Too Much Hysteria About Iran?
Iran will have the bomb. It won't be anytime soon, but perhaps in 5 years, more likely 10, certainly in 50. Any expansion of the nuclear club is dangerous, and the idea that a nation that openly calls for Israel's destruction and considers America the "Great Satan" will have the capability to inflict catastrophic damage on both is disturbing. Still, does Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons merit the apocalyptic predictions now emanating from some quarters?
Since the Iranian revolution, the State Department has inaccurately predicted the secular Iranians who hate the theocracy would rise up and retake their country from the mullahs. It hasn't happened, and the latest election actually brought an even more radical leader to the presidency. What is interesting, however, is that it is not only the radicals who believe Iran should have the bomb; the folks we like are equally adamant that their country has every right to the technology.
The nationalistic view of nuclear weapons has two important consequences. First, unlike Iraq, regime change in Iran will not put an end to the country's nuclear ambitions. Second, if the United States were to take military action against Iran, it would unite the entire nation and could lead to a conflict that makes the war in Iraq look like a picnic.
The good news about the current regime is that the president is a loose cannon whose rhetorical bombs have united most of the world against Iran. In addition, the president appears so incompetent the probability that he can make his country a nuclear power seems remote.
The element of surprise is also gone. The world will be keeping a close eye on Iran and, while we may not know everything they are doing, we should know if and when they have built a bomb.
It is also worth remembering that for all the noise Iran makes about the "Zionist entity" and its patron, its principal strategic interest is regional domination, and the countries that are most concerned are its immediate neighbors. Iran wants to control the oil industry, to influence policy in the Middle East, and to become a major player in global politics. Again, this would be the case whoever ran the country.
The Islamic regime would also like to spread their brand of fanaticism, but it is another largely neglected fact that they have utterly failed in this regard. After the revolution, many predicted that radical Islam would sweep across the region. In the succeeding 26 years, however, not a single domino has fallen.
What about the terrorist threat? This is also exaggerated. First, it is not so easy to build a nuclear weapon, that's why the club is so small and Iran still hasn't gotten in. It's not like today's suicide belt that can be put together in a garage and strapped onto someone's back. Second, Iran is not likely to give terrorists whatever weapons it may build. It is likely to only produce a handful and they are going to be primarily for missiles that they can use for deterrence and/or a first strike capability. They probably won't produce suitcase bombs or anything a terrorist could use nor are they likely to give people who they can't control that kind of power.
Should Israel be worried? Of course. Israel's survival depends in large measure on its quantitative military edge over its enemies. Once Iran has nukes, it has the capability to destroy Israel. Three bombs – one for Tel Aviv, one for Jerusalem, one for Haifa – and it’s goodbye Israel. Antinuke activists believe our enemies “love their children too” and therefore are unlikely to risk mutual annihilation, but Iran's former president essentially said that Iran could survive a nuclear strike from Israel and still destroy the Jewish state. Moreover, can you trust leaders to behave rationally if they believe that 72 virgins are waiting for them in Paradise if they carry out what they view as Allah's will?
Israelis aren't keen on taking the risk, but what can they do about it? At best, most analysts believe a military strike would only slow the Iranians down and would provoke international outrage and potentially even greater Islamic terror. Military planners see the inevitability of a nuclear bomb and have a series of defensive responses. First, Israel has developed a satellite capability to spy on Iran (and Iran is trying to get its own satellites) and give them as much advance warning as possible of any threat. Second, in cooperation with the U.S., Israel has developed the Arrow anti-missile system. Finally, Israel wants, and may already have, a second strike capability using submarine-launched nuclear missiles, which it hopes will disabuse the Iranians of the notion they could win a nuclear war.
Israel would prefer to see the United States act. While President Bush might have had the will before, he now has little political support, and few people believe we can afford to start a war with the Iranians while we've still got troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The most likely scenario is that the international community will impose some sanctions on Iran. It will take many more months before any action will be taken, and the Iranians will seek to delay it as long as possible while accelerating their nuclear program. Even after some punitive measures are in place, Iran will continue to pursue a bomb and will receive support from nations that are more interested in oil and the large sums Iran will pay for technology than nonproliferation.
It would be nice if we could prevent Iran from getting the bomb, but we need to think more about how to live with a nuclear Iran and insure it does not use its weapons.