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Will Iran Come Out Of The Nuclear Closet?

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In a televised interview last week, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen said that the U.S. believes Iran has obtained enough nuclear material to make a bomb. Hours later, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Iran was in fact not close to having a nuclear weapon. Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium to make one atomic bomb -- at least theoretically. Independent analysts say that became clear after the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency issued its latest inspection report on Feb. 19, revealing the presence of 1,010 kilograms of the material Washington and the Europeans hoped would never exist.

According to Israel's top military intelligence officer, Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, Iran had "crossed the threshold" and had the expertise and materials required to produce nuclear weapons. He announced this on the same day that Iran tested a precision air-to-surface missile with a 70-mile range, a weapon that would give it the ability to threaten American and other ships operating in the Persian Gulf.

Israel is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, though it has never acknowledged such a program. The Jewish state has long denounced Iran's nuclear program as a threat to its existence and also cites remarks made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying Israel should be wiped off the map.

Why does Iran pursue a nuclear bomb?

Contrary to popular conception, the Iranian nuclear program is nothing new. It began in the Shah's era in the 1960s, under the auspices of the United States. Iran's first nuclear research center was equipped with a U.S.-supplied, 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor. At the time, the Shah had plans to build as many as 23 nuclear power stations across the country with help from the United States.

Meanwhile, Israel's nuclear ambition practically began at the creation of the state. In 1949, Hemed Gimmel, a special unit of the Israeli Defense Force's Science Corps, began a geological survey in the Negev desert in search of uranium reserves. Later, in 1952, the Israel Atomic Energy Commission was created. At that time, its chairman, Ernst David Bergmann, declared that an "Israeli bomb" was the best way to ensure "that we shall never again be led as lambs to the slaughter."

If the Israeli nuclear program grew out of fear of its neighbors and the conviction that the Holocaust justified any measures Israel took to ensure its survival, from where does Iran's justification come?

On Sept. 22, 1980, following a long history of border disputes, Iraq invaded Iran. The war lasted eight years, claimed 1 million casualties, and cost over a trillion dollars. The majority of Arab nations supported Saddam's regime both financially and militarily. International antipathy toward the Islamic Revolution in Iran contributed to an apathetic response by the rest of the world to Iraq's use of chemical warfare, which caused the death of over 100,000 Iranian troops and civilians.

Resentment toward Arabs by Persians is not just a product of the Iran-Iraq war. It goes back to the seventh century, when the last Sassanid shah, Yazdegerd III, lost a 14-year struggle to drive the Umayyad Caliphate out of the Persian Empire.

The similarities between Iran and Israel's desire for nuclear dominance can also be seen in Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's claim that Iran is developing its nuclear program for "peaceful purposes." That assertion brings to mind David Ben-Gurion's own in December of 1960. When U-2 spy planes identified Dimona as an Israeli nuclear site, Ben-Gurion claimed that it was only a nuclear research center built for "peaceful purposes."

It is only a matter of time for Iran to "come out of the closet" and surprise the world with a nuclear test similar to what Pakistan did a few years back to challenge India's nuclear dominance. This will only happen when Iran has more than one nuclear bomb, which it might already have by now.

It is convenient to characterize possession of nuclear capability as benevolent when it is we or our allies who are being questioned. But it is unrealistic to expect some nations to lay down their arms and make themselves vulnerable to others who will not.

Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV