Never hit a man with your fist if someone else will hit him with his car.

Special Edition Iran – Part VIII, Crossing the Nuclear Rubicon

By Jay Holmes

As an intelligence operative, I need a good foundation in history to do my job. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. This series outlines Iran’s past as we move toward an analysis of that country’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West. (See Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VI, and Part VII.)

Today, Holmes takes us behind the intelligence scene as he walks us through Iran’s Nuclear Age up to the current players.

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image by Semhur, CC-BY-SA-3.0, wikimedia commons

The Year is 1995 . . .

Intelligence agencies from various Western nations voice concern that Iran has started a nuclear weapons program. The Western press is saying that Iran can build a bomb in five years. Western leaders are assured that a bomb will not be produced by Iran within ten years, based on where they are with resources and science. For most Western leaders, ten years is beyond their political shelf life.

The Israelis start whispering a little louder about the US needing to lead a coalition against Iran and destroy their atomic energy facilities. The diplomacy game begins.

I feel sorry for the poor State Department employees who have to take this particular diplomatic initiative seriously.  It’s not my “group,” “team,” “desk,” or “task.” I have plenty to chew on already, but I can’t help but notice the situation. However, when it comes to Weapons of Mass Destruction there are still bundles of loose ends in Iraq. Iran is less urgent in this regard.

During the Cold War, the USSR was, in a sense, everyone’s second task if they weren’t on the USSR full time. In 1955 or 1975, all roads led to Moscow, even the ones that wound through Beijing. Now, in 1995, it feels like most roads lead to a nuclear weapon in Iran or Iraq regardless of whatever other road one might be driving at the moment.

I’m at a casual “only us” party in Virginia. It’s not work, but we rarely leave that “work” very far away. It’s on everyone’s mind.

When a rule needs breaking, I somehow seem to be the natural first choice. I wish I wasn’t. I see myself as the peacemaker not the trouble maker.

I’m getting that expectant “Jay, tell us a story” look. I break the rule, and I ask, “What’s the deal with Iran?” We try, but we can’t envision this thing in Iran getting anything but worse.

I look at the three very good scientific analysts in the room. They decline to offer me any warm assurances. We conclude that the greatest challenge will be getting a politician to take effective action before it’s too late.

Life goes on. There’s no shortage of troubles and dangers in this world. I concentrate on the particular pieces of it that belong to me and “my guys.”

1996

China and Iran announce a joint project to build a uranium enrichment plant in Iran. Iran is feeling pretty cool about being big China’s new little friend. China wants the oil.

Within a couple of months, China has a mysterious change of heart and backs out of the program. I’m not sure who pulled which genie out of which cute little bottle, but I’m glad they did. Somebody will tell me the story when it’s okay to tell me. In the meantime, the Secretary of State swears it was diplomacy that did it. Hell, she might even believe it herself.

1997

Iranian intelligence forces murder four Iranian Kurdish refugees in Germany. Europeans don’t think it’s funny.

Educated people in Iran are looking at the thousands of years of dues their ancestors paid on the long road to civilization, and they are wondering why they are living under an idiot regime lead by a fake cleric with enforcers made up primarily of Iran’s least intelligent people, the Revolutionary Guards.

Supreme Con Man Ayatollah Khamenei starts believing his own cooked statistics and mistakenly allows a moderate candidate to run against the hardline lackey that he knows will win. Even with a little help from poll monitors in Tehran, the moderate candidate, a.k.a. the intended sacrificial lamb, roasts the regime favorite in a lopsided election. It turns out that not many Iranians think that the Dark Ages policies of the regime are all that funny.

The new President Mohammad Khatami still has to answer to the unelected Supreme Con Man Khamenei so nobody is expecting him to drag Iran very far back toward this century, but it’s still a victory for hope and reason in Iran.

I’m sitting in a leaky aircraft hangar in rural Florida with close friends enjoying a rain storm when a bright and talented young communications specialist brings us the news from his communications shack in the corner of the hangar. We toast Khatami’s victory with our last two bottles of Gatorade and my personal stash of chocolate. The joke get’s told one more time that Jay can always be counted on for extra water, extra ammo, and extra chocolate. I chuckle as though I haven’t heard it a few hundred times already.

The road is too muddy to drive to town so we sleep in the plane. It’s nice and dry. I don’t pray much, and never for Iranian clerics, but I find myself saying a silent prayer for Khatami before I drift into sleep, right after I ask God to protect my family and loved ones and these guys I’m with tonight.

Khatami struggles against the dictator Khamenei and his goons, but he can’t get much done.

Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, a senior Iranian cleric (a real one with real training), publicly criticizes Khamenei’s dictatorial political power. He is placed under house arrest.

1998

Iranian scientists are ordered to increase Iran’s tunneling technology and skill in order to shield future nuclear facilities.

