upa-admin 11 Eylül 2012 5.983 Okunma 0

Security Considerations of Iran

Although Iran possesses abundant oil and natural gas resources, there are two fundamental reasons inciting its leaders to develop nuclear capabilities:[1] First, the concerns regarding national security and second, the rising energy demand. Since its establishment following the revolution of 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been living with the perception of being surrounded by hostile states.[2] Therefore, the Iranian authorities evaluate their security and threat perceptions in a concerned context marked by fears. According to this argument, Iran is threatened by the US and Israel which are both nuclear powers, and they, already and by several means, have made clear their desire to see a regime change in Tehran. Iran is also situated in the middle of an unstable region and most of the powers around it, such as Pakistan and India, already have nuclear weapons.

About having nuclear technology to respond growing energy needs, Iran has continually underlined that its nuclear project has only civilian and peaceful purposes; and not a military goal. Even so, Iran’s nuclear policy is also a nationalistic project in relation with the national pride, with the development of unity and solidarity, with the reinforcement of the national consciousness and with the promotion of the national prestige in the international arena, thus assuring the regime’s domestic legitimacy. Karaağaçlı underlines that Iran will put an end to these activities when they will be at the brink of acquiring enriched uranium necessary for producing nuclear weapons. According to him, Iran will publicly announce the end of its program only at this level. Then Iran will have the ability of acquiring nuclear weapons enough quickly when attacked or exposed to a serious risk of nuclear attack.

In 1980, Iraq attacked Iran, shortly after the Islamic revolution, in a time when the new regime was in the process of foundation. During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), oil fields, oil filling facilities, oil refineries, harbors, factories, cities and towns were destroyed, and millions of people lost their lives.[3] Moreover, many more millions have become refugees, to which one must add the loss of immense financial resources. Rumors concerning Iraq’s acquisition of nuclear weapons during that war have intensified Iran’s sensitivity and its security threat perception was marked by nuclear field. Iraq’s eagerness to acquire other weapons of mass destruction was seen as enough proof for Iran’s suspicions. According to the Iranian government, the country did suffer 34,000 casualties as a result of Iraq’s chemical weapon attacks. Today the Iran-Iraq war and its legacy are still discussed almost daily in the Iranian media, in the halls of universities and on the floor of the Iranian parliament. As an example, the newspaper Ya Laserat has once stated: “One can still see the wounds of our war veterans that were inflicted by poisonous gas as used by Saddam Hussein that were made in Germany and France.”.

The dramatic memories of this war resulted in the creation of a motto “Never Again”, uniting a divided public behind the desire to achieve not just a credible deterrent but also a substantial capability against foreign foes. On military terms, Iranis comparatively the most powerful state in the Gulf region and it has the capability to control the entire area, which is one of the richest in terms of energy resources.[4]Iran had the opportunity to test this capability following Iraq’s invasion by the US-led coalition in 2003. Since that year, Iraq, that was the principal rival of Iran, is on the brink of disintegration with a war torn society. As of today, Iraq hasn’t got any chance to pose as a credible rival opposing Iran’s interests in the region. On the contrary, Iran has an important leverage within Iraq, namely the Shia majority. So, Iran exerts more influence over Iraq’s evolution than it had during the Saddam Hussein era. This significant change in the regional balance of power illustrates why some think that Iran is the real winner of the Iraq War of 2003. Actually, Iran’s comparative strength to its neighboring countries may be much more affirmed if Tehran acquires a nuclear arsenal.

The United States has set up military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan (which is also a neighbor of Iran) and has positioned soldiers and war planes in the regions close to the Iranian borders as well.[5] The allocation of two airbases in Ras Banas and one naval base on the coast of Red Sea by Egypt, Dhahran Airbase in Saudi Arabia, Bagram Airport in Afghanistan, Manas Airport in Kyrgyzstan, Mosul, Süleymaniye and Arbil airports in Northern Iraq, İncirlik Airbase in Adana, Turkey are perceived by Iran as bases that pose potential threats and reinforces Iran’s sentiment of being under siege. The United States and other Western states have positioned their naval forces off Saudi Arabia in the Gulf along with other Gulf Emirates. The Gulf is now crowded with conventional ships, nuclear war ships belonging to the navies of the United States and other western states. War planes, nuclear missiles and other technological weapons, many of which are targeted at Iran, also heighten the regional tension.

