“A lie travels halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its boots on.” My adaptation of a quote attributed to Jonathan Swift, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, among several others. In other words, it’s a great quote and worth adapting, even though I am having to write an entire paragraph to say… nobody is sure who started it.
“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” William Shakespeare
“Silence is the mother of truth.” Benjamin Disraeli
“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” Galileo Galilei
The more I research and write about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the more confusing it is. Let me boil it down to this: In order for diplomacy to work, eventually somebody has to trust somebody. So far nobody has demonstrated a genuine sense of trustworthiness in this entire affair. The Iranians continue to skirt the spirit of the limitations that the international community is trying to get Iran to agree to. The previous and current US administrations have been trying to get the Iranians to agree to not only limits on their ability to develop a weaponized nuclear program, but are also attempting to get the Iranians to include in the pact limitations on their State sponsorship of Hezbollah and other militant organizations. The Russians are now trying to get concessions on their own sanctions due to its invasion of Ukraine built into the JCPOA.
As I said before, the trust issues are substantial. Iran wants an ironclad amendment built into the JCPOA that guarantees that in a few years another US president will not come along and unilaterally pull the US out of the agreement as President Trump did in 2018. Iran also wants all sanctions lifted first before it agrees to anything. Iran does not trust the West any more than the West trusts Iran.
The United States also has plenty of reasons to be concerned about the trustworthiness of Iran. They have been playing a cat and mouse game with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over inspections and monitoring for years. They have been playing a rather exhausting “do and deny” game for decades. When the IAEA has tried to do spot monitoring, Iran has suddenly lost the key to the facility, or questioned the validity of the inspection, essentially playing a high-stakes game of chess with the UN Inspectors.
Above all, it is the “in less than eight minutes” kind of talk that makes one really doubt the integrity of the Iranian leadership’s words. I will deal with each of these below.
Also included in this week’s edition of More than Meets the Eye, there are a number of critical technological hurdles Tehran must surmount first to acquire a fully functioning nuclear weapons program. Iran must develop enough highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium to fuel one or more nuclear bombs; construct a nuclear warhead capable of housing the fissile nuclear fuel, and develop a ballistic missile system capable of delivering a nuclear explosive to its target. Finally, it needs to conduct a test to see if the explosive actually works. We will look at what the plausibility is of such a scenario.
I want to take the risk and make this a three-parter. There is one more area that I want to deal with. This week it will become apparent why trusting the Iranians to hold to their end of the JCPOA is naive at best. I cite public reasons, religious reasons, and political reasons. Next week, I want to take one final look and examine how many times and in what ways the Iranians have failed to hold up to their end of the deal concerning mandatory inspections and monitoring. It is well documented and, should any of us still be doubting, perhaps this will put it to rest for us.
How did Iran get on the nuclear energy train?
Just to be straight, the Atoms for Peace program, created by Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s provided Iran with the foundation for its nuclear program today, by providing both key technology for nuclear research and education in nuclear engineering and physics. The program clearly helped Iran move up the nuclear learning curve. However, this picture does not tell the entire story. Even after the cessation of the Atoms for Peace program, Iran successfully received nuclear technology from a variety of other sources, such as Pakistan, Russia, and China, often technology readily applicable to the military dimension of nuclear energy.
It was not just the Atoms for Peace program that put Iran on the path that could lead both to civil nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. Ultimately, the responsibility falls on Iran. As stated by Jeffrey Lewis, “It’s not the international community’s fault for helping Iran exercise its right in the past. It’s Iran’s fault for not living up to its safeguard obligations.”
Does Iran need nuclear energy?
With an annual average of 300 sunny days in over two-thirds of the country, Iran has great potential for solar energy, yet renewables, including hydropower, account for 7 percent of Iran’s energy generation, compared to 90 percent from natural gas.
It is not clear why the government does not invest in renewable energy instead of nuclear reactors, especially given the frequent occurrence of earthquakes in the country that could pose a danger to nuclear plants.