US intelligence services detect, track, and confirm the launching of a medium range ballistic missile by Iran. The missile has the range to reach Israel.

Israel orders its defense industry to step up efforts on missile counter measures. The CIA reports to the Senate Intelligence Committee and the President that Israel is now significantly less safe. A few days later, the Secretary of Defense reports to Congress that Iran could build an intercontinental ballistic missile with the range to reach the US within five years.

North Korea needs oil and has been selling Chinese missile technology to Iran for oil and cash.

Iran’s new radical pals in Afghanistan, the Taliban, cut the heads off eight Iranian diplomats and send the heads to Iran in a box. Iran is not happy. They send several army brigades to the Afghan border. Iran overflies Afghanistan. The threat doesn’t work. They are Taliban, not Pakistanis or Iraqis. They have no idea that they’ve suffered the indignity of being overflown by a hostile air force. Dignity isn’t really their thing anyway.

1999

The fun continues. Supreme Con Man Khamenei’s press controllers order the closing of a newspaper for being less than 100% devoted to the adoration of Khamenei. Students in Tehran are angered and they protest peacefully. Revolutionary Guard thugs disguised as angry civilians raid the dormitory and beat and kidnap students. Six days of escalating protests ensue. Over 1,200 students are arrested. Some of them are never heard from again.

2000

Iran holds elections for the Majlis (the parliament). In spite of creative, Chicago-style election practices in Tehran, the reformers win an overwhelming majority. Once again, rural (more pure and devout) Iranians show that their devotion to God does not extend to the Khamenei.

Iranian reformer Saeed Hajjarian becomes President Khatami’s political adviser. The Revolutionary Guards suspect him of releasing information to the press about the routine murders of moderates in Iran. Hajjarian is shot in the face on the steps of the city council, but he lives. Khamenei can’t believe his bad luck.

2001

Moderate Khatami wins re-election. Khamenei asks his elections specialists what he is paying them for.

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Germany when I find out. Before long, I get a call from friends in the US. We have a good laugh. We ask ourselves what Khamenei is paying his election specialists for.

2002

US President George Bush accuses Iran of being a member of the Axis of Evil. The Western press frets that Iran will become angry at us . . . As compared to what?

The exiled Iranian National Council of Resistance reports to the Western press that Iran is building a secret underground nuclear facility at Natanz. The President and US allies already know. They’ve already been told.

2003

Iranian Sunni leader Abdolmalek Rigi founds Jundullah to fight against the Iranian regime. Most folks assume that the Saudis and their Gulf State Sunni pals are funding him. When IED bombs produced in Iran for use in Iraq start occasionally blowing up in Iran, Khamenei wonders what he is paying his bomb makers for. Most Iranians hate the regime that they live under, but they are not about to rally to the banner of Sunni brand terrorists.

Students protest in Tehran again. The press coverage is more intense this time, and fewer students vanish into thin air. Protesting in Iran takes more than a little courage. You might not survive.

image by Shahram Sharif, wikimedia commons

Shirin Ebadi becomes Iran’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner. She is a lawyer who had become Iran’s first female judge in 1975, but she was fired after the 1979 revolution. She is a human rights activist in Iran. Even with her family’s many political connections, it’s amazing that she survives.

Forty thousand people are killed in an earthquake in south-east Iran.

2004

A train crash in Iran kills about 260 people. It may or may not have been an accident. It may or may not have been an act of sectarian terrorism.

The Supreme Con Man Ayatollah Khamenei finally stops believing his own propaganda. He accepts that most Iranians hate him and his thugs. He outlaws all candidates except his hand picked lackeys. Finally, the conservatives manage to eek out a victory against themselves in the elections.

2005

One ultra-conservative by the name of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wins the presidential election after all reasonable adults are removed from the ballot. This guy had run on the most ridiculous, obsequious Khamenei worship platform imaginable. You just know his mother wasted that money she paid for those acting classes.

My pals and I start taking guesses for the month in which Ahmadinejad will try to get off his knees and take a little power for himself. All his pals will want a piece of that imaginary pie he is hoarding, too. That pie pan is empty. He is nothing more than a cheap facade. No one thinks he’s the president of anything.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at Iran’s nuclear development up to President Obama’s inauguration.


18 thoughts on “ Special Edition Iran – Part VIII, Crossing the Nuclear Rubicon

  1. on ,
    Dave said:


    Thanks, Holmes…This reads like a thriller – worthy of a book. I can feel the tension building. Too bad for all of us it isn’t fiction, as it has that slow-motion train wreck aura about it. I am really looking forward to the next installment.

    • on ,
      Jay Holmes said:


      Hi Dave. I’m glad you liked it. Yes it does have the feel of a train wreck to it. I too would prefer that this were all fiction.

