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September 12, 2012 5:53 pm

The Hidden Threat of an Iranian Nuclear Bomb

avatar by David Meyers

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2009 Iranian election protests. Photo: Wikipedia.

As Iran races towards a nuclear weapon, it’s becoming clear that a diplomatic solution is implausible, if not impossible. The only way to stop the Iranian nuclear program, short of military intervention, is internal regime change. But given the failure of the 2009 Green Revolution, and the West’s acquiescence to the brutal suppression of the Syrian uprising, regime change in Iran seems unlikely.

Thus, opponents of military action are shifting to a new argument: we can live with a nuclear Iran. The argument, most recently articulated by Bill Keller in The New York Times, goes as follows: the Iranian regime is a rational actor and will not use a nuclear weapon against Israel (because of mutually assured destruction).

Next, although Keller agrees that a nuclear Iran would be emboldened to spread terror, violence, and bloodshed throughout the world, he argues that this alone does not justify military action. Finally, Keller argues that fears of a regional arms race are overblown, and that mutual nuclear capability will make both Israel and Iran “more cautious” about entering into direct conflict.

Some of these arguments are compelling, others less so (Iran is already the world’s leading exporter of terrorism; I hate to imagine what will happen when a nuclear Tehran becomes immune to Western and Israeli intervention).

But Keller and his ilk constantly ignore one crucial threat of a nuclear Iran: that a nuclear weapon will fall into the hands of terrorists or extremists.

It’s easy to imagine numerous scenarios of how this could occur. Perhaps, during a bitter leadership dispute, a nuclear weapon is smuggled to Hezbollah by an extremist sympathizer. Perhaps one day there is a democratic revolution in Iran, and amid their downfall, the Mullahs hand over a weapon to a terrorist group. Or perhaps Hezbollah raids an Iranian nuclear weapons facility with inside help or while the authorities turn a blind eye.

In any of these scenarios, terrorists obtain a nuclear bomb. A suitcase bomb, perhaps. And you can bet that their top target will be Israel.

This is where Keller’s argument completely fails. The whole premise of allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon is based on the theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD): that Iran would never use a bomb against Israel because Israel would retaliate with its own nuclear weapons.

But if a suitcase bomb were to go off in Jerusalem, MAD simply does not work. Yes, Israel may suspect that the bomb came from Iran. But how can it know for sure? The bomb might, for instance, have been smuggled out of Russia.

Even if Israel traced the bomb back to Iran, how could they prove the bomb was used with Tehran’s blessing? The mullahs could argue that the bomb was stolen; a plausible argument. And even if Israel thinks Tehran sanctioned the strike, would Israel really respond with a nuclear attack unless it had concrete proof? Unlikely. And it’s also unlikely that concrete proof could ever be obtained.

In such a scenario, Israel would be forced to sustain a nuclear attack without any meaningful reprisal. And as resilient as Israel is, a nuclear attack is something that the country might not be able to recover from.

Thus, for Israel, there is no genuine deterrence factor when it comes to a nuclear Iran.

As Keller notes, there are serious consequences that would arise from a military attack on Iran. And I continue to believe that the best, and only foolproof, way to prevent a nuclear Iran is regime change.

But that being said, Israelis, Americans, and the world must understand that an Iranian nuclear bomb threatens Israel’s very existence. And Israel must take that into account as it considers its options for stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

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  • Mel

    There are rumors Iranian President Imanutjob has changed his strategy. He will carry the ‘DEVICE’ with him this trip, for U.S. testing later this year. With the U.S. out of the way, his local Jewish Problem will be easier to deal with, don’t you think?

  • Mel

    The Bill Keller’s of the world are many things. For one, they are so flexible (as Keller’s suggestion to accept Dhimmi-Submission to Islam) that Bill Keller can and does walk the Earth bowing so far his head is buried 95% inside his rectum. President Obama has walked that way for long that his character has gotten so low he needs to look up to look down. Like President Obama, those Bill Keeller’s are America’s leading [Liberty] Bell Killers.

  • Trey

    1) One of the primary reasons as to why Saddam wanted to develop
    nuclear weapons and what he had hoped to achieve with them was
    equalizing Israel’s nuclear threat. What he stated and believed was
    that by having nuclear weapons, he could wage (either on behalf of
    Iraq, or a coalesced arab army similar to 48) a conventional war with
    heavy casualties on the Israeli side with the intent that it could
    destabilize the country and eventually lead to its destruction. By
    having nuclear capabilities, Israel and the outside world would be too
    hesitant to use their weapons and try and stand by a policy of
    appeasement (which the world has continuously accepted at almost every
    major threat in the past century).

    2) A full scale war is unnecessary and likely wouldn’t happen. If Iran
    was determined to rebuild their program, there is no telling what the
    geopolitical climate would be like in three years. Additionally, its
    not like the same preventive strikes could not also be done three
    years into the future. Iraq was bombed in December of 1998, September
    1996 and June 1993. It is also important to consider the fact that
    Turkey also has bombed Iraq many times.