It is often believed that the antagonist relations between Iranand Israel are one the main factor that drives Iran to get a nuclear military capacity as quickly as possible. One must keep in mind that, even though never admitted publicly, Israel has got a nuclear arsenal since 1970s.[6] Iran contests the legitimacy of Israel’s very existence and supports the idea of the Palestinian independence. Iran’s hostility toward the Jewish state is often demonstrated by Tehran’s alleged support toward terrorist organizations in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Palestine (Hamas) which fight against Israel. However, both Iran and Israel have been behaving cautiously to pursue a low-intensity conflict and have assiduously refrained from direct military confrontation until now. Iran’s alarming rhetoric with regard to the immediacy of the Israeli threat is more an initiative to mobilize domestic and regional constituencies behind an anti-Israeli policy than genuine reflection of a concrete concern.  According to the Islamic Republic, Israel might be an ideological outrage and a civilization challenge; but it is not an existential threat that justifies the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s president between 1989 and 1997, has the ambiguous honor of being the first Iranian president to publicly deny that his country was after nuclear weapons. His main argument was that Iran’s strict commitment to the tenets of Islam which doesn’t allow countries to develop ‘destructive and anti-human nuclear weapons’. This ideological approach was the fundamental argument used by Iran throughout the 1990s and even into the twenty-first century.[7] He also expressed the frustration felt by the clerical class: “When they [the Western states] talk about nuclear weapons, they do not even mention the Zionist state. According to this, Iran’s declared hostility towards Israel does not constitute a motivation for acquiring the “bomb”. Iranian civilian and military officials routinely emphasize that they do not try to get nuclear arms, however they preserve the current low-intensity campaign against Israel.

Iran’s preferred method against Israel has always been the use of terrorism and militant Islamic organizations. However, this delicate balance can change dramatically if Israel undertakes a precipitous action such as a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, a possibility which is regularly evoked in the media. If that happens, such an action would bring an open military confrontation between Iran and Israel, transforming the Hebrew state into a military challenge against which Iran has to get some level of deterrence. As well as Israel’s, Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear weapons constitute a potential threat for all countries in the region. In their case, national pride and prestige play a role in their respective national nuclear policies, too. Prestige reflects the national pride, forming one of the characteristic features of Iran’s policy, too. Iranian authorities like to remind that theirs is a 2,500 years old civilization; thus in an implicit manner, they say Iran doesn’t lack any legitimacy to become the preponderant power in the region, if they want to.

In the political spectrum, Pakistan’s plans to develop further their nuclear technology and to get more sophisticated military systems are unacceptable for the Iranians.[8] They view Pakistan as an inferior country in terms of economic, societal and political maturity.  Moreover, the risk to see neighboring countries such as Afghanistan to fall into the hands of radical Sunni Islamist groups, including Taliban, is feared by Tehran. At the same manner, the political uncertainties and instabilities in Pakistan is a permanent source of concern, as there is a risk that this country’s nuclear capacities may be used by radical groups.

Another argument Iran refers to is the hostility of the successive United States’ administrations towards the Tehran regime. For many foreign policy experts in Tehran, having an appropriate nuclear program will strengthen significantly the bargaining position of Iran vis-à-vis Washington. In this context, Iran alleges that the acquisition of the nuclear technology by a country that claims being the standard-bearer of the Islamic civilization of our time is a way of honoring Islam.[9] According to this, many other nations have already acquired nuclear weapons and if Iran does the same; that will symbolize the scientific and technological progress of the Islamic regime. As a logical continuation of this argument, Iran claims that it is the duty of all Muslims to support Iran’s nuclear program, as in the same context, the West is accused by Iran of not desiring the development of the Muslim world in science and technology domains.