  2. on ,
    Dave said:


    Sorry, but I should have asked this on the last post. Even if underground hardened facilities aren’t vulnerable to direct attack, surely their external infrastructure is exposed to some extent? They need power, water, oxygen, ingress/egress, food and supplies for personnel. They also need people that are willing to hole up in the ground forever. And just how productive is the average nuclear scientist or engineer when they’re distracted by wondering if their commuter bus is going to explode without warning?

    It takes money to run any endeavor. I’m sure that Iran is continuing to sell plenty of oil in spite of sanctions, but if I’m the person buying it I can probably set a pretty good price. How effective do you think sanctions are?

    Are there specific, smaller scale actions that could be combined with sanctions to make them more effective?

    There is an argument that an overt attack poses a higher risk of consolidating internal will against the external agressor and that the only real long term solution is to either break the will of the current regime or foster the internal divisions that could eventually force the change. How do you see this playing out?

    • on ,
      Jay Holmes said:


      “How effective do you think sanctions are?” Hi Dave. If nothing else past sanctions against Iran have made the price of atomic weapons development several times more expensive than than it otherwise would have been. Iran’s economy is highly vulnerable. When oil revenue drops they feel it the next day. With Europe only more recently joining in the latest round of sanctions they may be coming a bit too late to be effective.

      As we saw with North Korea, when faced with the basic choice of feeding the people or developing nuclear weapons, some despots will choose expensive weapons programs even at the cost of rampant hunger and thousands of dead citizens.

  3. “Amadinamonkey” – gave me a great laugh, so did your dad’s version. Excellent analysis, Holmes. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us.

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  5. Hi, Holmes. I’ve read your series, but added no comments b/c I could think of nothing intelligent to add other than, “thanks for the build up and history.”

    NOW we’re getting to the critical path. I’m banging my head on the the table thinking “Gaaaaah! NO! Don’t stop there!”

    So. I STILL have nothing intelligent to add. But, am so anxious for the next installment. I’ve been waiting for you to take on Iran since I first started reading your column.

    What a great time for us to have sent “play nice” (non)support to Israel.

    • on ,
      J Holmes said:


      HI Gloria.

      Thanks for taking this journey through this rather complex history with me. If I remain in the US this week as I plan to, then on Thursday I’ll lay out my guess and some guesses of other folks. I encourage our readers to present their own observations and guesses as well.

  6. We sweat it when Moscow got the Bomb. We sweat when China got one. Not so much with France and Israel. Iran joins the club and everyone panics. We let the genie out of the bottle. Right now, we should be urging Israel, in the strongest terms to keep their guns in their holster. I worry more about Israel than Iran. Sure they got a missle, but nothing would be better than being a martyr and carrying a nuke into the US.The theocracy in Israel is aiming at Tehran as we speak. They seem to have lost the long view. As usual an excellent synopsis of a complex problem.

    • on ,
      J Holmes said:


      Hi Tomwisk. Thanks for a well thought out comment. You bring up a critical issue. Although I am not a staunch supporter of the “Israel can do no wrong” camp I would point out that one key difference in their theocracy is that they do face the voters in open contest.

      I’ll go ahead and say that what Israel wants the most at this point is for the US and any willing European allies to take care of “the problem” in Iran without Israel being involved. Israel is already dealing with Iran’s terrorist satellite “Hezbollah” in Lebanon. At the same time, Israel sees a rising anti-everything in the Muslim Brotherhood as less radical members of the brotherhood loose their voice or their heartbeat. Within Israel there is strong disagreement about how to proceed with foreign policy.

      • Thank you for the response. In this time of shifting loyalty and alliances of covienience I sometimes lose sight of the long term bonds we’ve formed and wish we had a more pragmatic attachment to our allies, but that would not serve us or our allies.

  7. Hi Holmes. Great summary, and an interesting insight into a spook party … “a few of us take turns performing martial arts parlor tricks in the living room” … hummm, maybe I didn’t miss out so much by going to all those “engineers” parties. Not that I remember that much from them anyway …

    Once a country or ruler has decided it wants nuclear weapons, it’s only a matter of time and money before they get them. It’s sad that in a country which could have used it’s long gestated intelligence to step up onto the world stage, they chose to throw their toys out of their pram and go straight for the most destructive capability, like it’s going to be their first option when things don’t suit their (petulant) leadership.

    I’m not sure what your best guess about the future is going to be, but I’m crossing all my fingers right now that at least one of the options doesn’t end in “and everyone in the US dies.”

    Cheers!

    PS that was a joke, but if it isn’t, please treat it as one, sometimes ignorance is bliss.

  8. on ,
    J Holmes said:


    Hi NIgel. Glad you liked the article. “Once a country or ruler has decided it wants nuclear weapons, it’s only a matter of time and money before they get them.”. I’m not sure that we are quite there yet but we may be close to it.

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