AEI’s Michael Rubin says that “[t]here is reason to take the worst case scenario seriously.” In fact, there is no such reason. Rubin’s “reasoning” goes like this. We should ignore every statement that’s ever been made on this subject by every current and former Iranian official on the grounds that such statements “may be taqiya, religiously sanctioned dissimulation meant to lull an enemy” but we should pay a lot of attention to one statement made once by former president Rafsanjani.
You can read Justin Logan for some debunking of Rubin’s work on this topic and also for the observation that he’s ignoring even cursory elements of scholarship like reviewing existing literature. But also check out Rubin’s gloss of the single statement ever made by an Iranian official that he thinks should be taken seriously:
Amid chants of “Death to Israel,” he declared, “The use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. . . . It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.” Even if Israel responded with its own nuclear arsenal, the Islamic Republic has the strategic depth to absorb and withstand the retaliation, and so the price might be worth it. “It will only harm the Islamic world,” he argued.
Consider this alternative, more accurate, rendering of Rafsanjani’s remarks from GlobalSecurity.org:
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.”
Now of course Rafsanjani’s words are open to interpretation. And of course Rafsanjani could be lying. But nobody in a leadership position in Iran got to that position by behaving in a suicidal manner. Nor has the Revolutionary regime lasted for almost thirty years by engaging in cavalier risks about its hold on power or ever seriously put anything on the line in order to harm Israel. All indications are that those Iranian officials who are seeking nuclear weapons are doing so for the same reason as everyone else — to obtain a deterrent.