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An ex-CIA spy explains Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons

Iran’s leaders say nuclear weapons are forbidden by Islamic law. What I’ve seen suggests otherwise.

By Reza Kahlili / March 24, 2010

Los Angeles

Muslims use the word haram to describe any act forbidden under the rules of Islam. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, recently declared that Iran could not possibly be working on a nuclear bomb because doing so would be haram.

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“We have often said that our religious tenets and beliefs consider these kinds of weapons of mass destruction to be symbols of genocide and are, therefore, forbidden,” he asserted in February. “This is why we ... do not seek them.”

At a time when President Obama and Western allies are confronting Iran over its suspected nuclear program, some in the West took solace in the supreme leader’s assurance. Such solace is foolhardy.

First, Mr. Khamenei does not hold a sufficient position to declare any act as haram. Only a mujtahid, an Islamic scholar, has such authority.

However, when Khamenei was appointed as supreme leader in 1989, he was not considered qualified to be a mujtahid, let alone an ayatollah. He attained the title of ayatollah virtually overnight amid a highly disputed succession process.

Second, Khamenei ignores the fact that, in the mid-1980s, Mohsen Rezaei, then chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards, got Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s permission to develop nuclear bombs. As a CIA agent in the Revolutionary Guards then, I learned of this nascent effort and reported it to my handlers. The Iranians approached several sources, including Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. His account of Iran’s bid to buy atomic bombs from Pakistan was reported very recently.

Say one thing, do another

That Khamenei has chosen to conceal Iran’s nuclear program shouldn’t be surprising. He also claims that the Iranian government doesn’t condone torture, that the recent Iranian election was just and proof that his nation is a real democracy, and that Iran is not involved in terrorism.

Islamic teaching considers the spilling of blood during the Islamic month of Muharram to be haram. Yet that didn’t stop the regime’s troops from slaughtering unarmed protesters last year on Ashura, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest days.

Khamenei considers the Koran to be the ultimate source of guidance. One Koranic tenet is that you should deceive your enemies until you are strong enough to destroy them. Khamenei is employing this when he makes his declarations to the West.

Within Iran, radical Islamists have grown in power since Grand Ayatollah Khomeini’s death in 1989. Even Khomeini – an extremist by any reasonable definition – saw them as too fanatic and tried to keep them in check.

These radicals belong to a secret society called the Hojjatieh. It’s essentially a cult devoted to the reappearance of the 12th imam, Mahdi, and Islam’s conquest of the world. To achieve that end, the radicals believe they must foment chaos, famine, and lawlessness, that they must destroy Israel, and that world order must come to an abrupt halt.