Iran is a rogue state, an entity almost entirely devoted to spreading mayhem and hatred – i.e., its understanding of Islam – throughout the world. Its leaders explicitly threaten the destruction of the State of Israel, and deny the Nazi Holocaust while contemplating another extermination campaign against the Jewish people. Israel has spent the better part of two decades trying to awaken the world to the Iranian threat with mixed results. President Bush declared Iran part of the axis of evil, imposed sanctions, but was unable to directly confront Iran owing to America’s military obligations elsewhere. President Obama has accepted the enhanced sanctions decreed by Congress and has fired a barrage of rhetorical missiles against Iran – and soothing words for its people – but with little effect. Although Israel is Iran’s primary regional target, the instability that will be wrought by an Iranian nuclear weapon should alarm nations both near and far.
An Iranian nuclear capability, if achieved, would dramatically transform Israel’s military strategy. It would provide a security umbrella to evil elements such as Hezbollah and Hamas, as Israel would have to increase its threshold of acceptable missile attacks lest a “disproportionate” response provoke an Iranian nuclear strike. A land invasion of terrorist strongholds would become more difficult to contemplate or execute successfully. Iran, governed by an apocalyptic leadership that (at least verbally) prizes martyrdom, is not subject to the same balance of terror that enforced stability between the US and the USSR, who were both, at least, rational actors that expected mutual survival. Assuming the same rational conduct from Iran – knowing of their eschatological tendencies – is to project our values onto them, always a fatal error in statecraft and diplomacy.
The effect of an Iranian nuclear capability on the United States is not as often discussed but would devastate American interests throughout the world. Iran as the sole Muslim nuclear power in the region (Pakistan’s bomb targets India, and vice versa) would quickly become the regional hegemon. The US would either be forced to extend a nuclear umbrella to America’s regional allies like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and others, or tolerate – i.e., spearhead – the nuclear ambitions of those states. The Middle East would live – as long as it did live – on the brink of Armageddon.
In another scenario, Iran would impose its will on those other states before, or in the absence of, an American nuclear umbrella, and would dominate the flow, distribution and price of oil. The hegemony of Iran in the region would choke the free flow of oil, oil prices would rise precipitously, and the world (and the US) economy would deteriorate.
An Iranian bomb would allow a freer hand to Iran’s terrorist rogues throughout the world, including within the United States. The tepid reaction of the US authorities to Iran’s attempted assassination of a Saudi diplomat in Washington DC last year is case-in-point. If a non-nuclear Iran evaded punishment for hostile actions within America, how much easier would it be for Iran to export its evil to these shores and escape real consequences? The mere threat of a nuclear response would suppress any real action. And Iran’s tendency to work through surrogates – non-state actors – leaves open the real possibility of nuclear strikes throughout the world – actual or threatened – without Iranian fingerprints on them. An Iranian EMP attack – a nuclear weapon detonated 20,000 feet above American soil – would destroy the infrastructure of modern American life and, within a short time, kill millions of people.
As the balance of power in the Middle East shifts away from Israel and US allies to Iran, America’s influence in the region will diminish. Erstwhile American allies will strike diplomatic deals with Iran, and Israel itself will be forced to engage in riskier unilateral acts against its neighbors in order to guarantee its survival. The Arabian Peninsula will fall under Iranian dominance, Iraq and Jordan will reach out to the new sovereigns, and Egypt, Syria and Lebanon will join forces to forge a radical Islamic front. American forces in the region will be subjected to greater threats and attacks, will soon no longer be welcome and will be brought home. American influence will wane, until it disappears completely – like that of the British and the French. Feckless Europe will shift into the Iranian orbit, and the US will find itself isolated and alone in the world. In certain administrations, it might even make its peace with Iran and pay it an appropriate tribute – financially and diplomatically – in order to ensure momentary tranquility. Russia and China would likely join forces with Iran to impose its economic will on the globe. Anti-American neighbors like Venezuela and Cuba – Iranian allies – could find themselves in possession of Iranian nuclear devices that further threaten to erode American power and security.
In short, the notion that an Iranian nuclear weapon is just an Israeli problem is a convenient fiction used by those who are anti-Israel, anti-American, or who are incapable of defending American interests or projecting American power throughout the world.
The Obama administration has been duplicitous, coy or clever in its dealings with this issue. One contention is that its pro-Muslim sympathies engender words that soothe the American and Israeli publics but no actual deeds that will reverse the current trends and force a permanent halt to the Iranian nuclear program. The repeated cliché favored by Hillary Clinton, a remarkably unsuccessful Secretary of State, that “there is still time for diplomacy to work” is true but not very helpful or comforting; there is always “time,” until the very moment when there is “no time.” Unfortunately the gap between “time” and “no time” is seconds, not days, weeks or months. Technically, until the system is on-line and producing radioactivity, weapons, etc., there is “time.” But that window of “time” will close in an instant, and despite its assertions, it is not impossible that an Obama administration will come to terms with an Iranian bomb and then boast about how it kept the US out of war.
Disturbing rumors persist – that the US Administration is more interested in preventing an Israeli pre-emptive attack than in thwarting an Iranian bomb; that it purposely leaked Israeli negotiations with Azerbaijan over airfields and flyover rights that would greatly reduce the risks and flight time of any Israeli air strike against the Iranian facilities; that it has denied – like the Bush Administration before it – Israeli access to American weaponry and bases that could facilitate such a strike.
Much, naturally, remains obscure. Hope springs eternal that the Obama administration’s overt hostility to Israel’s statecraft is a clever attempt to lure the enemy into a false sense of confidence, to deflect its attentions from the real source of military activity that will permanently obstruct Iran’s nuclear ambitions and effect a change in that malevolent regime. Perhaps the Azerbaijan leak was a feint, a deception? Perhaps Israel will operate jointly with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – sworn enemies of Iran – in black operations that will shield the Arab countries from the public “shame” of working with Jews against fellow Muslims? Perhaps the current American government has a broader and more traditional view of American power in the world and is waiting for the right moment to act from its current bases in the Middle East?
One can only hope.
But we should not assume that only Israel will be impacted by a nuclear Iran. The influence will be felt in Israel, in the United States and across the world, and the world itself will no longer be the same. The question remains whether the Obama administration is up to the task, and whether the American people understand and internalize the dangers – before it is too late.