    3) Saudi Arabia has already stated they would seek nuclear weapons if
    Iran developed them. Egypt has already stated that as of this summer,
    they plan on restarting their nuclear development program. Although I
    think that even acquiescing to that is absolutely sickening, it
    ignores how this will completely change the view of non-proliferation
    going forward. Pakistan is balanced by India while North Korea is
    balanced by South Korea and Japan – Iran is not specificly balanced
    and contained by a specific threat. Moreover, every other failed state
    or developing one with a large population will have an increased
    motivation to obtain them as well.

    4) It encourages and promotes terrorism. The reason why you are
    hesitant (scared) to attack Iran is largely due to them being crazy.
    Iran’s likely response to a preventive strike is an increased interest
    in pursuing terrorist attacks against American targets. Other entities
    will see this (in supplement to all the other states that America
    intervened with that were not as crazy) and understand that they need
    to get more crazy and utilize more terrorism. It is worth noting that
    Iran has already been trying extremely hard to launch terrorist
    attacks on Israeli targets without ANY repercussions and has failed
    miserably. This is also ignoring how your view stresses either minimal
    understanding or sympathy for what Israel lives with (the threat you
    are too scared to confront is their lives).

    5) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not rule Iran. In fact, he has relatively
    little power. Although he might not be a religious fanatical genocidal
    maniac, there is a much greater chance that Khamenei is. Oh ya, and
    the Fatwa you think Khamenei issued does not actually exist (not that
    it matters).

    6) With a nuclear Iran, there is not only zero chance of the
    Israel-Palestinian conflict getting any better, it is more than likely
    going to get much worse and much more bloody.

    7) America will lose almost all clout in the middle east. Regardless
    of what individual Arab’s think, many powerful Arab countries have
    great relationships with the United States government. With a Iranian
    nuclear umbrella and a Saudi-Qatari/Sunni umbrella, America would lose
    much of its power. Moreover, it will also lose the ability to
    challenge, or engage the majority of countries in the middle east as
    they will be under a nuclear umbrella. As a result, American financial
    interest in the middle east (which the economy heavily relies on)
    would be severely diminished.

    8) Connected to the previous point, the American economy would likely
    take a huge hit. Iran would be able to sabotage oil markets at will
    and even change the currency of fuel trade.

    9) The Cuban Missile crisis could very easily be repeated with Venezuela.

    There are probably many other factors to consider, but those are just
    from the top of my head. I also cannot leave this message without
    quoting Pascals Wager.
    Chance of Iran using nuclear weapons – I’ll be generous and say 10% (a
    number I disagree with) – outcome of Iranian strike – 4 million
    Israelis dead (I figure some will make it out alive) and many more
    millians of Iranians – lets say 10 million.

    Chance of a significant Iranian response – 80%. Outcome of Iranian
    response – The most pessimistic number for Americans/Israelis would
    be a few thousand.

    Containment .10 X 14,000,000 = 1.4 000 000
    Preventative strike: .8 X 5,000 = 4000

  • Polly T.

    What does this babyfaced little pisher know about what is going on in Iran? He worked in the Bush White House? HA! And Daily Caller is a right-wing website founded by Tucker Carlson and Cheney lackey Neil Patel. If you are so sure war with Iran is such a great idea, why not enlist in the US (or Israeli) Army?

    • Anti.Polly T

      Have you learned absolutely nothing in the last decade? Oh maybe we shouldn’t have gone after UBL either cause it was a “Bush era idea”. Give me a break! You have no clue as to what the consequences are for a nuclear armed Iran. Polly maybe you should go to Israel and fine out what happens when terrorists and extremists smuggle a bomb into Israel maybe you could ask the families who have lost loved ones how they feel. Better yet why go there when you could ask a few families right here in the US how they feel about losing loved ones on 9-11. And please don’t tell me your a conspiracy theorist and how this was all cooked up by the Bush administration and how we never landed on the moon etc… Actually, if you are a conspiracy theorist that would make it easier to understand your point of view. Everyone, especially in the USA, is entitled to their point of view. We can only hope that the ones who don’t understand what’s going on will at some point get a clue.

      • Anti.Anti.Polly T

        Polly T is correct.
        If Mr.Meyer is worried about nukes falling into extremists hands, he should worry about Pakistan.
        Iran has not violated NPT ( contrary to all the misinformation in media ) and is under IAEA inspection. Further IAEA certifies that Iran has not diverted any enriched uranium to military purposes.

      • Babylonian

        Actually going after OBL wasn’t a Bush-era policy.

        Bush said he didn’t know where Bin Laden was, and didn’t much care. Bush let Bin Laden run around for 8 years plotting against America. And he also let the Anthrax terrorists run free for years.