Q&A ON THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR THREAT
Why is Iran's nuclear weapons program a threat to America and American interests?
Nuclear weapons in the hands of the radical and reckless Iranian regime would have severe repercussions for American security and the security of our allies.
- Iran already has a conventional weapons capability to hit U.S. and allied troops stationed in the Middle East and part of Europe. If Tehran were allowed to develop nuclear weapons, this threat would increase dramatically.
- The Middle East remains an essential source of energy for the United States and the world. Already, Iran’s military posture has led to increases in arms purchases by its neighbors. A nuclear-armed Iran would likely spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would further destabilize this volatile and vital region. Interrupted access to essential energy supplies would threaten the viability of the American and world economies.
- A nuclear-armed Iran poses a threat to America’s closest allies in the Middle East. Israel is most at risk as Iran’s leaders have repeatedly declared that that Israel should “be wiped from the map.” America’s moderate Arab allies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and others are already alarmed at Iran’s aggressive regional policy and would feel increasingly threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran.
- A nuclear-armed Iran would likely embolden Iran's already aggressive foreign policy, resulting in greater confrontations with the international community and support for extremists. Iran is already one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism through its financial and operational support for groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and others. Iran could potentially share its nuclear technology and know-how with extremist groups hostile to the United States and the West.
How do we know Iran is developing nuclear weapons?
- While Iranian missiles can’t yet reach America, Iran having a nuclear weapons capability can potentially directly threaten the United States and its inhabitants. Many analysts are concerned about the possibility of a nuclear weapon arriving in a cargo container at a major US port. Furthermore, a federally mandated commission to study electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks noted the vast damage that could be wrought by at a single missile with a nuclear warhead, launched from ship off the US coast, and detonated a couple of hundred miles in the air, high above America. The explosion could produce an electromagnetic pulse whose effect would be to knock out electrical power, computer systems, and telecommunications over much of the US. The commission reported that Iran has “practiced launching a mobile ballistic missile from a vessel in the Caspian Sea. [and] … has also tested high-altitude explosions of the Shahab-III, a test mode consistent with EMP attack, and described the tests as successful. Iranian military writings explicitly discuss a nuclear EMP attack that would gravely harm the United States.”
Iran's nuclear program is clearly intended to develop a nuclear weapons capability. For seventeen years, it was kept secret, even though international assistance would have been available to a civilian program. In 2002, Iran's covert program was exposed. Since then, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly said that it cannot consider Iran's nuclear program as entirely civilian, because it has too many unanswered questions. The IAEA has reported on Iranian technical documents that concern warhead design, production of a uranium core for nuclear weapons, adaptation of missiles to carry nuclear warheads, missile warhead detonation at 1800 feet of altitude (which only makes sense for a nuclear weapon), and underground nuclear test silos.
Didn’t the CIA report that Iran had stopped developing nuclear weapons?
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities
of November 2007 confirmed the existence of a covert Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. The NIE was widely misinterpreted as claiming that Iran ended its nuclear weapons program. In fact, only one element – nuclear warhead design – was estimated to have been put on hold in 2003. As CIA director Michael Hayden has said of the NIE, "What came out in a lot of coverage was 'Iran stops nuclear program.' The only thing we claimed had been halted in '03 was the weaponization. The development of fissile material, and the development of delivery systems continued. And one can make the case the development of delivery systems make no sense with just conventional warheads on top of them."
What kind of regime governs Iran?
Since the revolution which overthrew the monarchy in 1979, Iran has been run by a Shia Islamist regime which has violently suppressed internal dissent. Both Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's powerful Supreme Leader, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are uncompromising hardliners.
There have been periods when it appeared that the Iranian leadership was opting for greater moderation and reform. This occurred with the sanctioned election of Mohamed Khatami, considered the “reformist candidate” to the presidency in 1997. While the Khatami reign (through 2005) was marked by some moderation in Iran’s public stance towards the West, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei tightly controlled most of the state apparatus. Iran’s nuclear weapons program also intensified during this period. Most recently, in the June 2009 presidential election campaign, there were strong indications that the “reformist candidate,” Mir-Hussein Mousavi, would prevail over the incumbent, Ahmadinejad. However, within hours of the polls closing, the Khamenei-controlled state apparatus announced that Ahmadinjad had won by a huge margin. In the weeks following, the regime’s security forces and allied militia harshly clamped down on pro-Mousavi protests in Tehran and elsewhere across the country. A number of people protesting the election results were killed – some killed at rallies by gunfire, and some in prisons following their arrest. Over a hundred others arrested have been put on trial and some prominent figures have made public “confessions.”
Iran's regime is a source of extremism and destabilization in the region and around the globe. It has defied the international community with its support for terrorism and cultivation of extremist forces. It has rebuffed international efforts to ascertain the extent and purpose of its nuclear program. Its leaders have repeatedly called for Israel's demise and have propagated base anti-Semitism, including the denial of the Holocaust.
The Iranian regime denies basic freedoms to Iran’s citizens, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. The rights of women, workers, homosexuals, juveniles, religious and ethnic minorities, and political opposition are brutally suppressed.
Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, providing financial support and training for organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and others, and is believed to be behind many Shiite insurgents in Iraq. Iran is responsible for the bombings of the Israeli Embassy (1992) and the Jewish community center (1994) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed over 200 people and wounded hundreds more.
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