By EMERSON VERMAAT
“We should fully equip ourselves both in the offensive and defensive use of chemical, bacteriological and radiological weapons. From now on you should make use of the opportunity and perform this task.”
It was in October 1988 that Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, then speaker of the Iranian parliament, made this remarkable statement in a speech on the future of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. One year later, in August 1989, Rafsanjani would be president of Iran. He was reflecting on the Iran-Iraq war and, “this speech was probably the Islamic Republic first public statement calling for nuclear weapons,” David Patrikarakos writes in a new and highly interesting study on “Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State.”
Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980 and the Iran-Iraq war lasted to August 1988. Iraq did not hesitate to use chemical weapons killing and injuring many Iranians. This caused a deep trauma among the Iranians. It is in this context that Rafsanjani’s plea for chemical, bacteriological and radiological (atomic) weapons was made: Iran must be able to counter any future chemical and nuclear threat by producing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) itself.
Iran did not have the capability to produce nuclear weapons back in the 1980s. But there was a Pakistani nuclear scientist who was willing to help the Iranians. Abdul Qadeer Khan was in fact the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb and leader of AQ Khan Research Laboratories (KRL). Khan studied in the Netherlands and Belgium and was subsequently employed by the URENCO group in the Dutch city of Almelo. They used so-called centrifuge technology to enrich uranium. Khan was in fact an atomic spy who stole nuclear technology from URENCO and the Physics Dynamics Research Laboratory in Amsterdam in the early 1970s. Back in Pakistan in 1974 he subsequently founded his own research laboratories in Kahuta near Islamabad. Pakistan’s first two nuclear bombs were tested and detonated in May 1988. Khan was thrilled and proud, Pakistan had now joined the nuclear powers, moreover his country had produced the first “Islamic bomb.” Khan was and still is a Muslim fanatic who believes that this kind of highly sensitive nuclear technology must be shared with other Muslim states. He even played a key role in helping North Korea in obtaining a nuclear device – in exchange for North Korean missilie technology.
In 1983 Khan himself pointed out that nuclear enrichment technology is anything but simple. “In order to make reactor grade fuel, Uranium-235 is 3 percent. If it is enriched to 90 percent it can be used as the basic element for an atom bomb. Nevertheless, enriching Uranium-235 to 90 percent and constructing an atom bomb from this is an extremely delicate and intricate matter and the secrets and mysteries of this are tightly guarded. Nobel prize winner Professor Abdul Salam has been quoted as saying ‘there’s no secret about building it, it’s just a matter of putting various parts together.’ (…) Incredible precision is an absolute requirement for the enrichment of uranium by means of centrifuges. The difference in the molecular weights of Uranium-238 and Uranium-235 is miniscule, whereas in the composition of natural uranium there is only one divisible atom of U-235 for every 140 atoms of U-238.’
The clandestine Khan network
Khan really began to work on the Pakistani nuclear bomb in the spring of 1976. It took him and his assistants twelve years to test the first nuclear device. Iran is basically using Pakistani enrichment technology.
The facts about Pakistani-Iranian nuclear cooperation were revealed by Andrew Koch in an article published in Jane’s Defence Weekly in March 2004. In the 1990s “a clandestine network of scientists, manufacturers and middlemen” headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan operated a blackmarket of atomic expertise. Former IAEA Director General Mohammed El Baradei described the so-called Khan network as “the most dangerous phenomenon we have seen in the non-proliferation area for many years.” Koch: “The network provided uranium-enrichment components, blueprints and expertise to Libya, Iran and North Korea.” In exchange for nuclear expertise, North Korea supplied Pakistan with medium range “No Dong” missiles which the Pakistanis proudly renamed “Ghauri” missiles. The North Koreans announced in 2009 that they had developed a nuclear weapon. There is no doubt about it that the Khan network provided initial assistance to the project.
