Nuclear Iran not likely to use arsenal to attack either Israel or the U.S.
Despite Iran's fiery rhetoric, it is unlikely that the Iranian regime would risk certain destruction by pre-emptively attacking Israel.
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Furthermore, a logical national security threat is lacking, as the United States possesses the world’s largest military budget and one of the largest nuclear stockpiles in the world. Considering the fact that the United States has a military expenditure that is nearly comparable to the rest of the world’s combined military expenditures, and the fact that Iran has no confirmed nu- clear weapons, it is no secret that the United States is adequately capable of defending itself. Moreover, it is seldom acknowledged that the Islamic Re- public has never initiated an offensive attack on another country, but instead continually reiterates their right to self-defense—a right that is considerably important for the Iranian nation that still remembers the devastation caused by Saddam Hussein’s nearly decade-long assault on Iran in the 1980s. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the power to wage war (rather than the president) has repeatedly and publicly stated: “the Islamic Republic of Iran considers the use of nuclear, chemical and similar weapons as a great and unforgivable sin.” While this information may make it difficult to think of a reason for the United States to consider attacking Iran, it is also important to highlight that it is the responsibility of third party agencies like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations, not the United States alone, to ensure that Iran develops their nuclear program in compliance with IAEA policy and the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, which the Islamic Republic of Iran has both signed and ratified.
So although a renewed Shiite messianism does create some cause for concern about the potential uses of an Iranian bomb — in particular because it suggests that Ahmadinejad may be more a utopian than a realist — it is almost certainly a mistake to anticipate that Iran would use its nuclear power in a way that would provoke large-scale retaliation and assured self-destruction. Iranian leaders have been more than ready to sacrifice their own citizens in large numbers. During the Iran-Iraq war, major efforts went into recruiting young boys to the Basij militias, which were then sent to the front lines on what were essentially suicide missions. Religion played the central part in motivating the teenage soldiers, and it is reasonable to believe that religion helped salve the consciences of those who ordered these children into battle. Yet even this discounting of the value of human life — in a war started by Saddam Hussein, not by Iran — fell short of voluntarily putting an entire nation at risk. Ahmadinejad surely understands the consequences of using a nuclear bomb, and Shiite Islam, even in its messianic incarnation, still falls short of inviting nuclear retaliation and engendering collective suicide.
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It is occasionally suggested that Iran in particular, because of its leaders' undisguised hatred for the state of Israel, and quite open assertions that the Middle East would be better off if Israel disappeared, might act to make their fantasies a reality. Iran could use its future nuclear weapons to annihilate the state of Israel, unconcerned about Israeli nuclear retaliation because Iran is a large country that would somehow survive a nuclear exchange with Israel, while Israel is a small country that would be entirely destroyed. A few fission weapons would horribly damage the state of Israel, and a few fusion weapons would surely destroy it. But neither kind of attack could reliably shield Iran from a devastating response. Israel has had years to work on developing and shielding its nuclear deterrent. It is generally attributed with as many as 200 fission warheads, deliverable by several different methods, including Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile. Were Iran to proceed with a weapons program, Israel would surely improve its own capabilities. Though Iran's population is large, and much of it is dispersed, about a quarter of Iranians (over fifteen million people) live in eight cities conservatively within range of Israel's Jericho II missile. Much of Iran's economic capacity is also concentrated in these cities. Nuclear attacks on these cities, plus some oil industry targets, would destroy Iran as a functioning society and prevent its recovery. There is little in the behavior of the leaders of revolutionary Iran that suggests they would see this as a good trade.
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The question of Israel needs to be assessed carefully, for in this case, rhetorical fulminations conceal more than they reveal. To be sure, Iran views Israel as an illegitimate state, and its continued power as a product of a pernicious conspiracy. In its opposition to Israel, the Islamic Republic has violated all prevailing international norms; it frequently denies that the Holocaust occurred, calls for the elimination of a member state of the United Nations, and actively supports terrorist organizations plotting against Jerusalem. However, during the three decades since launching its nuclear program, Iran has pre ferred to express its disdain for Israel through proxies and has striven hard to wage its indirect war within distinct limits or "red lines." Indeed, one of the characteristics of this most peculiar of conflicts is that both parties have sought to avoid direct military confrontation. Such a posture meets Iran's ideological and strategic interests, as it can claim the leadership of militant Islamist opposition to the "Zionist entity," while at the same time avoiding engagement with one of the most powerful military forces in the world. In this context, it is hard to suggest that Iran wants the bomb either because it fears Israel or, alternatively, as a weapon for the eradication of the Jewish state.
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Although these possibilities are worrisome and are enough to make halting the Iranian nuclear program a U.S. priority, it is important to recognize what Iran is not likely do should it gain a nuclear weapon. First, it is not likely to do an unprovoked (as defined by Tehran) attack on the United States, Israel, or a regional Arab ally of the United States with a nuclear weapon. Although Iran desires to be a regional leader and to undermine U.S. influence, a nuclear strike would not directly serve its interests. In addition, the regime's behavior so far has shown that it is well aware of the devastating retaliation Iran would suffer should it launch a nuclear attack. And unlike North Korea or other murderous regimes, Iran's leaders are not willing to jeopardize the lives of millions of their citizens in such a way.
