When evaluating the latest rounds of negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (P5 + 1) over Iran's nuclear program, there is one essential thing to know: Iran has no intention of giving up its pursuit of nuclear arms, or at least will not do so unless subjected to unbearable pressure. ( The Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, did drink, in his words, "the poison chalice" and call a halt to the eight year Iraq-Iran War, when it threatened to destroy the nascent Islamic Revolution.)
Harold Rhode, a former Defense Department analyst on Iran and leading disciple of Bernard Lewis, the dean of Middle East scholars, explained why in a piece for the Hudson Institute last December. Khomeini viewed the world in terms of an ongoing struggle with the non-Muslim nations that can only end when the non-Muslims convert to Islam. Nuclear weapons have been seen by the Iranian leadership since Khomeini's day as a prime tool in bringing about that submission of the non-Muslim world and of asserting Shiite supremacy over their Sunni co-religionists.
Nuclear weapons offer Shiite Iran the means to assume the lead role in this worldwide war. A nuclear Iran would expose the Sunni dictatorships to ridicule. While the latter have whipped up hatred towards the West and Israel to deflect attention from their manifest failures, they have done nothing to reverse the theological humiliation, from the Muslim point of view, that Islam does not control the globe. "A nuclear, anti-Western Iran," writes Rhode, "would enable Muslims to hold their heads high and force the West into retreat."
The Shiite religious establishment has long since grown disenchanted with the Islamic Revolution, according to Rhode, and seeks a return to traditional Shiite quietism, with religious leaders serving in the mosques and attending to their followers spiritual needs, rather than running the government. Iran today is not governed by the religious establishment but by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a praetorian guard created by Khomeini to counterbalance the regular military. The IRGC follows an extreme form of Shi'ism, which even Khomeini feared.
For them the death of millions of Muslims in a nuclear conflagration would be no disaster, for those killed would be religious martyrs destined straight for heaven. IRGC leaders, including Ahmadinejad, sent tens of thousands of unarmed children to their deaths in the Iraq-Iran War, as human minesweepers. The martyrs went into battle with a key to heaven around their necks. As Bernard Lewis has repeatedly said, for the members of this messianic cult, nuclear conflagration might well prove an incentive, not a deterrent, for in their view it would hasten the arrival of the 12th Imam and usher in an age of submission of the entire world to the 12th Imam's will.
Numerous Iranian leaders have spoken repeatedly of the calculus of a nuclear attack on Israel: One bomb would wipe Israel out, while an Israeli counterstrike would be insufficient to wipe out all of the much larger Iran. Most recently Ali Reza Forqani, an ally of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, has written of the duty to annihilate Israel, and outlined how Iranian missiles could do so in nine minutes.
An important corollary of the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons – a drive strong enough to withstand years of international pressure and isolation – is that the distinction between Iran's civil nuclear program and its military one has little basis in reality. With its huge oil reserves, Iran had no reason to pursue a civil nuclear program at all, and certainly not one that has entailed such high costs. To speculate about whether Iran's nuclear program will become militarized, writes Bret Stephens, is like asking whether an alcoholic holding a whiskey bottle in one hand and tinkling a glass filled with ice in the other intends to take a drink. Perhaps he won't, but the better course would be to remove the alcohol from his hand before he pours himself a drink. Iran's nuclear program is the alcoholic's whiskey bottle: Once Iran possesses 141 kg. of 80% enriched uranium, the production of a nuclear weapon will be no further away than the alcoholic's pouring himself a drink.
In light of Iran's commitment to obtaining nuclear weapons capability, the renewal of negotiations with Iran over its program suffer from the same fallacy as the repeated calls for the Israelis and Palestinians to sit down at the bargaining table to reach the agreement whose contours are known to all: They both fail to take into account the goals of the parties. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations offer no hope as long as the Palestinians seek the elimination of Israel: Similarly, P5 + 1 negotiations with Iran offer no hope as long as Iran is committed to acquiring nuclear weapons.
TO ARGUE THAT THE NEGOTIATIONS have next to no chance of ending Iranian nuclear ambitions is not, however, to say that they will have no impact. From the Iranian point of view (and one suspects from the Western as well) they effectively insure that there will be no Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities as long as they are ongoing. Moreover, they allow Iran to use the negotiations to buy time to advance its nuclear program, something at which they have long shown themselves adept.
