Putting things in perspective on Iran, here are excerpts from articles I wrote in 2006 that were based on the best information and analysis available at that time from overt sources.
“Iran misses an opportunity” – I wrote early in 2006 and was published in the Singapore daily “Today”. Here is a paragraph from that article:
“Iran undoubtedly perceives itself threatened by Israel’s undeclared nuclear capabilities. If its leaders would project a more peaceful and conciliatory image, they could, without too much trouble bring to bear international pressure to compel Israel to come clean on the nuclear issue. Iran could then conceivably trade away some of it’s nuclear ambitions in return for Israeli concessions in the framework of a yet to be created Middle Eastern WMD control regime. Benefiting everyone, such a move could garner a lot of international pressure on all the parties involved, increasing its chances for success. Unfortunately, Iran is not performing in this scenario and instead of projecting the image of a well behaved player trying to level the field by getting Israel subjected to some international nuclear scrutiny as well, insists on playing the rogue part to the hilt.”
Well, it appears that with the replacement of President Ahmadinejad by President Rouhani, Iran has started to perform a more constructive role in this scenario and has stopped playing the rogue part. The pressure is on and we better be ready for some surprises.
And here is what I wrote in the same paper five months later in the article “Enriching Iran”:
“Judging by its total failure to deal with a similarly recalcitrant North Korea, the international community will have to face the fact that Iran is likely to have nuclear weapons by the end of the decade. Forceful diplomacy and sanctions may delay this development by a couple of years but will not be able to prevent it while serious military options appear just not feasible. Efforts must therefore be directed at engaging Iran in a long-term dialogue to ensure that by the time it does obtain nuclear weapons, it will have internalized that owning them entails the responsibility never to use them.”
Fast forward to 2013
The only thing that needs to be updated with this assessment is the schedule. In 2006 it appeared that Iran was going to have nuclear weapons by the end of the decade in 2010. Experts were off by about five years. The rest is still applicable: Military options may be operationally feasible and would conceivably, if at all, achieve very time-limited goals but after Iran’s already successful diplomatic offensive at the UN General Assembly they are politically just not in the cards anymore.
The bottom line remains now, as it was in 2006, the need to engage Iran in a long term dialogue to ensure that the Islamic Republic internalizes that joining the nuclear club entails a lot of responsibility. To try for anything more than that may get some headlines and may even have political value as a means to put pressure on Iran although, just as well, it might stiffen Iran’s resolve to go ahead with its nuclear program.
Iran before the end of the decade, will be a threshold or breakout state with the ability to develop nuclear weapons at short notice. This is the best we can hope for. We may not like this situation but we’ll learn to live with it just as the US learned to live with Soviet and Chinese nuclear programs, South Korea learned to live with North Korea’s program and Pakistan learned to live with that of its Indian neighbor. And just like Iran learned to live with that of Israel.