For a moment, Iran is back in the Western media.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have dominated Western headlines of late, but the negotiations deadline between Iran and the P5+1 world powers (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany) has catapulted the Iranian nuclear issue into the global spotlight for a brief moment.
Before that moment passes and the international community again loses interest in this situation, which is decidedly more technical and less romantic than the tales of violence and martyrdom that the media seeks in other conflicts around the region, I wanted to write a quick post reminding my Western readers of the frequently downplayed threat of Iranian nuclear pursuits.
The object of this post is to hammer home the extent of that threat, so that it doesn’t escape the minds of my readers (or anyone with whom they share this) even after the mainstream media again abandons the issue.
Iranian influences across the Middle East
I would like to emphasize the extent to which Iran has already asserted its tentacles across the region, even without being emboldened by possession of a nuclear weapon.
It is easy to view the Iranian situation as one that only concerns Israel, but that is far from the truth. For example, Sunni Muslims (and especially Palestinians) are routinely massacred by Syrian regime forces, and by the Lebanon-based terror organization, Hezbollah, that is propping up the Syrian army. Iran backs both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah (the latter of which was originally formed by Iranian intervention in the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990), and has also stationed its own troops on the ground.
Furthermore, Yemen is at serious risk of deteriorating into a failed state after Iran supported the Houthi separatist rebels in destabilizing the impoverished nation a few weeks ago, reducing it to yet another anarchic battleground where extremist groups thrive.
Also, whatever one may think about the conduct of various participants in last summer’s Gaza war (you can read my own opinions here), it is virtually indisputable that the escalation began with barrages of rockets fired by Iran’s proxies in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It is equally clear that those same organizations were determined to perpetuate the conflict as they repeatedly violated humanitarian ceasefires, even those to which they themselves had acceded. The pain that those months caused on both sides of the border would have been avoided had Iran not been funding and coaxing its fundamentalist allies.
Iran’s telling domestic policies
It is also worthwhile to note the sort of government that runs Iran, as its radical Islamist nature is a legitimate cause for concern if that government acquires nuclear weapons.
In particular, the international community has expressed concern over Iran’s excessive use of the death penalty, including public hangings of minors (against international law) and LGBTQ individuals. Consider the particularly disputed human rights case of Reyhaneh Jabbari, which came to a bitter end last month. Jabbari was nineteen years old, roughly my age, when Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi attempted to rape and murder her; she was executed for accidentally killing her attacker in self-defense.
Aside from executions, the regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini has often rigged elections, suppressed the media, and (as has only recently come into the public eye) forced homosexual people to undergo sex reassignment surgeries, as though one’s biological sex necessarily corresponds with one’s gender identity, so that their sexual orientations would still be in line with Khameini’s brutal manipulations of Islamic law.
All of this is relevant primarily because it underscores the religious extremism of the Iranian regime. Any government that bases its legal and political decisions on such zealous ideology, with such minimal regard for the opinions of the international community or for basic moral principles, cannot be trusted with the most powerful weapon that humanity has invented to this point.
The danger of a nuclear Iran
Finally, this post would not be complete without recounting the explicit dangers that a nuclear Iran would pose to the region, although I imagine many of my readers are aware of them already.
As I discussed above, Iran is led by an autocratic, fundamentalist dictator, one who cannot be trusted to act entirely rationally and who might very well, in a moment of religious hysteria, order a nuclear weapon launched against Israel (murdering an unspeakable number of Israeli and Palestinian civilians) or one of his other enemies. Such a move would be consistent with Khameini’s frequent promises in the past, and as recently as last week, to destroy the Jewish State.
Furthermore, there is a substantial concern that a nuclear weapon may fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. Iran has tried to transfer chemical weapons to Hezbollah before, and it is also worth mentioning that Israel halted nuclear programs in both Iraq and Syria years before ISIS arrived on the scene. Had either of those countries been allowed to go nuclear, those weapons may very well have already fallen into the hands of this most recent regional threat, which regularly steals weapons from fleeing regime forces.
Perhaps the most likely immediate result of the Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon, however, is the beginning of a nuclear arms race between regional powers, including Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The idea of such a volatile region, in which tensions always run so high and dictators put so little value in the lives of their citizens, becoming nuclear is apocalyptically frightening.
The Iranian nuclear threat is very real, and it is worse than many realize. Iran must not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, and the Western public must not lose sight of the danger brewing beneath the surface of so many conflicts around the Middle East.