For many of Islamic Republic’s reactionary leaders, the only way to protect Iran’s interests is the development of an independent nuclear deterrent. The notion of the need to sacrifice and fight on behalf of the revolution and withstand imperious international demands is the fundamental keynote of the hard-liners’ ideological perspective.[10] Iran is extraordinarily sensitive to its national privileges and sovereignty rights. The rulers of Iran do think that they are being defied not due to their provocations and former treaty violations, but due to superpower bullying. In this manner, the nuclear program and Iran’s national identity have coalesced in the imagination of hard-liners. Challenging America on this issue is to revitalize one’s revolutionary ardor and sense of nationalism.

Related to this, further motivating factor for Iran to carry out a nuclear program can be found within the deep-rooted nationalistic pride of that country: Iranians do not like being told what to do by people with whom they have any affiliation.[11] Iranian public opinion has always been suspicious about the real intentions of the United States and they perceive the United Nations and its International Atomic Energy Agency as this country’s tools. The US’ policy is often seen as an example of ghodrat-talabi or ‘power-mongering’. This concept is especially used for the people who endeavor to exercise power without having the moral authority to do so. It is an extraordinarily negative trait in the Iranian culture and when it is perceived; people object it furiously, even to their own detriment. This asserts why Iran has hidden information from international inspectors even when it was not in their advantage to do so. As long as the United States pursues this indirect pressure, the Iran is likely to continue resisting.

According to the hard-liners, the nuclear program should not be compromised since this issue is a matter of national honor.[12] They are convinced that if this particular issue is compromised, other concessions will follow, damaging Iran’s national security interests and even the survival of the Islamic regime. They hope that if they manage to prove their determination on this issue to the Western world; they will have a more comfortable position in the negotiations about economic and political issues with the West. Mostly because of these political considerations, it seems unlikely that they will welcome a “first, suspend the program, and then negotiate” tactic from the West.

Since its establishment, the Islamic Republic of Iran had problems with its southern neighbors.[13] Political and ideological confrontations with Saudi Arabia and the emirates located in the Gulf region, the living conditions of the Shia minorities in those states, the prominence of non-state organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah in the Palestinian question, and similar problems all serve to increase security tensions in Iran’s vicinity. Another conflict that Iran faces is the claim of the United Arab Emirates over sovereignty of Tonbe Bozorg, Tonbe Kuçek and Ebu Musa – islands actually controlled byIran. As a further complication, Saudi Arabia and the other emirates support this claim. These issues significantly influence Iran’s threat perception and national security policy.

Another important issue is the status of the Caspian Sea. The latter was internal water between Iran and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.[14]  Following the disintegration of the USSR, the sharing and use of the resources of the Caspian Sea, which is rich in oil and natural gas resources, has become a contentious regional issue between Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The riparian countries shared the Caspian Sea according to the coastal length, although its official status (i.e. whether it is a sea or lake) has not yet been determined by bilateral or multilateral agreements among those states. On the other hand, the United States and other Western states garner significant influence and they access to the Caspian Sea region due to western oil companies’ agreements with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Close relations of these three states withIsrael further heightens the perception of threat and loss of influence Iran is currently experiencing in the region.



Economic Considerations of Iran

In an interview[15], Associate Professor Abbas Karaağaçlı states that since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has faced open and covered embargos from many countries including the United States, due to Iran’s break up from the Western camp.[16] For instance, in 1996, the New York Senator Alfonso D’Amato proposed a bill, known as the ‘Iran-Libya Sanctions Act’.[17] This act imposed sanctions on any foreign companies investing more than $40 million to develop oil resources in Iran or Libya. The House adopted it by a vote of 415-0 on June 19, 1996; and the Senate passed it with unanimous consent one month later. This bill was signed by President Bill Clinton on August 5th, 1996.

Given the extreme need of oil and gas industries’ for new technologies, Iran’s oil and gas industries have stayed outmoded in terms of quantity and quality. In pre-revolution period, Iran could export 5.5 million barrels of crude oil per day. Today, despite all efforts, the exportation figures don’t exceed 3.5 million barrels. Given the lack of foreign investments and technology transfer for the new investments in oil and gas industries, Iran is even constrained to meet her ever-increasing domestic consumption demand. According to experts, if this situation continues, Iran will shift from being an oil-exporter country to an oil-importer country in the near future.

