For the past decade the Western world has been expressing concern over Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear capability. Iran has maintained that it wants to acquire nuclear capability only for civilian purposes, so that they can generate electricity from nuclear energy, as many countries have been doing for the past 50 years. Few believe in this assertion and, in the last three years, concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme have intensified, with frequent talk of military options as Iran inches its way towards acquiring the building blocks of a nuclear bomb and the missile technology to deliver such a nuclear device.
Israel in particular is very worried about Iran becoming a nuclear power in the region and sees a nuclear Iran as an existential threat. This is not surprising when we listen to Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, a well-known Holocaust denier, who believes that Israel has no right to exist. Prime Minister Natanyahu and President Obama have been stating that they will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power during their watch but, despite all the sanctions and the external pressures, Iran’s march towards acquiring a nuclear bomb seems to continue. In my articles entitled ’Cyberwar – Warfare for the 21st Century’ I told the story of how Iran’s nuclear facilities were attacked by computer viruses which destroyed more than one thousand centrifuges and slowed down their programme. The Iranians seem to be taking these knocks and carrying on regardless. The question is why? What is the motivation for carrying on?
One thing is for certain; they are not developing a nuclear capability so that they can wipe Israel off the map. This does not, however, mean that they would not try to do so if they were cornered. The real reason Iran feels it needs to have a nuclear capability is so that they can prepare themselves for the Islamic wars. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, the vast majority of which are Sunnis. Iran is the leader of the Shia minority, which represents around 7% of the world’s Muslims, most of whom live in Iran, Iraq and the surrounding areas. Throughout history there has been no love lost between Sunnis and the Shia. The Sunnis, led by Saudi Arabia and other regional powers, see the Shia as heretics and are deeply suspicious of the Iranian regime exporting their brand of religious fanaticism throughout the Muslim world. That is why we do not see Pakistan, a Sunni Muslim state, helping Iran to acquire the bomb; instead, the Iranians have to cooperate with the rogue regime in North Korea in order to achieve their aims.
The regime in Iran feels threatened by the Sunni world, from where their long term threat comes. Their bluster towards America and Israel is in reality a smoke screen created in order to have the Muslim public opinion on their side. As is well known, whenever a Middle Eastern regime is in trouble they attack Israel in order to unite Muslim public opinion behind themselves. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein tried it by firing 42 Scud missiles into Israel during the invasion of Iraq; luckily, Israel stayed out of the conflicts and he failed.
The Muslims often like to portray that they do not fight each other, but this is a myth. Throughout history Muslims have had wars with each other. Even in our lifetime we have witnessed the Persian Gulf war between Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led Iraq attacking the Shia Iran and nearly succeeding in defeating it. Up to half a million soldiers and civilians are believed to have died in that war. Indeed, some believe that this war was the catalyst for the Iranian regime to wake up and realise that they needed a nuclear shield against a hostile Sunni world.
The situation described here is reminiscent of the ‘Yes Minister’ episode, where Hacker and Sir Humphrey are discussing the need for Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Sir Humphrey says something along the lines of “Minister, we don’t need a nuclear deterrent because of the Russians, we need it because the French have got it”. Similarly, Iran, the leader of 100 million Shia Muslims, feels that it needs the nuclear deterrent to defend itself against the 1.4 billion hostile Sunnis. The Shia clerics of Iran believe that their efforts to export their brand of fundamentalism will sooner or later result in a major conflict with the Sunni world surrounding them, and that they must have the nuclear capability to deter their enemies and secure for Iran the leadership position it deserves. This, however, does not let the Israeli decision makers off the hook. If a major regional conflict involving Iran or its proxies arose, Iran would try to use its conventional and nuclear arsenal against Israel in an attempt to unite Middle Eastern public opinion in its favour, just like Saddam tried.
For the reasons described above, no amount of external pressure will deter the Iranian regime from acquiring the nuclear bomb capability. They feel that they need the nuclear capability in order to defend and even expand the Shia doctrine in the region and that, without it, they are open to overwhelming attack from the Sunni world. We in the West may think that a democratic, progressive Iran would be secure as a fully accepted member of the world’s nations without resorting to the supposed protection of a nuclear capability, but this view is not shared by the Iranian leadership. Thus Iran’s march towards the nuclear bomb continues, forcing regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey also to seek similar capabilities or at least protection from Iran’s nuclear threat, thus dragging the whole region ever closer to a nuclear conflict which no sane person would want.
© M. Ozdamar