Nuclear Iran would help stabilize Middle East
Arguing that an Iranian nuclear capability could benefit Israel is admittedly a more controversial claim. But in addition to the possible mellowing of the Iranian political system, which would be a long-term benefit for Israeli security, there could be some immediate payoffs, too. A nuclear Iran would certainly change the dynamics of the Persian Gulf, with many Arab states desperately searching for a nuclear ally to balance against Iran. Aside from the United States, Israel is the only counterweight in the region. A nuclear Iran could warm relations between Israel and moderate Arab states throughout the region who regard a powerful Iran—Islamic or not—as a threat.
First, Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would give the United States an opportunity to finally defeat violent Sunni-Arab terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. Here’s why: a nuclear Iran is primarily a threat to its neighbors, not the United States. Thus Washington could offer regional security — primarily, a Middle East nuclear umbrella — in exchange for economic, political and social reforms in the autocratic Arab regimes responsible for breeding the discontent that led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Until now, the Middle East autocracies have refused to change their ways because they were protected by the wealth of their petroleum reserves. A nuclear Iran alters the regional dynamic significantly, and provides some leverage for us to demand reforms.
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Third, Israel has made clear that it feels threatened by Iran’s nuclear program. The Palestinians also have a reason for concern, because a nuclear strike against Israel would devastate them as well. This shared danger might serve as a catalyst for reconciliation between the two parties, leading to the peace agreement that has eluded the last five presidents. Paradoxically, any final agreement between Israelis and Palestinians would go a long way to undercutting Tehran’s animosity toward Israel, and would ease longstanding tensions in the region.
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There is reason to believe that the initial shock of a nuclear Iran would soon be followed a new regional dynamic strikingly like that of cold-war Europe. Saudi Arabia and Iraq would be united along with their smaller neighbors by their fear of Iran; the United States would take the lead in creating a stable regional security environment. In addition, our reluctant European allies, and possibly even China and Russia, would have a much harder time justifying sales of goods and technology to Tehran, further isolating the Islamic Republic.
Iran may think its enrichment plans will put fear into the hearts of Americans. In fact, it should give us hopes of a renaissance of American influence in the Middle East.
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Limiting Israeli freedom of action. Israeli strategic culture places a high value on the ability to conduct retaliatory strikes for attacks against Israeli citi- zens, as well as to take preemptive action to prevent certain arms transfers that cross Israeli red lines. Already, the threat of escalating conflict has forced Israel to accept the transfer of certain precision- guided missiles, antiaircraft systems, and, report- edly, Scud ballistic missiles.81 But in the face of a nuclear-capable Iran, Israel might be forced to act with even greater caution in initiating preemptive or retaliatory strikes—given the potential of these strikes to escalate into a direct conflict with Iran.82 As a result, Hizballah and Hamas may feel more free to engage in low-level military actions against Israeli civilians, potentially including more frequent rocket attacks, targeted assassinations, or suicide bombings. Furthermore, an Iranian nuclear capabil- ity could induce Tehran or Syria to transfer increas- ing numbers of sophisticated weapons to Hizbal- lah or Hamas. A particularly dangerous escalation could involve the potential transfer to Hizballah of radiological dispersion devices (or “dirty bombs”) or even chemical weapons. While attempting such transfers would be provocative, Tehran might cal- culate that the psychological impact on the Israeli population and the deterrent effect on the Israeli military would be significant enough to warrant such risks.
The author, a defense analyst at the Air Force Research Institute, argues that the U.S. could reap a few security benefits from the new Middle East order that would result from Iranian nuclear proliferation.
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