Karaağaçlı also believes that Iran’s current population of 71 million people will exceed 100 million in 2025. As a developing country; Iran will be dependent on new energy resources that will be used in houses and industry. The planning experts of this country predict to meet this energy need by generating electricity from nuclear fuel. By moving from the fact that a state that cannot generate electricity by itself will have a second-class status and being not considered as a totally independent country because of its energy dependency on the third counties, Iranian strategists have explained that they have given priority to energy production in the nuclear plants and they have taken the necessary steps in order to assure this. When one looks into the economic aspects of the issue, several chemical and valuable products used in industry are extracted from crude oil. According to different sources, 70,000 different products can be obtained from crude oil. This offers a precious comparative advantage to Iran, when one thinks that 10 % of the world’s proven oil resources and 15 % of the world’s proven natural gas resources are located within the territories of Iran.

In Iran, there is also the need for “re-pressurizing”, which means reinjection of gas into the already existing oil reservoirs.[18] This process helps to maintain oil output levels as well as to augment overall, long-term recovery for oil. Furthermore, gas is needed to meet rising domestic uses in which it can bring oil more profitable export – substitution and new uses such as bus and taxi fleets. Given the growing global demand, oil prices are increasing day after day and they are likely to continue rising up. Iranians desire to export this valuable material rather than using as a fuel in the domestic market. Additionally, exporting natural gas -via pipelines to Turkey or in liquefied form to the Indian subcontinent- puts forward an attractive minimum value for any available natural gas.

Iranian authorities want to produce nuclear fuel, which becomes increasingly more demanded in the world, due to its reputation of being a clean and cheap energy source. They want to be capable of producing it in their own country.[19] They are aware of the necessity of having nuclear technology at their disposal in order to reinforce their country’s national security. They also notice that nuclear fuel produced within the country is cheaper than the imported nuclear fuel. Experts put forward that the purchasing cost of the necessary fuel for the Bushehr Nuclear Plant is about $50 million, while the cost of producing this fuel within the country is about $25 million. Another aspect of this is the rising cost due to the transportation cost of the fuel and possible dangers that might be faced during the transportation.

Iranian administration underscores that the nuclear energy is a field of science that necessitates the most developed and sophisticated technological skills in our time. Iranian leaders attach great importance to nuclear technology. Here, it can be useful to put forward the statement of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on this issue: “Those hegemonic powers, who consider the scientific and technological progress of independent and free nations as a challenge to their monopoly on these important instruments of power and who do not want to see such achievements in other countries, have misinterpreted Iran’s healthy and fully safeguarded technological endeavors in the nuclear field as pursuit of nuclear weapons. This is nothing but a propaganda ploy“.[20]

He also stated that it was unlikely to stop a nation’s scientific progress. By moving from the principle of positive influence and triggering of a development in any field of science to other fields, they allocate significant resources to nuclear science and technology. Furthermore, they support innovations and projects in this field with all their amenities. The achievement of significant successes and the training of many scientists in Tehran Nuclear Research Reactor, other nuclear research centers, in medicine, agriculture, poultry, geology, mining and similar fields are regarded by Iranians as remarkable achievements that cannot be underestimated. Iranians are willing to further develop and reinforce this field.


Iran’s Nuclear Facilities

 Source: – IISS Maps

 Within that context; it seems that there exist four possible approaches that can be adopted by the Iranian regime[21]:

  1. Staying in line with a civilian and peaceful nuclear program and to accept a compromise in order to solve the crisis,
  2. Staying in line with a civilian and a peaceful nuclear program, but refusing to accept any compromise,
  3. Following a policy of nuclear ambiguity,
  4. Producing nuclear weapons and declaring expressly this situation.

In the first option; Iran will make a concession from the uranium enrichment program until there will be an ambiance of confidence. Iran will also ratify the additional protocol to the NPT that gives the full inspection rights to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tehran will also postpone its industrial enrichment activities for a while or it will accept the uranium enrichment activity in Russia’s territories.

As a second option, as Iran is currently doing, Tehran will pursue its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Furthermore, Iran will try to respond to the questions that are directed towards it and it will continue negotiating with the European Union but will not accept preconditions. Iranian officials will be ready for negotiations with the United States while it will steadily reiterate her objection about the demand of suspending its uranium enrichment activities.

