by Barry Rubin
Would the Iranian government hand nuclear weapons to a terrorist group or fire off nuclear-tipped missiles itself?
It is easy for many experts and "experts" to answer this question "No." Their reasoning is that
I'd agree with that response as far as it goes. But it misses some very key points that might end up getting a huge number of people killed.
Thus, to say that
Having said that I would correct the original response to be this:
Probably means that the odds are higher—let's say far higher—than 50 percent that they won't do so. The problem here is that even if there is a 10, 20. pr 30 percent chance of that happening, that's not the kind of risk one wants to take.
But there are other, even more likely, scenarios that are never discussed but are quite important. Here are the two I think most important:
First, what I will call "Private Donations." I don't think the "Iranian government" would give Hizballah, Iraqi Shia groups, or Hamas nuclear weapons. That is, I don't think there will be a top-level meeting where such a decision would be made officially.
I do think that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which will be responsible for both the weapons and for liaison with terrorist groups, or other officials, might give them nuclear weapons. Iran is not a tightly disciplined bureaucracy and the security of these arms—especially if some hot factional dispute breaks out or the regime is in danger of falling—is not going to be so tight. These officers and officials might not make rational calculations, are more likely to be swayed by ideology (Allah is on our side), and could well discount the likelihood of
In short, the chance of an Iranian Dr. Strangelove pushing a button or handing over some weapons--a mad ideologist rather than a mad scientist--is higher than the possibility of this happening with any of the other countries that have had such weapons over many decades.
I have never seen someone from the complacent Conventional Wisdom containment-is-no-problem mainstream deal with any of the above issues.
Second, there is what I call "The Defensive Umbrella for Aggression" If groups like Hizballah or others get their members to believe they have access to nuclear weapons, either through a transfer or a clear Iranian guarantee to use such weapons in their cause, wars could be set off by their over-confident calculations.
As I have noted before,
Thus, the situation with a nuclear-armed
But no matter what
Consider, and this is not far-fetched, that Hizballah concludes that if it attacks Israel, Israel would be deterred from retaliation out of fear that Iran would launch nuclear missiles. From what Syrian leaders say, it seems they already believe that
A related scenario is that while
Consider also this true story told by Haim Saban, the Power Rangers multimillionaire and donor to Democratic campaigns. In considering who he would support, Saban met during the 2008 campaign separately with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He asked each of them the same question: "If Iran nukes
Since Obama's reaction was off-the-record and before the election it response cannot be attributed to presidential caution. Saban interpreted it as something along the lines of (my words, not his): I'll think about it. This reflects a state of mind and way of thinking.
That anecdote should be far more frightening to most Arab countries than it is to
Look at the overall situation of a nuclear
Of course, to extend the analogy, the boxer might miscalculate, get hit back hard and then pull out the gun.
And once again: I have never seen someone from the complacent Conventional Wisdom containment-is-no-problem mainstream deal with any of the above issues.
It would be far lower-risk and simpler to stop Iran from getting nuclear arms in the first place but that option seems to be very close to non-existent. Let's face it: the campaign to convince the Western world to make a really serious effort to take up this challenge has failed.
Whatever half-hearted sanctions are passed after whatever number of months we better start directing our attention to a world in which
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
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