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Iran's Take On Russia-Ukraine: Nuclear Arms Are Our Best Defense

While cheering the Russian attack on Ukraine, Iranian state media have also drawn the "lesson" from this war that a state can only be strong if it has a nuclear arsenal.

IRGC launched missiles during a military exercise

IRGC launched missiles during a military exercise in three provinces around the Bushehr nuclear power plant

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)


So Iran stands with Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, China and Nicaragua in not condemning Russia's attack on Ukraine. Instead, it is voicing support for the conflict's instigator, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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One thing this war has done for Iran was to swiftly reveal elements in the political establishment who favor arming the country with nuclear weapons, which is against the regime's official line on non-proliferation. They include officials, media analysts and even individuals usually tagged as reformists, but they mostly consist of regime zealots closer to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Reactions in Tehran to the Russian invasion have been enthusiastic, if not at times gleeful. Regime hardliners think Putin attacked to protect Russian-speaking separatists, and naively imagine he is a leader who stands by his allies, even risking a showdown with the West to that end. Hardliners have also reminded moderates or supporters of an entente with the Biden administration — or their "boss" as they sarcastically call President Joe Biden — that the West effectively abandoned Ukraine.

Not "ending up like Ukraine"

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Holds Military Exercises

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Holds Military Exercises on December 22, 2021,

Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)

An American plot

Hardliners have blamed an "American plot" for the attack on Ukraine, then concluded that under such conditions, the Islamic Republic needs its ballistic missiles and a nuclear deterrent to defend itself. It must be the first time they have revealed what they concealed for years: the desire for Iran to have atomic bombs. Ukraine has brought them out of the closet and inspired them to make their analyses.

On the second day of the invasion, Mehr agency, tied to the state-run Islamic Development Organization, carried out an interview (on Feb. 24) with the Ukrainian ambassador in Tehran, entitled "we should not have lost our nuclear weapons".

Ukraine lacked the means and technology to maintain and use a nuclear arsenal.

This seemed to justify more declarations on the need to build a nuclear bomb, regardless of Khamenei's edict that such weapons are entirely illicit. Hardliners have claimed that with an arsenal, the country would not "end up like Ukraine." They forget that Ukraine was never a nuclear state with an arsenal! That belonged to the Soviet Union, and Ukraine lacked the means and technology to maintain and use a nuclear arsenal.

The Qazvin congregational prayer leader, Ayatollah Abdolkarim Abedini, said on Feb. 25 that "westerners unjustly disarmed the Ukrainians and gradually brought the country to a state of crisis. They changed the fate of its people and today, have left the country... on fire." By disarmament, he meant the 1994 Budapest agreements to hand the Soviet Union's weaponry to the Russian Federation.

The cleric claimed the Americans want "in vain" to impose this fate on Iran, though it "will never abandon its defense and resistance." No congregational prayer of note in Iran has condemned the invasion.

Khamenei speaks

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah ALI KHAMENEI speaks during a live TV speech in Tehran

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses the nation on Ukraine.

Iranian supreme leader office

Sovereignty is a lie

Danial Me'mar, the editor of the Tehran paper Hamshahri, wrote on Feb. 26 that if Ukraine was helpless now it was because for years it counted on "NATO and Westerners" for protection "instead of... creating a defensive shield for itself." That, he thinks, is why the ambassador was warning "countries like Iran" to take note of Ukraine's "plight, and not to put aside their nuclear shield."

He wrote that if the Americans were talking to Iran "around a table" it was because they understood this was "the only way to face Iran... it is as clear as the day that if they had another solution left... they would seek it out."

This propaganda line is even being peddled by reformist mouthpieces. The website Ensaf Newshas effectively distorted the ambassador's comments with its headline, "Ukraine Regrets Returning Its Nuclear Warheads!"

Another website, Jamaran, run by Hasan Khomeini, grandson of the late revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini, says the ambassador merely confirmed that the idea of an international system protecting sovereignty "is just a lie" and states "will be defeated" if they cannot assure their own security. The reformist activist and former hostage-taker at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Abbas Abdi, tweeted that Ukraine did indeed illustrate "the need for armaments" but, he added, these were less important than public support for a regime and an "independent policy."

The regime's media readily denounce the West's "hostility," but says nothing about Russia's naked aggression. Its propagandists previously tried to scare Iranians about Iran becoming "another Syria" and now warn it could become "another Ukraine." Yet they never warn of the threat of another Chernobyl disaster in quake-prone Iran. And they seem to forget — oblivious to the likes of Saddam or Gaddafi — that the fate of aggressors can also be wretched.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Here's Why Iran Might End Up Turning Its Back On Hamas

Iran's revolutionary regime insists it wants Israel destroyed and has threatened a regional war, but its actions are ambivalent, suggesting it may fear a regional war that would hasten its demise. As a result, it may decide to stop supporting Hamas in Gaza.

photo of women holding iranian and palestinian flags and photo of supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei

At a pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran on Nov. 4.

Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA
Hamed Mohammadi

Updated Nov. 14, 2023 at 11:05 p.m.


Urban warfare is an ugly mess even for high-tech armies, yet after weeks of bombing Hamas targets, Israel believed it had no choice but to invade Gaza and expose its troops to just this type of fighting. It is the only way of flushing out Hamas, it says, which has decided to fight Israel amid the wreckage of Gazan homes, schools and clinics.

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Meanwhile, attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East by similar militias working in coordination with the Iranian regime have become a headache for the Biden administration, which is seen by some as taking a soft line with the Tehran. The administration insists there is no hard evidence yet of Iranian involvement in Hamas's attack on Israel on October 7, though it has hardened its tone, warning Tehran not to pour "fuel on fire."

As for the European Union, it remains cautious about listing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as terrorists, even if in September the NATO parliamentary assembly advised members of the alliance to list them as such and aid the democratic aspirations of ordinary Iranians.

Whatever the details, the war in Gaza is intimately connected to the Iranian regime and its modus operandi.

Its officials have warned that the Gaza offensive, if continued, would open new fronts against Israel. The regime's foreign minister, Hussein Amirabdullahian, vowed Gaza would become an Israeli "graveyard" if its troops invaded, while the head of the Revolutionary guards, Hussein Salami, compared the strip to a "dragon" that would "devour" the invaders.

But so far we have seen nothing of Iran's more dramatic threats, made soon after the October attack, including the West Bank joining with Gaza or the Lebanese Hezbollah firing off 150,000 rockets. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, while insisting Iran had nothing to do with the Hamas assault, urged regional states to starve Israel of fuel. That too has yet to happen.

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