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Second, mistranslation aside, history and military capabilities point out that Iran probably has no intention or plan to attack Israel. For more than 150 years, Iran has not initiated any military action against its neighbors. Furthermore, despite tremendous progress in building indigenous military capability, Iran is restrained by limited military cooperation with Western powers. Anoushiravan Ehteshami argues that “in net terms the Iranian military has never recovered from the cost of the revolution to its prowess and resources. Nor indeed has the Iranian military fully recovered from the eight-year long Iran-Iraq war and the twenty plus years of military sanctions imposed on the country by the West.” Finally, Israel’s military expenditure per capita far exceeds that of the Islamic Republic. In 2006, the figure for Israel was $22,387 while that of Iran was $3,369.42 In short, Iran is highly unlikely to have the resources or any plans to attack Israel. On the contrary, one can argue, Tehran is building its military capability to deter Israel and the United States from attacking its own territory.
"Iran and the United States: Reconcilable Differences?
." Iranian Studies
. Vol. 41, No. 2 (April 2008): 139-154. [ More (2 quotes) ]
It is doubtful that Iran seriously intends to carry out a preemptive attack on Israel and Safavi's statements could merely be another stage in an Iranian attempt to create a balance of fear and deterrence with the Jewish state.Another significant question is whether Iran in fact has the ability to carry out such an attack. Iran's air force is outdated with only a low number of its 300 warplanes capable of flying and it is unlikely that they would be able to penetrate Israeli defenses.Furthermore, Iran's missiles with the capability to hit Israel number no more than about 100 according to military experts. Ultimately Iran would have to rely on its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies in the region in the absence of nuclear capabilities.And knowing the response any attack on Israel would elicit, a first move by Iran seems unlikely. Furthermore, there is a chance for improved dialogue between Washington and Tehran depending on the results of the forthcoming American elections.
First, the good news. It is difficult to imagine a practical scenario in which Iran would initiate the actual use of nuclear weapons against Israel. Iran has to take into account that Israel is reputed to be a nuclear power. Thus, any nuclear attack might result in a counterstrike and in a "Tel Aviv for Tehran" exchange or even a broader one. Iran certainly has a deep theological commitment to Israel's destruction and has already proven its willingness to devote considerable resources in pursuit of this divine vision, but what price is Iran ultimately willing to pay? At what point does its cost-benefit calculus change? Would it accept thousands dead, tens of thousands? Probably. Hundreds of thousands, as it lost in the Iran-Iraq war? Maybe. Untold destruction?Again, presumably not. As extreme as Iranian ideology is, Iran has pursued a largely "rational" policy over the years, in which its national interests have usually taken precedence over theological ones and which has generally adhered to a carefully calculated course. Iran has fundamental national security reasons, totally unrelated to Israel, for seeking a nuclear capability. Iran fears a future resurgence of Iraq, its traditional nemesis, and views the United States as the primary long-term threat to its security. It also lives in a highly unstable region in which two of its neighbors are already declared nuclear powers and many more are exploring nuclear capabilities. As aggressive as Iran's stance toward Israel is, it genuinely fears Israel's intentions, totally unwarranted as this may be, except in a reactive sense.
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The issue of Palestinian collateral damage is one of the most important political and ideological issues facing Iranian strategists, although it is seldom mentioned in discussions of Iranian strategic options. It is not possible to attack Israel with nuclear weapons without also subjecting large numbers of nearby Palestinians to radioactive fallout. The lethal range of such fallout is difficult to determine since it depends upon a variety of factors including wind direction, type of explosion (ground or air), and explosive yield. Nevertheless, high lethality rates can be expected as far away as 20 miles under normal conditions.16 Additionally, a number of Israel's one million Arab citizens and resident aliens live near Jewish population centers. There is a distinct possibility that Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza would also be subjected to fallout. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, Iranian targeting accuracy for its long-range missiles is highly suspect. The capabilities of these systems is quite doubtful due to ongoing problems associated with Iran‚Äôs missile testing program. If Iranian missile accuracy is off even slightly, the Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, or Syrians may pay a higher price for an Iranian nuclear strike than the Israelis. This problem is further compounded because, unlike Israel, none of the Arab countries has a modern civil defense system to shelter populations, and certainly no ballistic missile defense program. While it is conceivable that Iran might accept the deaths of a large number of Muslims, such a decision would not be taken lightly by Iranian leadership and is not consistent with their nonstop statements of concern for the Palestinians.
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Additionally, some of the leadership in Tehran could be expected to have reservations about any attack on Israel that might risk harm to Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam. Iranian rhetoric on restoring Jerusalem to the Palestinians is often intense and directly relates to Tehran's claims of leadership of the Muslim world. In particular, the Iranian leadership treats the Jerusalem issue as a concern that transcends Palestinian national rights and is better understood as an Islamic issue. Iran seeks Muslim sovereignty over Jerusalem and not its destruction. A belief that it is acceptable to destroy the city and kill a large number of Muslims is inconsistent with Iranian rhetoric and the teachings of Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. Khomeini expressed public anger regarding what he called the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and supported spurious claims that Israel had attempted to destroy the al Aqsa mosque in 1969 when a fire set by a deranged person caused serious damage. In the headier days of the Iran-Iraq War various Iranian leaders claimed that the Islamic Republic would "liberate Jerusalem" after it finished with Iraq. Khomeini also established "Jerusalem Day" as a time to call for the destruction of Israel and the conquest of Jerusalem.
Netanyahu fears a second Holocaust, but even top security officials say Tehran is unlikely to use a bomb if it had one. Yet the emboldening of the ayatollahs, and a likely regional arms race, are worrying enough.
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