In the week since the nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, issued its report on Tehran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme, there has been an alarming amount of hype concerning the immediacy of any Iranian nuclear weaponisation.

This pressure is emanating from governments of Israel (who in some circles want to “preemptively” strike Iran) and the US (who appear to be open to military action, but worded as a more “preventive” measure) as many critics of the IAEA report have argued, as well as the governments of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia who have acquired significant amounts of conventional armaments in recent years, and those advocating for global disarmament such as the Arms Control Association who distributed this combatively-worded issue brief.

As I wrote immediately after the launch of the IAEA report last week, claims that Tehran’s nuclear weaponisation is imminent may well play into Iran’s hands – further making the country an international outcast and of higher virtue to her citizens, and acting as a proxy deterrence in lieu of operational nuclear weapons. That is, as long as Iran is able to do enough – and Russia and China continue to support – to remain within the NPT and IAEA whilst that capability is actually acquired.

Guest blogger Richard Falk followed up on Saturday, arguing that “If oil is the foremost reality of which we must not speak, then Israeli nuclearism is a close second”. One unintended consequence, Falk reasons, is that as a result of the “bomb Iran” narrative, “If ever there was an argument for the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, the diplomacy of Israel and the West has fashioned it in a strong form”.

Taken together, Falk and I may be read as suggesting that Iran may justifiably respond to increased international pressure by highlighting the hypocrisy in states not making more concerted efforts in recent times to disarm their nuclear arsenals (such as the United States), as well as states outside of the region which pose a very real threat to Iran (such as Israel and Pakistan), to demand that Tehran cease its nuclear weapons programme which it steadfastly maintains is not active.

One only has to review president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements on the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons capability to give this possibility some credence. In his official response to the IAEA report, Ahmadinejad made plain that:

“This nation won’t retreat one iota from the path it is going”.

“Why are you ruining the prestige of the [UN nuclear] agency for absurd US claims?”

“The Iranian nation is wise. It won’t build two bombs against 20,000 [nuclear] bombs you have. But it builds something you can’t respond to: Ethics, decency, monotheism and justice”.

Despite reasonable doubts as to the progress and status of Iran’s nuclearisation since 2003, there is significant agreement by arms control specialists outside of government that Iran have not complied with all of the inspection and reporting requirements of the IAEA, although it is difficult to discern the extent to which this has contributed to, or is a result of, international pressure.

Put simply, this is why Tehran’s posturing under president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is often referred to – perhaps misleading to many familiar with its use to describe Israel’s nuclear weapons stance – as one of “nuclear ambiguity”.

Leading arms control blogger  Jeffrey Lewis appears to take a more firm view of Iran’s weaponisation than both Richard or I:

“Why, exactly, is there an insistence that Iran is racing up to some sharply defined point where its adversaries, Israel included, must either strike preventively or accept an uneasy relationship of mutual (nuclear) deterrence? If Iran is racing, so were Achilles and the Tortoise. It’s more like tiptoeing.

Shavit is now the umpty-teenth commentator, Israeli or otherwise, who apparently cannot imagine that nuclear opacity or ambiguity could apply to states other than Israel. Of course, at different times, it has applied to a number of other states: India, Pakistan, Iraq, South Africa, North Korea. Perhaps others as well. So why not Iran?”

Sadly, however, such viewpoints are seldom heard in Australia.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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