Iran’s extensive enrichment program is aimed at one thing only: developing a nuclear bomb – just like North Korea’s enrichment program was. And the North Korean communist fanatics were ultimately successfull. The religious fanatics in Iran will be equally successful, unless they are stopped. “An Iranian opposition group revealed in August 2002 the presence of a then-secret enrichment plant under construction near the Iranian city of Natanz,” Koch writes. “IAEA inspectors visited the plant and made several startling discoveries: Tehran possessed more sophisticated centrifuge technology than was previously believed and had assembled an initial cascade of 160 machines with thousands more planned.” “Subsequent IAEA probes and inspections would reveal the presence of highly enriched uranium (HEU) on several of the centrifuges, which bore a striking resemblance to the aluminium P-1 machines Pakistan had used until switching to more sophisticated P-2 maraging steel centrifuges starting in the mid-1980s.”
Iran could not explain the presence of HEU and later admitted the centrifuges had been “imported.” In fact, they had been supplied by the Khan network. IAEA inspectors and diplomatic sources in Vienna (where the IAEA is based) believe that “Khan had shipped components and entire used machines for some 500 P-1s directly from Pakistan in 1994-95.” There were also subsequent transfers of designs and components “for the more sophisticated P-2 centrifuges Iran was developing in a parallel program.” Koch quotes “Iranian sources with knowledge of the program” who say: “Iran was not capable of building a centrifuge program without external help.”
Disagreeable nuclear surprises
“According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Tehran now has around 70 percent of the material needed for producing a nuclear bomb (although at a lower level of enriched uranium, at 20 percent),” Amos Harel writes in Jane’s Intelligence Review. The current Israeli estimate would be that Iran may have 90 percent of the material needed for a nuclear weapon within 6 to 10 months – by which point it would be would be too late to stop the project.”
The unexpected discovery in September 2009 of Iran’s underground uranium-enrichment facility at Fordow (near the holy city of Qom) was also a real suprise to those who believed in negotiations with such a despicable regime. This “would be an even more difficult site for Israel to destroy, as the facility appears to be deeply buried in rugged mountain terrain,” a number of experts in Jane’s Intelligence Review write. It “has an estimated capacity of 3,000 centrifuges and acccording to an IAEA statement in January 2012, became operational in the production of uranium enriched to the higher level of 20 percent U-235 (weapons-grade uranium is enriched to at least 90 percent).”
The IAEA reported in August 2012 that Iran had doubled the number of centrifuges at Fordow within three months to more than 2,000, George Jahn (Associated Press) writes. “Diplomats since then have told reporters that hundreds more have been installed, bringing the total to nearly 2,800, or full capacity for Fordow.” “The 20 percent material being produced at Fordow is of greater concern to the internatinional community because it can be turned into weapons-grade uranium of 90 percent much more simply and quickly.” “The IAEA report noted a sharp increase in Iran’s supply of a more purified form of enriched uranium that can be more easily converted to weapon’s grade fissile material.” (IPT News).
Tehran “should be in a position to produce enough (material) for two or three” nuclear warheads by the summer (of 2013), if it does decide to double output in the next few weeks, Olli Heinonen, the former IAEA deputy director in charge of the Iran file, says.
Iran has repeatedly refused to halt nuclear enrichment, lamely claiming it is aimed at producing nuclear fuel for civilian use. But the quantities of enriched uranium produced by Iran far exceed the quantities needed for civilian use. Sanctions are having no visible impact, IAEA chief Yukiya Amono said last November. “We are verifying the activities at the nuclear sites in Iran and do not see any effect.” “We have observed that the progression of enrichment has been constant. There has been a steady, gradual increase in the amount.”
For the Iranians negotiations were a means to avoid international sanctions and to gain time. These negotiations did not at all result in substantial delays of the Iranian nuclear program. On the contrary, on those occasions when they seemed to accomodate to international pressure, publicly indicating that they were willing to compromise, they in fact accelerated their nuclear enrichment program. The Iranians were and are invariably lying about their real intentions. David Patrikarakos writes about Iran’s “divide and progress strategy” to split the international community. (He also claims, though, that there is “an internal divide over the nuclear crisis” in Iran.) “The West now faces a strategic program, more or less on autopilot.” This is quite alarming. Equally alarming is Iran’s extensive missile program.
