Achieving nuclear power status by Iran will force Israel to admit to its own nuclear arsenal, an outcome that nobody, including Iran, really wants
As the “misery index” of Iranian economy continues to skyrocket due to newly tightened sanctions, Iranian leadership is proceeding along the twin tracks of announcing further uranium enrichment goals in defiance of the JCPOA and denying their interest in obtaining a nuclear arsenal. While these tracks appear to be at odds with each other, they do serve a purpose.
If you are wondering what that purpose might be, consider that the only purpose regimes like the Iranian one have is self-preservation. By any imaginable metric Iranian theocrats have failed to advance the agenda of the Iranian people. They have failed them economically, militarily, and geopolitically. Far from increasing Iran’s stature in the world and bringing back the glory days of the Persian Empire, they have made Iran into a pariah state whose only two exports are regional instability and oil, a rapidly depreciating commodity that is experiencing global oversupply problems.
I doubt that anyone outside of Iran’s leadership knows how close Iran is to a functional and deliverable nuclear weapon, but I suspect that openly possessing such a weapon is not something the mullahs are striving for. Should Iran perform a North Korean-style nuclear test and seeing as it is already in possession of rocketry capable of reaching Israel, the Gulf, and many parts of Southern Europe, the only missing link would be the miniaturization of the warhead so it can be delivered via a ballistic weapon.
It is unthinkable that Israel could wait to find out if and when Iran gains such capability, simply because once they do, their empty threats to turn Israel into a pile of rubble will not be empty anymore. In such an eventuality, Israel will be faced with the choice of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities or establishing a regime of mutual assured destruction with its implacable enemy. In all likelihood, Israel will choose the latter, simply because it is in every way cheaper, simpler, and possessed of much higher chances of success. The implication of such a move on the region and the world, however, would be profound.
In order to establish a credible nuclear deterrent with Iran, Israel will have to abandon its policy of nuclear ambiguity, a policy it had adhered to since the very inception of its nuclear arms program. For the first time ever, Israel would have to admit to possessing a significant nuclear arsenal deliverable via a complete triad of land, sea, and airborne platforms. Furthermore, Israel would have to admit to having second strike capability, most likely via its (alleged) fleet of nuclear-armed submarines, making sure that everybody in Iran knows what will befall them should they engage in a first-strike nuclear attack against Israel.
But that is not the end. As part of the deterrent, Israel will have to disclose its FIRST STRIKE policy, in other words make it clear to Tehran what kind of movements of its missiles or nuclear materiel would be a sufficient trigger for Israel to launch a preemptive strike against Iran. This kind of disclosure of Israel’s nuclear capability would (if foreign sources are correct) propel Israel into the first tier of nuclear-armed nations, a tier currently occupied by the US, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China. That would tremendously embarrassing not only to Iran itself, but to many Arab and Muslim nations, including those that are currently warming up to Israel and beginning to contemplate making public their longstanding covert Israeli ties.
The move would also be embarrassing to Israel’s longest standing and most powerful ally, the US, under whose “don’t ask don’t tell” policy vis-a-vis the Israeli nuclear arms program the Israeli nuclear arsenal has flourished and multiplied. Finally, Israel would instantly become by far the smallest (both geographically and population-wise) country to possess a nuclear arsenal and any vestiges of the global non-proliferation regime would instantly evaporate. Suddenly everyone will want nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles, and nuclear-capable bombers, and even nuclear-capable surface ships and submarines. From Japan to South Korea, from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, everyone will want in on the action.
So no, Iran does not want actual nuclear weapons. What it wants is nuclear blackmail and the maintenance of its very significant threat against Israel via conventional weaponry in the hands of the Hamas and the Hezbollah. Tehran wants to leverage its assets into sanctions relief and even economic aid and under the pro-Iranian leadership of president Obama they were making big strides in that direction. But not with Trump. President Trump quite correctly perceives that Iranian assets are fake, that their aces are imaginary, and that consequently they have nothing to offer in exchange for any kind of American concessions.
The only thing that will get them those concessions is for them to admit defeat, acknowledge that the immense investments they had made in their military forces and the arming of proxies from the Arabian Peninsula to Gaza were all for naught. They need to quit the bluffing and to fold, reverting to the humdrum existence of normal countries, countries that try to take care of things like healthcare and sewage treatment. In exchange for that, there can be little doubt, Iran could become the beneficiary of a truly Trumpian benefit package replete with Halal McDonald’s and Trump-branded four-star resorts. But there is one problem: stern-faced Iranian mullahs did not kick out the Shah so they could do exactly what he had already done four decades ago; they promised their people guts and glory and the coming of the Imam Mahdi, and the extermination of the infidels, most especially of Israel, not spa hotels and fat Germans drinking beer on the beaches. It doesn’t matter that today many Iranians long for normal lives or have buyers’ regret when it comes to the clerical regime they find themselves under. When a regime commits the kind of crimes against its own people that the mullahs have committed, there is no peaceful way out.
With Europe defeated from within and both the US and Israel in political turmoil, with the bridges behind them long since burned, the mullahs may decide that the only way to survival that is open to them is to provoke a limited (they hope) war with Israel and perhaps even America using their considerable conventional arsenal and “defeat is not an option” attitude to extract American concessions at gunpoint. That strategy was tried once before by Japan and failed spectacularly, but these are different times and the mullahs are not above trying it again.
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