The important issue for the ruling mullahs of Iran is the survival of their dictatorship. Anything, including religion, can be used to ensure that. So, what would stop the mullahs from issuing a fake religious ruling if it is going to advance their nuclear program by concealing the fact that they want both nuclear weapons and ensuring the survival of their theocracy? Pictured: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left) and President Hassan Rouhani. (Image source: khamenei.ir)
The Iranian regime has acknowledged for the first time that it might pursue openly obtaining nuclear weapons.
The Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, a close advisor to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pointed out recently that Iran might in fact very likely pursue that path:
"I must make it clear that if a cat is pushed into the corner, it may behave differently from a cat that walks freely. If Iran is pushed into a corner, it will not be its fault [i.e. the pursuit of nuclear weapons] but rather the fault of those pushing it."
This statement is critical. The Iranian leaders have long argued that there is no way they can seek nuclear weapons due to a religious fatwa (legal opinion under Islamic law) issued by Khamenei.
Khamenei did indeed previously issue a fatwa forbidding the pursuit of nuclear weapons. He has been previously quoted as saying:
"We consider the use of such weapons as haraam [religiously forbidden under Islamic law] and believe that it is everyone's duty to make efforts to secure humanity against this great disaster".
Khamenei also stated that the production or use of nuclear weapons are governed by Islamic laws which supposedly ban them. On his official website, he adds that "Both sharia [Islamic laws] and aqli [related to logic and reason] fatwas dictate that we do not pursue them."
This fatwa of banning nuclear weapons has been the Iranian regime's ready answer on international stage to prove that their nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. When Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with US Senator Rand Paul, in 2019, for example, Zarif told Paul about Iran's unwillingness to seek nuclear weapons precisely because of Khamenei's fatwa.
Other world leaders have also used the Supreme Leader's fatwa to buttress Iran's claim that it does not want a nuclear bomb. President Barack Obama, for instance, in an attempt to reach a nuclear deal and appease the mullahs, declared in his address to the U.N. General Assembly in 2013 that "The Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons."
Former US Secretary of State John Kerry supported the mullahs' line by calling the fatwa "the Highest form of Islamic prohibition":
"The supreme leader... says he has issued a fatwa, the highest form of Islamic prohibition against some activity, and he said that is to prohibit Iran from ever seeking a nuclear weapon."
"The other interesting development which you may have followed was the repetition by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that they would – that he had issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons, against weapons of mass destruction. Prime Minister Erdogan and I discussed this at some length, and I've discussed with a number of experts and religious scholars."
If the Western leaders know anything about the theocratic establishment of Iran, they would be able to see that the regime has used the religion of Shia Islam to justify repressing Iran's population, killing, executing and sponsoring terror groups across the region. So, what would stop the mullahs from issuing a fake religious ruling if it is going to advance their nuclear program by concealing the fact that they want both nuclear weapons and ensuring the survival of their theocracy?
Secondly, if the Western leaders know anything about Shia Islam, they would realize that a fatwa can be changed at any time. Third, if the Western leaders know anything about the Islamic Republic of Iran, they would realize that the Iranian leaders have drafted the Islamic Republic's constitution in a way that allows the government to pass laws prioritizing those codified laws over religious rulings and fatwas. According to Article 167, "the judge is bound to endeavor to judge each case on the basis of the codified law [passed by the parliament and endorsed by the Guardian Council]." Then it adds, "In case of the absence of any such law, he has to deliver his judgment on the basis of authoritative Islamic sources and authentic fatwa."
Simply put, the Iranian parliament can immediately pass a law allowing the government to pursue nuclear weapons. According to the Iranian constitution, such a codified law would override any fatwa that banned a nuclear program.
Even the Islamic Republic's founding father, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, mentioned on several occasions that Islamic laws could, if necessary, be ignored . He pointed out, for example, that "the government is empowered unilaterally to revoke any Shahri'ah agreements which it has concluded with the people when these agreements are contrary to the interest of the country or Islam."
On another occasion, Khomeini stated that "the government can prevent the hajj, which is one of the important divine obligations, on a temporary basis, in cases when it is contrary to the interests of the Islamic country."
The important issue for the ruling mullahs of Iran is the survival of their dictatorship. Anything, including religion, can be used to ensure that.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu