The nuclear negotiations with Iran are focused on Iran’s nuclear program which makes sense up to a point: Gun possession laws are not only focused on the type of rifles and ammunition but on the people who own guns or want to own guns. A gun in the hands of a hunter or someone who hopes to never use it is less dangerous than in the hands of someone who is itching to use it to kill someone he/she hate.
In this case, the problem with Iran is not whether it does have a nuclear bomb or even wants to build one – Iran can build a bomb if it wants to. The problem is not even whether Iran will have the ability to deliver a nuclear bomb to its target: whether it is through long range missiles, jet fighters, submarines or in a suitcase, a nuclear payload is deliverable.
The only question should be whether Tehran intends to use a bomb if it had one. Khamenei has touted his “nuclear fatwa” repeatedly as proof of not wanting the bomb but his rhetoric is far from peaceful. In order to guesstimate the answer, one has to listen to Khamenei himself.
Khamenei Idealizes Martyrdom
In a key speech in 2009, Khamenei shared his views on martyrdom glowingly. Two key learning are that 1) martyrdom is “the zenith of courage and bravery…the pinnacle of a people’s honor” and that 2) “this is what frightens the enemy“.
Most people would tend to agree with his first point during times of war but not during times of peace but this is the insight one needs to understand Khamenei: he believes that his vision of an Islamic Awakening pits Islam, with Tehran and himself at its epicenter, in a state of Jihad/war against the “arrogant”, racist”, “oppressive” and “imperialistic” powers of the West. In his mind, Tehran is at war with the West even if a shot has not yet been fired.
His second point though is unarguable: his praise of martyrdom scares the West. It is this very idealization of martyrdom that has led to the rise in global terrorism by and Tehran’s support for terrorist organizations whose modus operandi is underlined by the pursuit of martyrdom is proof to the West that Khamenei is ready to “Walk his Talk”.
Khamenei Trades (temporarily) Martyrdom for “Heroic Flexibility”
An article in the Guardian from September 2013 heralded hope for a nuclear deal with Iran under the headline “Iran: ‘Hello diplomacy, so long martyrdom'” based on Khamenei’s flag of “heroic flexibility” (“flexibility is necessary on certain occasions. It is very beneficial “.
And for a while, it seemed that Khamenei had accepted Rouhani’s vision of rapprochement with the West as a necessary next step forward.
But within months, he had laid down his own red lines for a nuclear deal which were far from flexible. Furthermore, he laced his support for nuclear negotiations with the same rhetoric of war and hate deeming the US the “great Satan” and repeating that Israel was to be “annihilated”.
Khamenei Returns Back to Praising Martyrdom
But then, last week Khamenei returned to his rhetoric of martyrdom and “the culture of sacrifice…for long term goals, common people and all mankind” as opposed to “the culture of Western individualism”. Once again, out of context of war, his words may seem admirable, especially the part of the good of the “common people and all mankind”.
But Khamenei’s rhetoric of war is never far away and he continues: “Although hegemonic powers, benefiting from their massive tools, have currently found more dominance over the oppressed, the Islamic Revolution is now standing against the oppressors“.
Make no mistake, Khamenei’s version of martyrdom is not meant to benefit “all mankind” and certainly not the West – martyrdom is meant to help the Islamic Revolution to prosper at the expense of the West.
Mixing Martyrdom with Nukes in 10 Years
In an article in the Washington Post, headlined “The Strategic genius of Iran’s Supreme Leader“, Khamenei, who is sometimes looked down upon by Westerners as an uncivilized Mullah “is also a first-rate strategic genius who is patiently negotiating his way to a bomb”.
By biding his time and despite a hand as weak as the Iranian economy, he managed to scare the West into pursuing a nuclear agreement that would guarantee Tehran the possibility to build a bomb after the ten-year deal expires.
Khamenei may not be around but by then, another Supreme Leader will be in charge and he will have to choose between two Khamenei legacies: The legacy of his “nuclear fatwa” (which can be overturned by the next Supreme Leader) and the legacy of “martyrdom” which might convince him to dash for the bomb and the ultimate martyrdom of hundreds of thousands of Iranians.