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Steve Weissman: What If Iran Has the Bomb?

What If Iran Has the Bomb?

What should America do if Iran's Ayatollahs do have nuclear weapons, or are right on the verge of getting them?
By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 27 January 2005

Nearly all intelligence sources who've gone public think Iran poses no immediate threat of having the bomb, and no possibility of going nuclear for at least three to five years. Even the Israelis now seem to agree. According to the Jerusalem Post, Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that Iran could not build nuclear bombs overnight and would need a few years to do so.

The threat, as Dagan sees it, is that by the end of the year Iran could have all the technology it needs to produce military quantities of bomb-grade uranium without any further outside help. Even with monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency, this would be "a point of no return," he warns. But he sees no imminent military threat.

This is the reality. But, let's pretend: What if all the spies are wrong? What if the Ayatollahs are only weeks away from getting the bomb? How, then, should Washington and Jerusalem respond?

Middle East mavens, foreign policy experts, and military strategists increasingly offer some surprising advice: Learn to live with it.


With nuclear deterrence. The U.S. and Israel would still have an overwhelming nuclear advantage, and Iran would risk utter devastation if the Ayatollahs - or their successors - ever even threatened to use their nukes. If Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) worked for nearly half-a-century of the Cold War, why not in the Middle East as well?

This is a terrible choice, I know. But until saner heads can construct a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, the world wound be a lot safer with MAD than with a mix of massive air strikes and commando raids on Iran's nuclear, industrial, and oil exporting infrastructure. And, from my reading of the recent flurry of news reports, this is precisely the option the Pentagon is now pursuing.

"It's a fantasy to think that there's a good American or Israeli military option in Iran," the expatriate Iranian scholar Shahram Chubin told Sy Hersh, as quoted in Hersh's explosive report, The Coming Wars.

Research Director at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Chubin described how the Israeli attack on Iraq's OSIRAK reactor in 1981 had persuaded the Iranians to build many of their nuclear facilities deep in the ground.

"You can't be sure after an attack that you'll get away with it. The U.S. and Israel would not be certain whether all the sites had been hit, or how quickly they'd be rebuilt. Meanwhile, they'd be waiting for an Iranian counter-attack that could be military or terrorist or diplomatic. Iran has long-range missiles and ties to Hezbollah, which has drones - you can't begin to think of what they'd do in response."

In fact, Washington has begun to think of just that. According to the Los Angeles Times, officials fear that Iran could retaliate by unleashing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah "to hit American targets in Iraq, step up attacks in Israel, target U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, or even to strike inside the United States."

These officials see Hezbollah as "the A-team" of international terrorism,"potentially more deadly than Al Qaeda, with possibly dozens of cells around the world."

And what about the impact in Iraq, which already looks like a lost cause? Or in Afghanistan?

"The potential for trouble for the United States if the Bush administration acts aggressively toward Iran is enormous," warns Juan Cole, the widely quoted Middle East historian. "It could turn the Iraqi Shiites and the Afghan Hazarahs decisively against Washington. An Iran in chaos similar to that in Iraq would be three or four times the problem for the US and the world that Iraq is."

On the diplomatic front, the problems would prove equally severe. With Russia and China holding vetoes, the United Nations Security Council will never give the Bush Administration the cosmetic cover it wants for its attack, and now even Tony's Blair's government has spoken out against any Iranian adventure.

Will any of this reality-based thinking stop Mr. Bush and his Neo-Conservative advisors? Not unless Congress, our European allies, and millions of people all over the world start jumping up and down very soon.


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes for t r u t h o u t.

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