Another interesting quote from David Patrikarakos: “If the spectre of a possible attack on Iran is deeply troubling, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is worse.” I tend to agree with this view. Indeed, such an attack should have taken place earlier, now it is almost too late. The United States should not fail to assist Israel militarily once the Israeli government decides to act. There should not be a repetition of what happened in 1944 when the U.S. “War Department” consistently turned down proposals to bomb the gas chambers of Auschwitz and the rail lines leading to this death camp. By 1944, the United States and Britain were well informed about the Nazi program to exterminate the Jews and about the role Auschwitz-Birkenau was playing in what would later be known as “The Holocaust.”
Let us not forget that Hitler was also anxious to build a nuclear bomb. He was talking about a “miracle weapon” that would turn the tide of the war in his favor. The Nazis employed nuclear scientists working in underground facilities. If Hitler would have had more time, if the military offensives against Nazi Germany would somehow have been delayed or postponed, then his scientists could indeed have produced a nuclear weapon as well as as an effective missile to strike London and other European cities. (The “V-1” marked just the beginning of German missile technology.) Rainer Karlsch, a German historian who wrote a study on “Hitler’s Bomb” discovered “a 1941 patent draft for a plutonium bomb.” Although it is assumed that Hitler favored conventional arms, there was no guarantee that in his utter desperation he eventually would have resorted to a nuclear device – should he have possessed such a weapon.
Emerson Vermaat is an investigative reporter in the Netherlands. Website: emersonvermaat.com.
David Patrikarakos, Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State (London/New York: I.B. Taurus, 2012), p. xix, xx (Preface), p. 130 (quote from Rafsanjani), p. 266 (“divide and progress strategy”), p. 267 (“Iran’s internal divide”), p. 308; FBIS-NES, October 7, 1988.
Dr. A.Q. Khan Research Labatories, Kahuta, Government of Pakistan, December 5, 1983, How did Dr. Abdul Qadir Perform this Miracle? How did he make Pakistan a Nuclear Power? Dr. A.Q. Khan’s first written interview. Author’s files on Dr. A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani nuclear spy and father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb.
Andrew Koch, How the secret nuclear deals of a national hero from Pakistan shook the world, Jane’s Defence Weekly, March 3, 2004, p. 23-27.
Amos Harel, Zero Hour: The likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran, Jane’s Intelligence Review, November 2012, p. 10. (Iran has around 70 percent of the material needed for producing a nuclear bomb).
Nuclear fallout: Israel’s campaign against Iran, Jane’s Intelligence Review, April 2012, p. 46. (Fordow).
National Post, November 15, 2012 (“Iran could have enough uranium for a nuclear weapon in three months: Officials”). Article written by George Jahn (Associated Press); also quote from Olli Heinonen.
IPT News November 16, 2012 (“Iran’s Enhanced Nuclear Capabilities”). “The IAEA report noted a sharp increase in Iran’s supply of a more purified form of enriched uranium…”
Reuters, November 20, 2012 (“Iran nuclear work at constant place despite sanctions – IAEA”).
David S. Wyman, Why Auschwitz Wasn’t Bombed, in: Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum (Eds.), Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Washington/Bloomington: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/Indiana University Press, 1998), p. 577.
The Sydney Morning Herald, March 5, 2005 (“Hitler won atomic bomb race, but couldn’t drop it”). “Adolf Hitler had the atom bomb first but it was too primitive and ungainly for aerial deployment, says a new book that indicates the race to split the atom was much closer than it is believed. Nazi scientists carried out tests of what would now be called a dirty nuclear device in the waning days of Wolrd War II, writes Rainer Karlsch, a German historian, in his book Hitler’s Bomb, to be published this month.” Rainer Karlsch, Hitlers Bombe. Die geheime Geschichte der deutschen Kernwaffen Versuche (Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2005).
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