Can Israel Prevent Iran From Using a Nuclear Weapon?

Many believe it can. Here is why we shouldn’t be so sure.
Photo Courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office
From the August 2020 Watch Jerusalem Print Edition

Early in the morning of June 26, a massive orange light lit up the horizon over the southeastern side of Tehran. Footage of the immediate aftermath of the suspected explosion quickly made its way to social media, showing the dramatic scene from different angles. A few days later, satellite imagery revealed that the attack took place in the hills of Khojir, about 12 miles east of Tehran.

The explosion and subsequent fire appeared to destroy a facility linked to the production of solid-propellant rockets. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Khojir site is made up of a network of underground tunnels suspected to be used in missile assembly.

Striking such a target would be a natural extension of Israel’s zero-tolerance policy toward Iran and its proxies. Over the past two years, Israel has struck missile facilities and armament convoys inside both Syria and Iraq. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he will not allow Iran to place precision-guided missiles inside Syria and Lebanon (he directs almost weekly attacks against such sites). But the Khojir strike was different; this was the first time Israel struck a missile production facility inside Iran.

On July 2, a second attack took place. The target was the Natanz nuclear complex, a crucial facility in Iran’s nuclear program. The building that was attacked was constructed in 2012 to develop advanced centrifuges, which are used to produce weapons-grade uranium for use in a nuclear warhead. Under the January 2016 nuclear deal, Iran was required to halt work on these centrifuges. However, work at the Natanz facility continued.

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When the new centrifuges became operable, they would have been taken deep underground, where they would have been protected by layers of concrete and steel, making it impossible for Israel (or anyone else) to destroy them by military strike. The centrifuges were vulnerable only while they remained above ground.

Although Israeli officials have not confirmed that Israel was behind the attacks (standard practice for Israel), the consensus is that it was. Reporting on the attacks, the New York Times cited a “Middle Eastern intelligence official” who said Israel was directly responsible for planting a powerful bomb inside the facility.

In response to the attacks, Iranian officials demanded the international community condemn Israel’s actions. “This method Israel is using is dangerous, and it could spread to anywhere in the world,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said during a press conference.

While Iran has not yet responded militarily, these mysterious explosions at key nuclear and military sites show that Israel clearly believes Iran’s nuclear program is advancing and perhaps even reaching a critical stage.

Why Now?

While some far-left commentators believe Netanyahu ordered the attacks to highlight the security threat and win points politically, most security experts believe that Iran’s pace toward developing a nuclear weapon has dramatically increased over the past few months.

Although Iran claims it is following the requirements of the nuclear agreement, it is widely known that it is breaking every stipulation of the deal. It has reduced its breakout time (the time it takes to produce enough weapons-grade fuel) from one year down to three to four months. Meanwhile, it continues to claim it has never desired to produce a nuclear weapon.

Israel’s attacks on these facilities indicate that Iran was crossing a red line and getting too close to producing enough material for a nuclear weapon. It’s also likely that Israel received a greenlight to attack Iran from United States President Donald Trump, its strongest ally.

Curiously, one week before the first attack, the first copies of former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened, were made available to reporters. In the book, Bolton writes, “On Iran, I urged that he [President Trump] press ahead to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and explained why the use of force against Iran’s nuclear program might be the only lasting solution. ‘You tell Bibi [Netanyahu] that if he uses force, I will back him. I told him that, but you tell him again,’ Trump said, unprompted by me.”

If true, President Trump’s take on military action stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, Barack Obama. The truth is, the actions of the Obama administration created the need for these recent interventions by Israel.

Recent attacks prove Iran’s nuclear program has once again reached a dangerous threshold.

Beginning in 2009, the Obama administration engaged in conversations with Iran’s leaders about a potential nuclear deal. The president kept the talks secret from Israel, America’s closest ally in the region. President Obama was concerned that if Israel caught wind of the deal, it might attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. (In what many believe was a trial run, Israel flew jets into Iranian airspace in 2012.) At the time, Obama sent several emissaries to Israel to discourage Netanyahu from attacking Iran. In The Iran Wars, Jay Solomon quotes a senior U.S. official present in the meetings saying, “We spent many hours in these consultations with them that had the purpose of essentially dissuading that strike.”

By September 2013, with the negotiations between America and Iran now public, the window to attack Iran had closed. If Israel attacked, it would be accused of undermining peace. Netanyahu understood that while the nuclear deal was horrible, it was vital that Israel maintain its relationship with America. Moreover, given the Obama administration’s utter contempt for Mr. Netanyahu and Israel, there was no guarantee Israel would receive support from America if Iran conducted a retaliatory strike against the Jewish state.

With President Trump in the White House, Israel could attack Iran’s nuclear program.

