When I’ve spoken at public gatherings, one of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked has been about Iran and its nuclear program. I’ve followed this issue very closely since the early 1990s and since 2001, my answer has been the same, and everything that’s happened since has bolstered my view of this issue.
In my view, Iran certainly has worked to develop a nuclear weapons capacity. It is almost unfathomable that they wouldn’t do so.
The incentives are massive. It starts with the hostility the country faces, justified or not, from two major nuclear powers, the United States and Israel. An Iranian nuke would also change the regional balance of power, breaking Israel’s Middle Eastern monopoly on nuclear weapons.
But it doesn’t end there. The Iranian neighborhood outside of the Mideast is a heavily nuclear one, including Pakistan, which borders Iran, India, which has an unsteady standoff with Pakistan, as well as Russia and China. There’s no immediate threat to Iran there, but there has been in the past, particularly from the USSR, and could be again someday. Things change.
And what are the disincentives? Well, they’re significant enough that Iran pursued its nuclear program clandestinely. It includes tension with Europe, which Iran desperately needs as a trading partner, and in the past it included the potential for a nuclear race with Iraq.
But the disincentives do not include an American or Israeli attack. This I have maintained for a decade and nothing has dissuaded me from that view.
True enough, there are significant forces in both the US and Israel that want to launch an attack on Iran. But they have largely been reduced to saber-rattling by the logistical difficulties and the regional ramifications of such an attack. Cooler heads, even among those who would like to attack Iran if the risks and consequences were not so dire, have prevailed.
It is also the case that anyone familiar with Iran knows that, despite its repressive theocracy and its deliberately provocative and offensive President, the country is not an irrational actor. They’ve never launched an aggressive war, and their very real support for radical Islamic groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, though often exaggerated, is based on a clear political calculus.
Those well-versed in Iran know they are not seeking a weapon which, once they have it, will be launched against Israel. Indeed, Israel knows this very well, as Ehud Barak himself recently confirmed. But the fear mongering, in both the US and Israel, is politically useful and Israel is indeed very worried that their nuclear monopoly will be broken. So are the Saudis, who, like Israel, would have a much more serious opponent to deal with in a nuclear Iran.
The issue remains alive, however, despite the fact that successive National Intelligence Estimates in the US, as well as other reports from international bodies have consistently stated that, despite Iran’s less than total cooperation with inspections, the conclusion is that Iran halted its active development of a nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has not resumed it since. (more…)