The Bigger Picture
Published on April 29th 2010 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
As I have written in previous columns, I believe settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essential if the United States wants to dry up support for al Qaeda’s pseudo-religious political terrorism within Muslim communities around the world. But there is another equally important reason to do so; Iran’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons that it can use to threaten Israel and expand Iran’s influence over the political regimes in other Muslim countries in the Middle East.
Although there are some who still wish to believe Iran is not actually trying to develop a nuclear weapon and is merely angling to use the threat of doing so to keep its enemies off balance, more evidence has recently emerged which should put to rest any remaining doubts about Iran’s true nuclear weapons intentions. Equally disturbing is the fact that Pakistan’s top military and intelligence officials, America’s erstwhile allies in the battle against al Qaeda inspired terrorism, were the ones responsible for first getting Iran’s nuclear weapons program off the ground.
The father of Pakistan’s nukes, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has now provided official documents as well as a first person account of Iran’s repeated attempts since the late 1980s to first buy a nuclear bomb from Pakistan and failing that, to purchase the technology they needed to build their own nuclear weapon. Pakistan’s motivation for selling nuclear weapons and or the technology to make them to Iran was money, while Iran’s motivation was a nuclear weapon it could use in its ongoing conflict with Iraq.
After eight years of war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Pakistan needed money because of the strains supporting millions of Afghan refugees were having on Pakistan’s economy and national budget. So early in 1987 Gen. Zia ul Haq, the Pakistani president until 1988, and the Pakistani Army’s Chief of Staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg, made a deal with one of the founders and leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Ali Shamkhani, to supply nuclear weapons and or the technology to make them in return for $10 billion in assistance dedicated to Pakistan’s defense budget.
Although Pakistan did not test any nuclear bombs until 1998, American and British intelligence officials claim that Pakistan actually built its first nuclear weapon in 1986. Although Pakistan still refuses to comment on these claims, Iran has already told International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors that it was a Pakistani “network” that provided Iran with the specifications and equipment it needed to build uranium enrichment centrifuges and then shape enriched uranium for use in a bomb.
Khan says that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence officials justified their cooperation with Iran to him by saying that due to their religious and ideological affinities, both countries wanted to thwart the ambitions of Western governments in their region and that Pakistan desperately needed the financial assistance Iran was offering in return for Pakistan’s help in developing nuclear weapons.
ISI documents also show that General Beg was “in favour of very close cooperation with Iran in the nuclear field in lieu of financial assistance promised to him toward Pakistan's defense budget.” A former Pakistani intelligence officer says General Beg saw selling some of their nuclear weapons and technology to Iran as the solution to the Pakistan military’s ongoing budget problems and that Beg told the Iranians, “You have the money, we have the technology.”
But when Iran’s Ali Shamkhani returned to Pakistan in 1988 to retrieve the three nuclear bombs General Beg had promised Iran, he discovered that this was one promise Pakistan was no longer willing to honour. In the interim General Zia ul Haq had been replaced as Pakistan’s leader by Benazir Bhutto, and the new Chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff committee was Admiral Iftikhar Ahmed Sirohey.
Shamkhani became angry when Admiral Sirohey told him they would discuss how Pakistan might assist Iran’s nuclear weapons program after they discussed other matters first. Khan writes that Shamkhani continued to press for 3 nuclear bombs by telling Sirohey that “first General Zia and then General Beg had promised assistance and nuclear weapons and he (Shamkhani) had specifically come to collect the same.”
When Admiral Sirohey declined to provide the three nuclear weapons to Shamkhani, Khan says General Beg then pressed Prime Minister Bhutto and her top military aide “to honour Beg’s commitment.” In response to this pressure, Khan says he was then told by Bhutto’s military aide to get the components for two of Pakistan’s old first generation of P-1 uranium enrichment centrifuges “and pack them into boxes with 2 sets of drawings,” so they could be sent to Iran through an intermediary.
Today the IR-1 centrifuges Iran is currently using to enrich uranium are virtual replicas of the P-1 designs Kahn provided them back in 1989. But Pakistan’s secret assistance to Iran’s nuclear weapons program didn’t stop there. The covert Pakistan “network” continued to provide assistance to Iran including the names and addresses of companies that supply Pakistan with bomb parts and centrifuge components.
Even though Pakistan hasn’t provided any further assistance to Iran’s nuclear weapons development program for the past five years, the damage has already been done. The IAEA says Iran has already admitted that the new IR-2 centrifuges they plan to install in their new underground facilities in Qum are based on designs for Pakistan’s more advanced P-2 centrifuge that were secretly given to Iran in 2004.
But even if one chooses to ignore Iran’s clandestine nuclear dealings, Kahn’s “insider” story totally contradicts Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s recent claim that “we won't do that (build nuclear weapons) because we don't believe in having them.” I and many other observers are now convinced that the closer Iran gets to acquiring enough enriched uranium to shape a nuclear bomb; the closer the world gets to a deadly confrontation over Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Why?
Because history tells me even though the US and Europe wants to avoid a military confrontation with Iran, Israel won’t hesitate to act militarily before Iran has enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon.