April 29, 2022 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 377

Iran Speaks Bluntly – And We Should Listen Carefully

April 29, 2022 | By A. Savyon and Ze'ev B. Begin*
Iran | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 377

In an op-ed published in Hebrew on April 15, 2022 by the Israeli daily Haaretz,[1] MEMRI Iran Media Studies director Ayelet Savyon and Israeli Knesset Member Ze'ev B. Begin, formerly a Senior Fellow at MEMRI, discussed the recent surge in tough talk by the Iranian leadership , including open mention of Iran's view of nuclear weapons as an essential element of its national security.

The following is the English version of the op-ed.

As the talks between Iran and the countries that are party to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal advance, clearer positions than ever are being voiced in Iran. In light of the U.S. demand for restrictions on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) activity in the Middle East as a condition for lifting the sanctions on Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is now presenting a rejectionist position.

In a March 10 speech to Iran's Assembly of Experts, he explained: "Imagine us having no involvement in the issues of the region, just so a certain superpower does not get upset, and so it will not engage in nit-picking against us. Our involvement in regional issues is our strategic depth. It is a means of strengthening the regime, and a form of military power. Why should we lose it, when we can and should have it?"[2]

In the same speech, Khamenei openly described  Iran's development of nuclear capabilities as part of its "arms of power": "The nuclear issue is a scientific issue. It is about scientific progress and our future technology. Soon – it will not take long, just a few years – we will need the product of this nuclear energy, and in full scale.

"People are talking about [the need for] making concessions to America or to others in order to become immune to the sanctions. This means severing this arm of our policy and [giving up] this bargaining chip, so that, God forbid, they won't slap us with sanctions if we display toughness. I believe that these [compromises] are mistakes. If, over the years, the people who want to chop off some of those arms of power had been given permission to do so, our country would be facing great danger today."

Some in Iran have learned a lesson in this vein from the Russian attack on Ukraine. Iranian Passive Defense Organization head Gen. Gholamreza Jalali said on March 6: "One of [Ukraine's] mistakes was that although it is one of the world's nuclear powers, it transferred all its nuclear facilities and capabilities to Europe in exchange for European security and support." Iranian Majlis (parliament) member Mohammad Ka'ab Amir was even clearer; he said on February 26: "Ukraine is an example from which the supporters of the West and the East must learn. We must insist on the nuclear rights of the Iranian people, while preserving [our] national authority and honor, so Iran will be strong, with nuclear and military might."[3]

The Kayhan daily, the mouthpiece of the Iranian regime, was very clear. On February 26, it wrote: "A close look at the dimensions of the Ukraine crisis and the world's response to it indicates very clearly why the leader of the [Iranian] Revolution [Khamenei] has stressed the issue of building strength on every level, and has firmly opposed any concession regarding factors that guarantee the country's [ability to defend its] security on its own, without relying on others." Two days later, it wrote: "An important lesson of the Ukrainian war is that, in order to dispel threats, one must be strong. Disarming and handing over one's sources of strength is the deadliest mistake..."

The most candid statements came from Dr. Mahmoud-Reza Aghamiri, head of the nuclear engineering department at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran. On April 9, he told an audience that Israel's (alleged) threats to use nuclear weapons against Iran, Russia's (alleged) threats to use them against Ukraine, and North Korea's assertive rhetoric because it has nuclear weapons all teach us that "unless you have the required protection, you might become the victim." He continued: "Today, you have deterrence capability. What does this mean? It means you can raise your uranium enrichment level to 99% within a very short period of time. You have the power, if needed, to  'let go of control' of the nuclear fission. In other words, you can install it on a warhead and let it do whatever it wants... We call this an 'inalienable right'... It is natural to have the power, the might, and the capabilities that would make your enemy succumb to your demands in the negotiations."[4]

For years, the Iranians have claimed that Khamenei had issued a fatwa (religious edict) banning the development of nuclear weapons. This never happened, but some countries have been captivated by this display. There is a yawning chasm between the fatwa that never was and the new surge of Iranian announcements in recent weeks – and these bluntly stated positions must not be ignored.

*A. Savyon is director of the MEMRI Iran Media Studies project; Member of Knesset Begin was Senior Fellow at MEMRI from 2019 to 2021. 


[1], April 14, 2022.

Share this Report: