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Why Does Iran Want Nuclear Weapons? An Alarming Possibility

03/03/2015 12:12 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2015

A heavy cloak of surrealism encapsulates the negotiations the Obama administration is conducting with Iran over the latter's nuclear enrichment program. Though the premise of the diplomatic negotiations being spearheaded by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to permit Iran to retain a substantial uranium enrichment program so long as the Iranian nuclear project is "peaceful," there is a clear consensus by senior members of America's intelligence community, past and present, that Iran's nuclear activities are solely geared towards eventual weapons production. An example of that viewpoint was expressed recently by the former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Morell.

In a February interview with Charlie Rose on Bloomberg TV, the former CIA deputy director, commenting on leaks indicating that the Obama administration proposed to allow Tehran to retain more than 6,000 functioning centrifuges utilized for uranium enrichment, said, "If you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5,000 is pretty much the number you need." Morell added, "If you have a power program, you need a lot more. By limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon." In the same interview, the former number-two man at the CIA stated that he is convinced that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has already made a decision to acquire nuclear weapons capability, most probably through an undetected covert program.

Having made the leap in recognizing that Iran's claimed "peaceful" nuclear project is without question a weapons program, functioning alongside Tehran's large-scale ballistic missile development and production project, the intelligence experts, including Michael Morell, provide explanations for the motivation behind Iran's nuclear weapons program that are deeply rooted in Western concepts, including regime preservation and enhancing Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. In my view, this is a mistaken approach, because it is based solely on speculation from analysts schooled in secular geopolitical theories.

I offer a dissenting view on the purpose of Iran's nuclear weapons project, which is based on what the supreme leader of Iran has communicated to his own Iranian constituents. On July 9, 2011, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a speech to teachers and graduates of Mahdaviat, a term referring to the belief in Shia Islam in the return of the 12th Imam or Mahdi, an eschatological figure who will supposedly herald in an era of global Islamic justice through an apocalyptic annihilation of the present world order. The speech the supreme leader delivered is extraordinary in its content and can be viewed on YouTube, complete with English subtitles:

What is most striking about Khamenei's discourse is that the most senior political leader of a geographically complex nation of 80 million people, with major economic and social challenges, spoke for more than 20 minutes without a single reference to the myriad of secular issues confronting Iran. The entirety of the speech delivered by the supreme leader of Iran was devoted to the return of the 12th Imam as the Mahdi from a state of occultation. He closed his address with the following words:

I hope we will be among his followers, both when he is in occultation and when he reappears. By Allah's favor we will be among the soldiers who will fight alongside Imam Mahdi, and I hope we will be martyred for his cause.

In the second decade of the 21st century, it staggers the Western mind to have to intellectually confront a nation-state conducting its policy for a theological and possibly eschatological purpose. However, based on what Iran's supreme leader has clearly communicated is his top priority, namely the martyrdom of the Iranian people for the sake of the return of the 12th Imam, the possible connection of Tehran's nuclear weapons project with the theological agenda of that nation's rulers should not be discounted by policymakers in Washington. The Obama administration and the State Department may find it inconceivable that a nation in our contemporary world would create a vast uranium enrichment capability, much of it at hardened or underground locations, for the objective of bringing about an apocalyptic event that will set the stage for the return of the 12th Imam. However, ignoring the words of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and transposing our own Western concepts onto Iran's motivation for creating its nuclear project is a perilous course for America and the world to pursue.