Nuclear Weapons - Iranian Statements
Iranians officials generally deny that they are engaged in developing a military nuclear capability. However, in a February 1987 address to Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI), President Ali Khamenei stated: "Regarding atomic energy, we need it now... Our nation has always been threatened from outside. The least we can do to face this danger is to let our enemies know that we can defend ourselves. Therefore, every step you take here is in defense of your country and your evolution. With this in mind, you should work hard and at great speed."
Hashemi Rafsanjani, president of Iran from 1989 to 1997, gave a speech on 14 December 2001 that was widely interpreted as indicating that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons as a deterrent to Israel. Calling the establishment of Israel among the worst periods of our contemporary history, Rafsanjani stated that, "If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality. Of course, you can see that the Americans have kept their eyes peeled and they are carefully looking for even the slightest hint that technological advances are being made by an independent Islamic country. If an independent Islamic country is thinking about acquiring other kinds of weaponry, then they will do their utmost to prevent it from acquiring them. Well, that is something that almost the entire world is discussing right now."
Rafsanjani spoke at the Qods Day (Jerusalem Day) rallies, which are held on the last Friday of Ramadan, and in 2001 fell on 14 December. "You should make the world understand that Israel is the oppressor and that Israel must be destroyed," Ayatollah Ali Meshkini said during the nationally televised 8 December Friday Prayers in Qom. Khalid Mashaal, head of the Hamas political bureau, told Iranian state television on 11 December 2001 that events such as Qods Day contribute to "increasing our people's resistance and made the Palestinian people realize that the Islamic nation was right behind them and that it was supporting them." On Qods Day, millions of people marched through Tehran. They carried the usual inflammatory placards and voiced the usual "Death to..." chants. Their resolution, IRNA reported, said that US support for the "Zionist Regime" was the "key" to the suppression and massacre of the Palestinian people, and "the cancerous tumor of Israel is the top threat to the Middle East and the world of Islam."
Asked how Iran would react to an Israeli attack against the Bushehr nuclear reactor, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani declared, "If Israel carries out such an action, it will receive a response, which no politician in Israel can even imagine." Shamkhani denied that Iran would resort to nuclear weapons, Al-Jazeera television reported on 4 February 2002, and he added, "Actions will speak."
Similarly vague threats of retaliation if attacked were made between then and at least June 2008, by various Iranian officials since then. Observers have also suggested that this could be an allusion to disruptive asymetric attacks, as in closing the Straight of Hormuz and attacking shipping, terrorist attacks, or even cyber terrorism. In September 2005, shortly after his election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cited the high casualties of the Iran-Iraq War as evidence of the dangers of attacking Iran. The Voice of America reported in August 2006 that an influential cleric in Iran's Assembly of Experts had suggested that Iranian ballistic missiles would target US interests in the region and Israel if it were attacked. In April 2008, however, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Reza Ashtiani said that Iran would "wipe out" Israel if attacked. The comments in 2008 were followed by an Israeli military exercise widely viewed as a warning to Iran and a show of resolve to prevent their acquisition of nuclear weapons.
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