Iranian Popular Opinion-
In July 2012, Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB launched a poll asking Iranians whether they would support a halt in the uranium enrichment operations in return for stopping international economic sanctions imposed against Iran. After two days of voting, 63% of respondents voted in favor of suspending uranium enrichment in exchange for the gradual easing of sanctions. IRIB removed the poll and replaced it with one asking about Iranians’ opinions on the Iranian parliament’s proposal to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to the European Union oil embargo. They removed this poll as well after 89% of respondents opposed closing the strait, and replaced it with one about soccer.
Can Iran be trusted to not build a nuclear weapon using the nuclear technology that it is gaining?
“If the Supreme Leader’s orders [are] to be executed, with the abilities and the equipment at our disposal, we will raze the Zionist regime in less than eight minutes,” Ahmad Karimpour, a senior adviser to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp’s al-Quds Force, was quoted as stating, according to regional reports.
A top Iranian commander has claimed that the Islamic Republic had the ability to destroy Israel “in less than eight minutes,” according to comments offered on the same day that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that Iran would continue to build its ballistic missile arsenal in defiance of U.S. demands. “
They [the U.S.] have engaged in a lot of hue and cry over Iran’s missile capabilities, but they should know that this ballyhoo does not have any influence and they cannot do a damn thing,” Khamenei was quoted as saying during a speech Monday in Tehran, according to Iran’s state-controlled media.
What could some of the drawbacks be of signing a new JCPOA with Iran?
The dropping of sanctions could prove to be very problematic. In light of recent Iranian aggression, Biden’s insistence on maintaining the IRGC’s terror designation does not seem like toughness at all given that any nuclear deal reached in Vienna would result in a cash windfall for Iran’s terror masters—regardless of the IRGC’s designation, or lack thereof. The IRGC and Hezbollah would gain a great windfall of cash as these funds would be released back to the Iranian government.
Many people do not realize that much of the US effort in the Middle East is not to protect Israel. Israel has already proven itself multiple times that it can foil Iran’s nuclear ambitions through sabotage, outright bombing, and assassination. One of the US’s goals is to try and stabilize the region. Much of the world needs the Straits of Hormuz to be peaceful and open as 40% of the world’s petroleum flows through this narrow body of water.
One of the worst possible scenarios, and in my mind one of the most likely, is the possibility that the Iranian clerics are using a well-established Shi’ite religious doctrine to serve as a smokescreen for their actions. That well-established doctrine is called “Taqiyyah.”
“Taqiyyah, in Islam, is the practice of concealing one’s belief and foregoing ordinary religious duties when under threat of death or injury. Derived from the Arabic word waqa (“to shield oneself”), taqiyyah defies easy translation. English renderings such as “precautionary dissimulation” or “prudent fear” partly convey the term’s meaning of self-protection in the face of danger to oneself or, by extension and depending upon the circumstances, to one’s fellow Muslims. Thus, taqiyyah may be used for either the protection of an individual or the protection of a community. Moreover, it is not used or even interpreted in the same way by every sect of Islam. Taqiyyah has been employed by the Shīʿites, the largest minority sect of Islam, because of their historical persecution and political defeats not only by non-Muslims but also at the hands of the majority Sunni sect.
Scriptural authority for taqiyyah is derived from two statements in the Qurʾān, the holy book of Islam. The 28th verse of the third sura (chapter) says that, out of fear of Allah (God), believers should not show preference in friendship to unbelievers, “unless to safeguard yourselves against them.” The 16th sura was revealed (according to tradition) to ease the conscience of ʿAmmār ibn Yāsir, a devout follower of the Prophet Muhammad, who renounced his faith under torture and threat of death. Verse 106 of this sura proclaims that if a Muslim who is forced to deny his religion is nevertheless a true believer who feels “the peace of faith” in his heart, he will not suffer great punishment (16:106). The meaning of these verses is not clear even in the context of the sura in which they appear. Thus, even among Islamic scholars who agree that the verses provide Qurʾānic sanction for taqiyyah, there is considerable disagreement about how the verses do this and about what taqiyyah permits in practice.