The Terrifying Reality of a Nuclear Iran

Every Israeli action against Iran comes with a risk of retaliation, which is why it generally refrains from claiming responsibility for attacks. Were Israel to publicize a successful attack, Iran would be compelled to retaliate, escalating the conflict and putting lives at risk. Israel’s objective here was to conduct a limited strike on crucial nuclear and missile assets. Rather than totally destroying Iran’s nuclear program, or dealing with its fundamental urge to extinguish the Jewish state, Israel’s strategy revolves around slowing, or “managing,” Iran’s nuclear program.

In fact, many leading security experts believe that stopping Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons is now impossible. Many agree with Shabtai Shavit, the former head of Mossad, who in a July 8 interview with the Times of Israel accepted that Iran would get the bomb. Israel’s goal, he said, is to deter Iran from using it.

“That means we have to ensure we have the capabilities so that if you [Iranians] go out of your minds one day, and want to use [the bomb] against us, take into account that Iran will cease to exist,” Shavit stated. “The price you will have to pay if you want to utilize that capability against us will be prohibitive.”

In the interview, Shavit compared Iran to Pakistan and North Korea, both of which the international community failed to prevent getting nuclear weapons. According to Shavit, Israel should accept that it is only a matter of time before Iran gets the bomb. Shavit believes that if Israel can continue to increase its defenses and deterrence capabilities, Iran wouldn’t dare use a nuclear weapon against Israel. An attack would mean Iran’s destruction.

This view, which is becoming more widely accepted, runs counter to Israel’s long-held position that Tehran is an irrational actor and would use nuclear weapons if it got the chance, regardless of the consequences. That is why Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to stop Iran’s weapons program at all costs. “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs,” he told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in March 2015.

“We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

The belief that Iran’s leaders would use the bomb if they got it is paramount to Israel’s first strike doctrine against Iran’s nuclear program. This is why, as Iran gets closer once again to producing nuclear weapons, Israel is attacking Iranian sites.

While Shavit’s belief that the threat of mutual destruction can deter Iran from using a nuclear weapon seems to be out of the mainstream, his analysis could mark a shift in thinking in Israel about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Are some Israelis underestimating Iran’s capacity to behave irrationally? Have some Israelis grown too confident in Israel’s intelligence and military supremacy?

Iran Wants World War

Shavit and those who agree with him overlook one crucial fact: Rationality and logic are often sacrificed on the altar of religion. With Iran, this is especially true. Since 1979, Iran has been ruled by radical Islamist ideology.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
Mohammad Sayyad

“We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah,” declared the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini following the revolution. “For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world” (emphasis added throughout). The Islamic Republic’s founding leader didn’t value national self-preservation. Above all, he glorified martyrdom in order to spread Islam.

“Where do we look in drawing up the national security strategy of the Islamic Republic of Iran?” asked Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in 1991. “Do we look to preserve the integrity of our land, or do we look to expansion? … We must definitely look to expansion. The Islamic Republic’s survival depends on the support of a global Islamic force.” Here is another top leader endorsing the violent expansion of radical Islam, even if it means destroying the nation of Iran.

To many people, this thinking is absurd and entirely irrational. What does it stem from?

Ultimately, it is rooted in an Islamic fundamentalist belief espoused in a branch of Shiite Islam called “Imamiyyah,” or “Twelverism.” Twelvers believe that a figure called “the mahdi,” or the “twelfth imam,” is the last of a dozen divine imams who are heirs to an Islamic nation. Their eschatology says the mahdi was born in the mid-ninth century, then disappeared from humanity, and will return during a time of global calamity. The mahdi will arrive during an apocalyptic war and will bring justice to the world by raising the flag of Shiite Islam in every corner of the Earth.

Chaos is a primary prerequisite to this messianic figure’s return. Many Twelvers believe they can hasten his reappearance by intentionally stirring up global chaos. To Twelvers, it doesn’t matter whether you win the war, as long as you start the war! Bernard Lewis, an eminent scholar and historian, stated that for the Iranian regime, “[m]utually assured destruction is not a deterrent—it’s an inducement.”

Among Iranians, Twelverism is not a fringe belief. Between 90 and 95 percent of Iran’s 83 million people are Shiite Muslims. Of this group, 85 percent are Twelvers. More than 60 million Iranians believe the mahdi will return amid massive global chaos! Khomeini was a Twelver. Khamenei, the current supreme leader and the most powerful man in Iran, is too.

In 2012, Khamenei stressed how relevant the Twelver doctrine is in modern Iran. He told his people, “The issue of Imam Mahdi is of utmost importance, and his reappearance has been clearly stated in our holy religion of Islam. … We must prepare the environment for the coming so that the great leader will come.” Again, that “environment” is one of global suffering and anarchy!

“Do you know why we should wish for chaos at any price?” said former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. “Because after chaos, we can see the greatness of Allah.”

Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei (front), leads prayer in Tehran, Iran.
Anadolu Agency / Contributor

Those who believe Iran’s leaders when they talk this way know that it is dangerously cavalier to think that traditional deterrence will work against Iran. The policy of mutually assured destruction has never been tested against a nation like Iran, a nation with apocalyptic ideology and ambitions.

In his book The Rise of a Nuclear Iran, former Netanyahu adviser Ambassador Dore Gold wrote an entire chapter explaining why it is impossible to practice a strategy of mere deterrence against Iran. He writes, “Can a nuclear Iran be effectively deterred from engaging in nuclear brinksmanship in the future, just like the ussr was deterred during the Cold War? This is an area where there is an extreme amount of uncertainty.” Even without nuclear weapons, Iran’s fanatical beliefs make it incredibly dangerous to Israel and the world. “During the Iran-Iraq War, it used the methods of martyrdom again for large human wave attacks against the well-equipped Iraqi army,” Gold continues. “While the leaders of the Iranian regime might not want to lose their own lives in a military exchange with the West, they have not demonstrated many reservations about sacrificing hundreds of thousands of their own people.”

Even Dennis Ross, a former adviser to President Obama, agrees. In 2006, he said, “As for those who think that the nuclear deterrent rules that govern relations between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War will apply in a nuclear Middle East: Don’t be so confident.”

Israel must be careful! It must not grow too confident in its military power. And it must not begin to believe that Iran will behave like a rational actor. Iran’s leaders can appear rational. And there are, no doubt, some in Iran who value life, both individually and nationally, over chaos and destruction. But Iran’s most powerful and influential leaders, the men behind the nuclear program, believe it is their duty to create the global chaos required in order for the return of their mahdi!

Mehdi Khaliji, an Iranian Shiite scholar trained in the holy city of Qom, says the mahdi will not return unless “one third of the world’s population is killed and another third die.” Clearly, carnage of this magnitude requires the use of nuclear weapons. Can anyone guarantee that Iran’s mullahs will never use nuclear weapons?

The Coming Apocalypse

In August 2006, Watch Jerusalem editor in chief Gerald Flurry discussed the explosive and terrifying combination of Twelver faith and nuclear weapons. “This should alarm all of us,” he wrote. “Imagine: Iran is the world’s top terrorist-sponsoring nation. It is about to get nuclear bombs, and its leaders believe a nuclear war will speed the return of their version of the Messiah. That means they are eager for a nuclear war. And once you start a nuclear war, how do you stop it?”

This is why it is alarming to see Iran’s nuclear program moving forward speedily. However, it is even more alarming to see some Israelis accepting that Iran will get nuclear weapons and growing confident that it will act rationally and refrain from deploying these weapons.

Thankfully, Israel’s prime minister clearly believes that Iran holds to this fanatical ideology. This is why he ordered the recent devastating strikes on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and its ballistic missile program. But what happens when Mr. Netanyahu leaves office and Israel’s leaders begin to take on the view of Mr. Shavit?

Since 1993, Gerald Flurry has prophesied that radical Islam, led by Iran, would fulfill the biblical role of “the king of the south” mentioned in Daniel 11. “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him; and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow, as he passes through” (verse 40). This prophecy says that Iran and its radical Islamist supporters will initiate a violent conflict with a German-led European empire (“the king of the north”). This terrible conflict will thrust the whole world into great calamity.

To fulfill this prophesied “push” against Europe, Iran doesn’t necessarily need nuclear weapons. This prophecy doesn’t say whether or not Tehran will ever go nuclear. Daniel 11 does, however, show that Iran will grow so confrontational that it will motivate a blitzkrieg-like response from Germany and Europe (explained in our free booklet The King of the South). Europe’s response will be fast, powerful and dramatic, like a “whirlwind.” It’s possible that Germany and Europe move fast because they want to prevent a nuclear counterattack from Iran.

Thankfully, there is good news at the end of all of this. The prophecy in Daniel 11:40-45 does not just warn of tremendous war. This is one of the many prophecies in the Bible forecasting the coming of the Messiah, an event precipitated by global suffering and violence. (The radical Islamist belief in the return of the mahdi is a counterfeit of these events prophesied in the Bible; they were conceived almost a thousand years after the warnings of the Jewish prophets.)

Daniel 12 is part of the same vision in Daniel 11. Daniel 12:1 says the catastrophe and suffering surrounding the coming of the Messiah will be “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time ….” Thankfully, this period of chaos and war will only last 3½ years (verse 7). At the end of this period of terrible tribulation, God will intervene in world affairs in a powerful way.

Please request our free book, The King of the South.

He will usher in a new age of peace and prosperity for all men. At this time, the wonderful new world government prophesied by Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah (among others) will be established on Earth. At this time, those who were faithful to God “shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn the many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (verse 3).

Ultimately, this is where the present events surrounding Iran’s nuclear program will end—in a dramatic climax that will see the Messiah come and end the age of man and begin a new world!