Emmanuel Dubois

Nuclear Iran: Carthago delenda est?

Academics, former officials and politicians have regularly been using the media to attack the government. Some insist that Iran is a rational actor, and some claim that Iran is not the greatest danger and that an Iranian nuclear power should be bearable and even positive for Israel. What is it exactly?

Despite the collective fear of a direct confrontation between two nuclear powers, the notion of nuclear deterrence is more complicated. First of all, deterrence is a learning process.

A strategic balance between two nuclear powers does not happen spontaneously. It comes only progressively, and over the course of inevitable crises that marks the learning process, the actors evolve only slowly toward a situation of mutual paralysis. Moreover, it is impossible to definitely rule out the risk of a fatal error, and the possibility of a dramatic incident still exists.

Secondly, there is the stability-instability paradox well known from strategists: with the help of the gradual development of a mutual paralysis situation, the nuclear deterrence game decreases the risk of highly intensive symmetrical conflicts but does not stop and even in some cases increases the instability with expansion of “small conflicts” or indirect strategy recourse. And the Middle East has a tendency for low-intensity and asymmetric warfare. The Arab-Israeli conflict is a case in point.

Many commentators use the idea of rationality and speak of Iran as a rational actor. That may be simplistic, but it’s very important within the scope of nuclear deterrence. If rationality is universal, it is not necessarily foreign to the culture and so presents itself in polymorphic ways. Values, beliefs, convictions and symbolic representations significant to each culture become variable elements of protagonists’ rationalities. That increases the difficulty of predicting a crisis situation between two nuclear powers and the equilibrium of a deterrence system, though the interpretation of opposing intentions is essential in such a relationships.

In reality, the acquisition of atomic weapons by Tehran would profoundly destabilize the Middle East. Beyond the protection of the Iranian territory, nuclear weapon would automatically put organizations like the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, Hamas, Fatah, PLO and perhaps even the PA under the Iranian nuclear umbrella. This means increased freedom of action for terrorist groups in the Middle East and beyond.

The shock wave of Iran’s development as a nuclear power would turn the whole region upside down — notably the most fragile and unstable Arabian countries.

The nature of the the future relation between the new Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt and a nuclear Iran is a big question. But even if Egypt and Iran would not come together, they could find objective and common interests by targeting Israel and by weakening Saudi Arabian prestige and influence. Therefore a nuclear Iran would be an addition to a new southern threat over Israel and over Western interests, because the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf would be outside Western influence and clearly under hostile control.

Furthermore, the traditional splitting of the Shiites and the Sunnites would also be affected. A nuclear Iran would also incidentally fuel Islamic extremist movements strongly present in the Middle East with all its conceivable consequences. Evidently, such developments could only make stronger the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Indeed, for people who would praise it, any IDF withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would immediately allow Iran to expand its nuclear umbrella to all of this territory, a few kilometers from Tel-Aviv, Caesarea, Haifa, Netanya. Such a situation would put Israel and its inhabitants under unprecedented pressure. The expression “balance of terror” — associated with the nuclear umbrella provided by Iran to all the terrorist and Islamic factions avid to end the Jewish presence in the Middle East —  would be felt in the flesh by everybody in Israel. In such a situation, Israel’s freedom of political and military action would decrease to some degree of paralysis.

Moreover, once Iran will possess a nuclear weapon, other regional powers will seek to get it as well. Thus, Islamist Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Egypt could become nuclear powers in a region that contains the highest concentrations of oil and gas in the world.

All these gathered elements can not in any case predict a more stable Middle East with a nuclear Iran. Especially since the dark Islamic winter in Middle East, North Africa and across the Sahara, while the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is in balance and whereas Syria is on fire and is becoming an open market for international jihadists with one of the greatest arsenal of biological and chemical weapons in the world.

Concerning diplomacy, the virtues of dialogue advocated by Barack Obama and by many commentators have collapsed. The international community has been speaking with Iran since 2003 without any result.

Barack Obama has not changed his “appeasement” policy with Arab-Islamic world. He is still looking for an agreement with Iran and open to Muslim Brotherhood. Europe is in a big economic crisis and the international community is facing the Syrian crisis with perplexity. Many diplomats admit now that Iran does not want to negotiate about anything and only want to gain time.

Despite regular commentaries about the sanctions’ supposed efficiency, the mullahs’ regime is still in place. Perhaps we should remember the North Korean case: a country without any resource and totally isolated which reached the bomb by sacrificing its population. Obviously, Iran has nothing to fear of the negotiations and economical pressures because it can find all necessary complicity it needs to bypass them.

Intelligence agencies the world over acknowledge the large nuclear progress of Teheran. Iran is also working hard on ballistic missiles. Everybody knows we are close to the end of race toward a nuclear Iran.

In conclusion, the Iran threat is not a smiling holiday picture and nuclear deterrence is not a funny video game. It’s a terrible challenge that faces Israel and its leaders, and in that kind of gamble not even one mistake can be allowed. So let the government make decisions away from the noise we have been hearing in the media for the past months.

About the Author
Emmanuel Dubois was born in Belgium. He graduated Philosophy and Information and Communication. He writes analysis and articles about Middle East issues and was published by the European Strategic Intelligence & Security Center (ESISC) in Brussels as an ESISC research associate and by Swiss, Belgian, French and Israeli media.