In the third option, Iran will have to withdraw from the Safeguards Regime and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which makes the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspections possible. If this happens, Iran will withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and will close the doors to the IAEA’s inspectors. Iran will also make the decision of following a policy of secrecy about her nuclear program. Even if Iran tests nuclear weapons in this case, neither will it accept the existence of these weapons nor it will deny the presence of these weapons; just like the current “policy of ambiguity” followed byIsrael.

If Tehran decides to implement this last option, it will withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as experienced in the case of North Korea and will therefore have the right to stop the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspections. In this case, it will launch the weapons as a further step and will expressly declare its acquisition of the nuclear weapons.


[1] Abbas Karaağaçlı, Interview by Sina Kısacık, Bilge Söyleşi 7: BM Yaptırımları ve İran, BİLGESAM, 20 July 2010,, Accessed on 07 September 2012, p. 3.

[2] William O. Beeman, The “Great Satan” vs. The “Mad Mullahs” How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other ?, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008, pp. 159-160.

[3] Ray Takeyh, Gizli Devrimler Ülkesi İran, Çev. Cem Küçük, İstanbul: Karakutu Yayınları, 2009, pp. 167-168.

[4] John J. Mearsheimer, Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, New York: Penguin Books, 2008, p. 281.

[5] Tayyar Arı, Liderler, Kanaat Önderleri ve Kamuoyunun Gözünden Yükselen Güç: Türkiye – ABD İlişkileri ve Ortadoğu, Bursa: MKM Yayıncılık, 2010, pp. 98-99.

[6] Gökhan Bacık, “İran ve İsrail: Motivasyonel Yapılar ve Dış Politika”, in Hedef Neden İran? Ortadoğu’da Güç Savaşları, Mehmet Tuncel ( ed.), İstanbul: Etkileşim Yayınları, 2008, pp. 92-94.

[7] Kasra Naji, Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran’s Radical Leader, New York: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2009, p. 118.

[8] Council on Foreign Relations, Report of an Independent Task Force, Iran: Time for a New Approach, July 2004,, accessed on 10 May 2010, p. 23.

[9] Hüseyin Bağcı, Zeitgeist: Global Politics and Turkey, Ankara: Orion Kitabevi, 2008, p. 651.

[10] Ünal Gündoğan,  İran ve Ortadoğu: 1979 İran İslam Devrimi’nin Ortadoğu Dengelerine Etkisi, Ankara: Adres Yayınları, 2010,  pp. 179-183.

[11] Beeman, The “Great Satan” vs. The “Mad Mullahs” How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other?, p. 160.

[12] Arif Keskin, “İran’ın Yeni Güvenlik Konsepti ve Değişen Küresel ve Bölgesel Konumu,” in Hedef Neden İran? Ortadoğu’da Güç Savaşları, Mehmet Tuncel ( ed.), İstanbul: Etkileşim Yayınları, 2008, pp. 111-112.

[13] Gündoğan, İran ve Ortadoğu: 1979 İran İslam Devrimi’nin Ortadoğu Dengelerine Etkisi,  pp. 353–356.

[14] Mohammed-Reza Djalili, Thierry Kellner, Yeni Orta Asya Jeopolitiği, Trans. Reşat Uzmen, İstanbul: Bilge Kültür Sanat, 2009, p. 167.

[15]  Karaağaçlı, op. cit., p. 3.

[16]  Ibid.

[17]  Mearsheimer, Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, p. 289.

[18] Beeman, The “Great Satan” vs. The “Mad Mullahs” How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, p. 159.

[19] Pınar Hüseyinoğlu, “ İran’ın Nükleer Programı ve Bölge Dengelerine Yansıması”, in Satranç Tahtasında İran: “Nükleer Program”, ed. Kenan Dağcı, Atilla Sandıklı , İstanbul: TASAM Yayınları, 2007, pp. 374-376.

[20] Naji, Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran’s Radical Leader, p. 126.

[21] Arzu Celalifer Ekinci, İran Nükleer Krizi, Ankara: USAK Yayınları, 2009, pp. 387-388.

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