The current negotiations must be viewed against the backdrop of nearly ten years of failed efforts to convince Iran to cease and desist. For five years before President Obama entered office and embarked upon his misbegotten efforts to "engage" the Iranians, they had been playing the Europeans for fools, repeatedly holding out the possibility of imminent agreement, while always pulling the football back at the last minute. In addition, Iran has repeatedly been discovered cheating on commitments made.
All this is justified by the Islamic principle of taqiya, or diplomatic deception, which dates back to Mohammed and his abrogation of treaties entered into with Jewish tribes around Mecca and the subsequent slaughter of those tribes. In 2005, for instance, Iran stretched out negotiations with Europeans long enough to complete the uranium conversion plant at Ishafan, which produces the feedstock for the Natanz centrifuges. Former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Dore Gold points to the boasting of Iranian negotiators about their success in keeping the Europeans at the table. "The day, we started the [negotiating] project there was no such thing as Ishafan," said head negotiator Hassan Rowhani. His deputy, Hossein Musavein, was even more blunt on Iranian TV: "Thanks to the negotiations with Europe we gained another year in which we completed Ishafan."
Western gullibility apparently knows limits. Secretary State Clinton recently touted the significance of an alleged fatwa by Supreme Leader Khameini banning the stockpiling or use of nuclear weapons as a cause for some optimism and a basis for further efforts to "operationalize" (her word, not mine) the fatwa. A MEMRI search of the various official websites of Khameini, however, failed to discover any such fatwa. And in response to a question submitted to him as to whether it would not be permissible under Islamic law to use nuclear weapons to deter aggressors against Islam, Khameini pointedly made no reference to any such fatwa. In addition, the Washington Post's Jody Warick revealed the existence of an internal U.N. document showing that Khameini embraced the concept of an Iranian bomb during a meeting of the country's top leadership more than two decades ago on the grounds that a nuclear arsenal would "serve Iran as a deterrent in the hands of G-d's soldiers."
The current negotiations were initiated without any preconditions on the Iranians and adjourned after a mere one day, with a second meeting not set for another five weeks and at a site (Iraq) determined by the Iranians. Nothing was demanded of the Iranians, and, needless to say, no concessions granted. The chief Iranian negotiator expressed his hope that sanctions on Iran would be lifted as negotiations proceeded.
The fact that the negotiations are being led on the Western side by Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign secretary, only increases Israeli concerns. Ashton comes to her post without ever having won a single election and with nearly zero foreign policy experience. Her one qualification would seem to be sharing the European foreign policy establishment's loathing of Israel. Her immediate reaction to the Toulouse massacre, for instance, was to "think of what is happening to children in Gaza," a typical European trope for minimizing the severity of attacks on Jews. And at a three-hour dinner with the chief Iranian negotiator, she reportedly spoke at length of the manner of political party funding in the United States, an obvious reference to the power of the alleged Israel Lobby. (Secretary of State Hilary Clinton recently did the something similar in answering a question posed by a Tunisian student.)
Adam Garfinkle, editor of The American Interest, dismisses Ashton as "just an imbecile out of central casting, . . . ever since the days when she advocated unilateral Western disarmament as [a paid organizer and Treasurer] of the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The CDD was heavily funded by Moscow. At the time of her involvement, Ashton shared a residence with a member of the British Communist Party's peace advisory, who was also the general-secretary of the CND.
Garfinkle describes Ashton as believing in the "five big whoppers" of the mush-headed Left: (1) the fewer weapons the fewer wars; (2) the United Nations is a positive and independent international actor; (3) poverty causes terrorism; (4) the use of force should always be conceived of as a last resort; and (5) bad actors can never take advantage of meliorative diplomacy (just exactly like Bashar al-Assad is taking advantage of Kofi Annan at this very moment). (Can anyone name a certain president who subscribes to all five of those points?) As if to confirm Garfinkle's diagnosis, Ashton pronounced the day of talks "useful and constructive," presumably because talks are always useful and constructive.
Can anyone blame Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for labeling the results of the first session as a "freebie," which will have no impact other than allowing Iran to move closer to its goal of being able to assemble a nuclear weapon on short notice?