The former head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization has revealed that Tehran’s nuclear program has military objectives, in the clearest admission to date of Iran’s nuclear bomb ambitions.
In an interview with state media, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, former head of the IAEO, admitted to the existence of a “system” with military capabilities.
The existence of a military research branch within Iran’s nuclear program would directly contravene the state line on nuclear weapons.
Officials in Iran often cite a fatwa — a religious edict — issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against the development and use of nuclear arms as evidence that they are not pursuing nuclear arms.
However, while discussing the 2020 assassination by Israeli agents of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Abbasi-Davani suggested that his research was part of a “system” that had become a military threat to Israel.
“When the country’s all-encompassing growth began involving satellites, missiles and nuclear weapons, and surmounted new boundaries of knowledge, the issue became more serious for them,” Abbasi-Davani said.
While the individual elements of Iran’s nuclear program did not have an overt military use, the existence of that “system” of research endeavors, such as uranium enrichment, combined with Iran’s reasonably advanced domestic missile program, is believed to have triggered Fakhrizadeh’s killing.
But Abbasi-Davani’s interview, released as Washington and Tehran are set to re-engage in long-running talks over the future of Iran’s nuclear program, also revealed new information on the strategic goals behind the pursuit of nuclear arms: A nuclear umbrella for its regional proxies.
“Although our stance on nuclear weapons based on the supreme leader’s explicit fatwa regarding nuclear weapons being haram (religiously forbidden) is quite clear, Fakhrizadeh created this system and his concern wasn’t just the defense of our own country,” Abbasi-Davani said.
He warned: “Our country backs the axis of the resistance front (against Israel), and when you enter this realm, the Zionists become sensitive.”
The “axis of resistance” refers to Iran’s network of terrorist organizations and proxy groups, including the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and constituent militias of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Front.
Ideologically, the groups are opposed to Israel, but they are used in practice to pursue Iranian foreign policy objectives.
Meir Javedanfar, Iran lecturer at Reichman University, told Arab News that Abbasi-Davani’s admission was of “grave concern,” particularly because of the reference to a “system.”
He said: “This is unprecedented. Until now, the assumption has been that even if Iran gets a nuclear program, it would only be used to defend Iran and to deter others.
“Now, based on Abbasi-Davani’s comments, we know that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon it will be used to defend its proxies in the region. This makes it even more imperative that Iran does not get nuclear weapons.”
He added: “Using nuclear weapons to support Iran’s proxies at the very least would mean providing a protection umbrella for various groups around the region. That would imperil numerous countries in the region, and not just the state of Israel.”
Javedanfar warned: “That could lead, in itself, to a nuclear arms race.”