Employing religion: Why is Iran threatening to change the fatwa of “nuclear weapons”?


After more than one Iranian official recently hinted at the possibility of acquiring a nuclear bomb, warnings increased about the possibility of giving a kind of legitimacy to this trend, by calling on the Supreme Leader of the Republic, Ali Khamenei, to change his fatwa prohibiting the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction; MP Mohammad Reza Sabbaghian told ILNA news agency on August 2, 2022: “The enemy should know that if it continues with its rudeness and threats, we will ask the Leader to change the strategy and the fatwa for the production of nuclear weapons,” a clear reference to the ongoing escalation between Iran and all of its The United States of America and Israel, which carried out several security operations inside Iran in the past period, aimed at impeding its ability to raise the level of nuclear activities, develop its ballistic missile program, and continue its expansion in areas close to its borders, especially in Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

Many motives

It can be said that these warnings are not the first of their kind; Iranian officials have already hinted at adopting this option. Undoubtedly, a deputy in the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Parliament) is not expected to make such statements without obtaining a green light from sovereign authorities in the country, in a way that suggests that this warning may be an indirect message from the country’s supreme leadership represented by the Supreme Leader. Ali Khamenei to the international powers concerned with the Iranian nuclear file, parallels the successive references by some Iranian officials regarding Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear bomb, given that it possesses the necessary technical capabilities to do so, if it takes a political decision in this regard. These warnings can be explained in light of several motives, the most prominent of which are:

1- The increasing influence of the trend rejecting the nuclear agreement:  Although there are indications that a nuclear agreement could be reached during the indirect talks that are taking place between Iran and the United States of America in Vienna starting on August 4, 2022; As the two parties are working to settle the outstanding differences over some files, such as placing the Revolutionary Guards on the list of terrorist organizations and obtaining economic guarantees for Iran, this does not negate that the trend rejecting the nuclear agreement still exists and is based on a sector of supporters who believe that reaching a new nuclear agreement will not protects Iran’s interests.

In this regard, the warning of the possibility of changing the fatwa suggests that this trend seeks to say that it will continue to campaign against the agreement – if it is reached – and that the best way to protect what it considers Iran’s “nuclear achievements” is to change the fatwa issued by Supreme Leader Khamenei in 2003.

2- Not ruling out the possible collapse of the agreement again:  This trend sees that even in the event of a new nuclear agreement being reached, it will not be permanent, but rather will be temporary; Because any Republican president who will reach the White House at some point after the current president, Joe Biden, will withdraw again – according to this trend – from the agreement and re-impose US sanctions on Iran. Here, the American weight will be the cause of the collapse of the agreement; Because the sanctions that Washington will impose in this case will push other countries and foreign companies to abide by them, and not to challenge them, in light of the interests that link these countries and companies to the United States of America.

3- Continuing pressures around other files: The pressures exerted by the United States on Iran on other issues, especially the ballistic missile program and regional interventions, will continue, which can be explained in light of the insistence of the administration of US President Joe Biden not to lift the sanctions imposed on the Revolutionary Guards or remove it from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. This means, according to this trend, that the United States of America will always maintain the justification on which it will rely in order to reduce the size of the returns that Iran will obtain through any possible nuclear agreement under which the sanctions imposed by the Biden administration may be lifted.

Here, it was noticeable that some Iranian officials had previously warned that putting Iran before one option, by raising the level of these pressures imposed on it, might push it to take this escalatory step by changing the fatwa that prohibits the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction; For example, former Security Minister Mahmoud Alavi was keen to describe Iran’s situation in the event of imposing a single option on it as a “trapped cat” that must act to save itself. He said in the official Channel Two news bulletin on February 8, 2021, in this regard: “The Supreme Leader Khamenei clearly stated in his fatwa that nuclear weapons contradict Sharia, and that the Islamic Republic considers them forbidden religiously, and does not seek to possess them, but a trapped cat can act in a way It is different from what he does when he is at large, and if Western countries push Iran in that direction, it will not be Iran’s fault.”

4- Exerting pressure on the safeguards file:  Iran shows a special interest in the pending safeguards file with the International Atomic Energy Agency, after the agency confirmed in previous reports that Iran had not provided answers to questions it raised regarding suspicious activities in three locations, and issued a statement of condemnation for that, On the 6th of last June. According to several reports, Iran has stipulated that this file be closed indirectly in the talks currently taking place in Vienna with the United States of America, in order to facilitate reaching a new nuclear agreement. In Tehran’s vision, keeping this file open would enhance the chances of the agreement’s collapse again, which prompted it to hint that it had other options in the event of the failure of the current negotiations or the collapse of any possible agreement that could be reached during the current negotiations at a later stage.

Perhaps it can be said in the end, that these successive warnings by some Iranian officials present an important indication that Iran has not yet been able to prove that it can engage in strict international obligations. This means, in the first place, that any new nuclear agreement that may be reached in the coming period does not mean the end of the “danger” posed by the Iranian nuclear program, or Iran’s retreat from its current policy, which threatens the security and interests of countries in the region. Perhaps it can be said that Iran’s focus on its technical nuclear capabilities and on the possibility of changing Khamenei’s “fatwa” confirms that it has not yet given up its ambition to join the nuclear club.

Al-Sadr: Interregional for Strategic Analytics

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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