The Hadith (record of the traditional sayings or accounts of Muhammad) has also been cited as providing theological warrant for taqiyyah. One hadith in particular mentions that Muhammad waited 13 years, until he could “gain a sufficient number of loyal supporters” before combatting his powerful polytheistic enemies in Mecca. A similar story relates how ʿAlī, the fourth caliph (ruler of the Muslim community) and Muhammad’s son-in-law, followed Muhammad’s advice to refrain from fighting until he had “the support of forty men.” Some scholars interpret these legends as examples of taqiyyah. By avoiding combat against enemies of Islam until they could muster sufficient military force and moral support, ʿAlī and Muhammad preserved not only their own lives but also their divinely appointed mission to spread the faith.
I am taking all the space here to cite this passage from the Encyclopedia Britannica, because I believe it is very significant. I spoke with several former Muslim clergy this past week and all of them laughed and said “of course it is taqiyyah!” The bottom line is this. Using Taqiyyah, Iranian clergy leaders can look straight into our faces and tell us that they would never develop nuclear technology for violent purposes, while holding the detonator in their hand ready to press the launch button. The history of mankind, not only Islam, is replete with examples of this kind of duplicity. Western societies included.
It’s understandable that Iran would try to get as much as it can from a U.S. president, desperate to return to a deal so weak that its limitations on uranium enrichment expire by the end of the decade. It’s less explicable why Biden would continue negotiating with a partner who will not even meet face-to-face with its American counterpart.
Should this new renegotiation of the JCPOA go through, it will render catastrophic consequences that will be paid for by our children and grandchildren. It is absolutely imperative that the Iranian government, even if it is disingenuous, gain the upper hand through political diplomacy. It will open the door for them to obtain the space they need to build their nuclear technology industry. They will tout their nuclear energy programs as only peaceful in intent all the way up to the point that they need to either launch a missile as a last resort in battle or use it as a bargaining chip at the global leadership table. My guess is it will be the latter. What it will do, however, is open a treasure chest of possibilities to refinance the activities of the IRGC and Hezbollah.
I do not want to be mistaken that I am supposing that our diplomats are any less cunning in the use of language. They may have a word such as “Taqiyyah” to justify an outright lie presented as truth. Just off the top of my head, I can think of a host of words we use that describe such illicit dishonest actions; here are just a few: equivocate, mendacious, perjury, prevaricate, dissemble, and palter. From our tradition, there has been a long history of calling someone an Ananias as one who tells a gross lie. We need to take the board out of our own eye as westerners as well.
Become a person of truth. We have a host of words that describes truth-tellers. Are you one of these? Trustworthy, faithful, guileless, ingenuous, righteous, scrupulous, unfeigned, veracious, and veritable…just to name a few.
One thing we could be certain of: negotiations would be far easier if honesty was an understood character requirement for all at the table… and when I say table, I don’t just mean tables of diplomacy and political negotiation. It would go better for all of us sitting around the dinner table as well. Life would be different. Different in a better sort of way too!
Giving Ukraine heavy weapons does not mean NATO is at war with Russia… https://www.economist.com/europe/giving-ukraine-heavy-weapons-does-not-mean-nato-is-at-war-with-russia/21808835?utm_content=article-link-1&etear=nl_today_1&utm_campaign=a.the-economist-today&utm_medium=email.internal-newsletter.np&utm_source=salesforce-marketing-cloud&utm_term=4/18/2022&utm_id=1137041
Moscow Strikes Back at Countries That Cross It…https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/04/18/russia-war-united-nations-threat-colombia-genocide-security-council/?utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Editors%20Picks%20OC&utm_term=41621&tpcc=Editors%20Picks%20OC
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Iran TV halts 2 polls on nuke activities, Hormuz closure after voting came against Ahmadinejad”. Al Arabiya. 6 July 2012.
Rosenthal, Max (6 July 2012). “Iran Nuclear Program Should Be Abandoned, State TV Viewers Say”.
“Iranians want end to sanctions, short-lived poll finds”. The Los Angeles Times. 4 July 2012.
“حرمت سلاح کشتار جمعی (Hormah [being forbidden] of weapons of mass destruction)”. Official Website of Ayatollah Khamenei–Fatwas Section.
Stefon, M. (2016, April 17). taqiyyah. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/taqiyyah