And fear of a nuclear Iran is overhyped, suggests Paul Perrin in an essay sure to boil the blood of many. He notes
the Israeli government, which has led the way in talking up the danger of an Iranian bomb, represents a significant hazard outside Washington’s control. It was most likely the Israelis, for instance, who orchestrated the provocatively timed attack on Roshan. Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently dialed down the heat somewhat by saying that an Israeli decision to strike Iran was “far off.” But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, mindful of the U.S. electoral calendar and the possibility that Barack Obama might pull off a victory in November, may see a temporary opportunity to precipitate a conflict in which a preelection U.S. president would feel obliged to join in on Israel’s side.
Israel’s objective in stirring the pot is patently self evident: to engender support for war against Iran- ‘preemptive’ war because Iran ‘might’ possess the capability of a nuclear attack (a capability we all know Israel itself already possesses).
Yet even without an Israeli decision to start a war, recent U.S., Iranian, and Israeli actions already constitute an escalation toward one. Rising tensions have increased the chance that even a minor incident, such as a seaborne encounter in the Persian Gulf, could spiral out of control. And Iran’s own covert actions—perhaps including the recent spate of car bombs targeting Israeli officials in India and Georgia and last year’s bizarre alleged plot to blow up a restaurant in Washington, D.C., and kill the Saudi ambassador—feed even more hostility from the U.S. and Israel, escalating further the risk of open conflict.
But more to the present point
What difference would it make to Iran’s behavior and influence if the country had a bomb? Even among those who believe that war with the Islamic Republic would be a bad idea, this question has been subjected to precious little careful analysis. The notion that a nuclear weapon would turn Iran into a significantly more dangerous actor that would imperil U.S. interests has become conventional wisdom, and it gets repeated so often by so many diverse commentators that it seldom, if ever, is questioned. Hardly anyone debating policy on Iran asks exactly why a nuclear-armed Iran would be so dangerous. What passes for an answer to that question takes two forms: one simple, and another that sounds more sophisticated.
It’s a brilliant analysis which policy makers should attend to reading. And there are 4 more pages of it after the first (so it’s not the sort of shallow analysis most politicians will offer).