As the Biden administration covertly attempts to reestablish a modified version of the 2015 Nuclear Deal with Iran, European intelligence agencies report that Tehran has consistently tried to circumvent Western sanctions. Iran aims to gain advanced knowledge, technology, and materials for its nuclear program, potentially leading to the testing of an atomic bomb.
The Claims of a Fatwa Preventing Iran form Going Nuclear
Over the years, advocates for reconciliation with Tehran in the West have insisted that Iran’s nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes, not for creating nuclear weapons that could threaten regional and global security. Typical evidence presented by these advocates is a fatwa, or religious decree, reportedly issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, which strictly prohibits any military use of nuclear technology.
One notable example is an article titled “Embrace the Fatwa,” published in Foreign Policy on February 7, 2013, by Hossein Mousavian. Mousavian was the senior Iranian nuclear negotiator during most of the Khatami presidency (1997-2005) and was second only to Hassan Rouhani during his directorship of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council.
Mousavian in the article asserted that Iranian Foreign Minister at the time Ali Salehi announced a significant proposal based on Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa against nuclear weapons. Salehi stated that Iran is prepared to convert the fatwa into a secular, legally binding document at the United Nations, which would commit the government to the fatwa’s principles.
Mousavian emphasized the fatwa’s importance, noting the strong connection between religion and politics in Iran. He explained that the Supreme Leader’s fatwas hold both legislative and religious significance due to the Iranian constitution, which grants the Supreme Leader ultimate authority over all three branches of government. Therefore, the fatwa has the status of law and is not subject to any form of review.
The critical question that arises is whether this alleged fatwa can be so binding as to assure the world of the peaceful intentions of Iran’s highly suspect nuclear activities. To answer this, we need to delve into jurisprudence and understand a fatwa’s true nature.
In Shiite jurisprudence, a fatwa is a declaration of divine will on general faith issues communicated to the community of believers. This is done after a jurisprudent thoroughly contemplates and investigates the premises and reasons for a faith issue, subsequently reaching a conclusion on the divine will. However, a fatwa is not absolute. It depends on numerous variables, the most significant in the context of the Islamic Republic being the concept of “political expediency,” which refers to whatever is necessary for the preservation and survival of the theocratic system.
In December 1987, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, articulated the principle of political expediency for preserving the state in a significant letter to then-President Ali Khamenei. This principle has since become known as the “Charter of the Guardianship of the Jurist.”
According to the Charter, the survival and expediency of the Islamist political system take precedence over fundamental religious practices such as prayer, fasting, and the hajj pilgrimage. This means that the Supreme Jurist, who is also the Supreme Leader, can disregard and override all religious tenets and fatwas to ensure the survival of the Islamist system. Therefore, the claim that a fatwa is perpetually binding is contradicted by the inherent relativity in any fatwa.
This principle, which is central to the existence of the Islamic Republic, was famously encapsulated by Khomeini in the phrase: “Upholding the system is the most essential of essentials.”
A Threat to Global Security
During the Obama administration, proponents of the Iranian regime in the West fervently claimed that Khamenei’s fatwa had been officially registered at the United Nations. However, this claim appears to be a publicity stunt, as no such fatwa has been registered at the UN.
In reality, Tehran seeks nuclear capabilities to assert and maintain control over the Middle East and, in the long term, to ensure its survival amid growing domestic unrest. The Iranian leadership, including the mullahs and the Revolutionary Guard generals, hope that the American reluctance to resort to force to defend its partners in the Middle East will allow them to continue their evasion tactics with the West and the IAEA, delaying any serious punitive response until they have fully developed their nuclear capabilities. All other actions, including the drawn-out and intermittent negotiations with the West that yield no results, are merely diversionary tactics to buy time.
The Islamic Republic is a prolific producer of weapons that threaten regional and recently global security, including kamikaze drones and ballistic missiles. It has used them against the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and, most recently, Ukraine (indirectly through Russia). Given this track record, there is no reason to believe that the regime will hesitate to acquire a stockpile of nuclear weapons to enhance its military capabilities further.
Iran is now evidently a nuclear-threshold state, possessing the technical expertise and the necessary fissile material to create a nuclear weapon. Its progress in that direction is irreversible, pushing it ever closer to becoming a fully nuclear-armed state. As it stands, the Middle East and the West are confronted with the possibility of a rogue regime armed with nuclear weapons that could, at any moment, disrupt the global balance of power by announcing a successful nuclear test. This event along with aggressive actions from Russia and China could potentially plunge the world into a global conflict.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.