Apparently, the Brits would have changed a thing or two, as well. On March 5, the British government joined in the fray. A senior British diplomat claimed there was no serious evidence that Iran's efforts to build a nuclear weapon had halted: "I haven't seen any intelligence that gives me even medium confidence that these programmes haven't resumed. It's an uncertain picture." His comments appeared to reflect the findings of an independent British assessment of intelligence on Iran's nuclear program, completed after the American assessment was published.
For one thing, the NIE's authors noted that in deciding whether Iran was in fact pursuing a nuclear weapons program, they did not consider the uranium conversion and enrichment activities Iran declared to be for “civilian purposes.” That is almost laughable. Tehran's entire modus operandi is concealment, via shell companies or “civilian” enrichment projects.
In a news conference in Brussels on February 20, Mohammad Mohaddessin, the Chairman of the NCRI's Foreign Affairs Committee, announced that in April 2007, the Iranian regime's nuclear project had entered a new phase. A command and control center, known as Mojdeh site, had been established to head up the drive to complete a nuclear bomb. Many of the activities at the site are disguised as part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps'(IRGC) Malek Ashtar University.
Plenty of other information indicates that ayatollahs' regime has in fact expedited its nuclear weapons activities, and that the IRGC has assumed command of a much larger segment of the nuclear drive. As the NCRI revealed, the Mojdeh site in Tehran, houses a vast research and development facility where scientists are experimenting with neutron initiators and triggers for an atomic bomb; casting and machining of uranium metals; and researching fissile material needed for the production of a bomb, among others activities. At Khojir, a Defense Ministry site 72 miles southeast of Tehran, researchers are working on building a nuclear warhead. None of these activities is necessary for nuclear power generation. In his latest speech at the NATO leaders' summit in the Romanian capital on April 2nd, President Bush reiterated that "Iran is pursuing technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons."
The reasons why become obvious in the context of the ayatollahs' overall domestic and foreign policies. On March 14, engineered parliamentary elections handed the reins of power to the most militant, suppressive faction. The politico-military faction represented by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps top brass and veteran commanders took control, as all pretences at “reformist vs. hardliners” were thrown out the window. The day after, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the vote as "safeguarding the right to acquire nuclear energy with exemplary prowess."
Meanwhile, on the western border with Iraq, intelligence reports reveal another escalation in the terrorist meddling of the ayatollahs, again spearheaded by the IRGC. Primarily carried out through the IRGC's notorious Qods Force, the political-military buildup by Tehran's mullahs is targeting not just the south, but the heart of Iraq, via a new command and control HQ at Kermanshah.
Last year, of course, the IRGC was “specially designated global terrorists” — the first time a branch of a national military has been deemed as such by the White House.
In this context, the IRGC's predominant role in the nuclear drive puts to rest any of Tehran's excuses about a “civilian” nuclear program. Its rise to unprecedented power in virtually all aspects of the regime does away with any pretences of civil society. The mullahs are building the bomb, as quickly as possible, as part of a broader militarization of their entire regime. Lacking domestic support (most seats were won by a vote of less than 10 percent of eligible voters, even according to inflated official figures), the clerical regime must bolster itself somehow. If Tehran joins the nuclear club, it will become a powerhouse in the region, making it much harder to discourage from international terrorism and domestic repression. A nuclear bomb will also bolster the morale of the hated IRGC, the key means to the repressive regime's staying power.
In a word, if they are not stopped, we are looking at a nuclear-armed state-sponsor of terrorism. That is a scary prospect. Washington needs to recognize this fact, with finality, and implement a shift in policy. The restrictions and embargoes currently in place are a good start, but Washington also needs to put the ayatollahs on notice that a nuclear-armed Tehran is not an acceptable option. The right policy would heighten international pressure and sanctions on the Iranian regime, while recognizing that there is deep, widespread popular hostility to the ayatollahs. The Rt. Hon. Lord David Charles Waddington, former home secretary of the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, wrote in the Washington Times this week that the U.S. would "do well to look at the MEK, which has the means and the will to bring about change in Iran, as a solution to this entire crisis."
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.