Danger averted

A nuclear-armed Iran will not incinerate Israel, conquer the Gulf or dominate the supply of oil.

Iran missiles 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iran missiles 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Good news, the nuclear holocaust has been postponed. Last week, the US intelligence community admitted that a 2005 report on Iran's ongoing development of a nuke was false. In fact, the clandestine program that violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty (and terrified so many in Jerusalem) has not been operational for four years. Now, none of this has calmed nerves at the Mossad and IDF Intelligence Corps. They still believe that a hidden weapons program is underway. And who knows? Perhaps they will uncover it - right after finding Saddam's missing WMD stockpile. In the meantime, we owe it to ourselves to coolly reassess the Iranian threat. Let's start with a simple question. Even if the mullahs had the bomb, what they would do with it? For Shimon Peres, the answer is commit genocide. In May 2006, he told a visiting European delegation that a nuke was like a "flying gas chamber" in the hands of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the extermination won't happen for two reasons. First, Iran lacks a reliable way to get a nuclear warhead to target. Sure, it possesses some KH-55 cruise missiles but not the Tupolev Tu-95 bomber from which to fire them. Likewise, the much-ballyhooed Shihab ballistic missile conks out half the time. Imagine what position Iran would be in if it attempted a feeble nuclear strike and missed. Second, any successful attack on Israel would result in the Islamic Republic being reduced to a smoking, irradiated ruin. Indeed, a prominent Washington think-tank recently calculated that Iran would suffer up to 28,000,000 dead in a nuclear exchange with Israel. By contrast, our society would survive. Granted, Ahamdinejad might be too mad to appreciate MAD. But Iran's ballistic missile and WMD programs fall under the purview of Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And as Iran observer Anthony Wege notes, "The government knows its red lines. For instance, it's never tried to transfer biological weapons to Hizbullah." SHELVING unlikely doomsday scenarios, others contend that a nuclear Iran will get uppity and increase its support for groups like Hamas and Hizbullah. Now, this sort of behavior is not without precedent; India felt an upswing in terrorism after Pakistan detonated a few low-yield bombs in 1998. In fact, it took five years for the violence to taper off. "There was initial euphoria in Pakistan. They thought they had more latitude to act, but they slowly realized they were becoming a pariah state," says Col. Satinder Saini, a fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, in New Delhi. Five years of anti-Israel terror is a rather grim prospect, so we might very well want to avert it by bombing Iranian nuclear sites (as was done in Iraq or Syria). The problem, Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom pointed out back in 2005, is that the IAF cannot pull off a sustained, long-range campaign against a bunch of hardened and scattered targets. But the US can. So how much will it cost the Americans to come to our rescue? Its last crusade against illegal WMDs led to a suppurating sore of an occupation, a surge of Islamist violence in the region, and an overextended military. The Iranian leadership knows this and has promised more of the same in Iraq. Hundreds of US soldiers could die. OF COURSE, no one here has asked the US to bomb, say, the Bushehr reactor (at least not yet). The game plan is to first try sanctions while painting the prospect of a nuclear Iran in nightmarish hues. Thus Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced in late 2006 that we are lurching towards "an era of instability unlike any the world has ever seen." The great thing about instability is that it impacts everyone. Take oil, for example. Industrialized nations - even those indifferent to the fate of Israel - have an interest in keeping it cheap. However, as the second largest OPEC exporter, Iran wants high prices, and nothing gets them high like trouble in the Persian Gulf. One Israeli analyst has even suggested that a nuclear Iran might threaten fellow OPEC countries into slashing petroleum production. But how realistic is that scenario? Not very, says Charles Esser, an oil market analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. First, the one-nation embargo would be hard to maintain, invite opportunism from outsider producers like Venezuela, and cause the US to release its Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Second, it would infuriate oil-hungry states like China. "In the long-term, it would push consumers to find alternative energy sources," says Esser. Still, the idea of Shi'ite Persians armed with nuclear weapons does scare the hell out of Sunni Arabs. It would signal to all in the Gulf that Iran had finally become a regional hegemon, notes Uzi Rabi, a Persian Gulf specialist at Tel Aviv University. It also would re-open old religious, ethnic and border disputes. To solidify control, the Islamic Republic would seek to evict American military bases from the region. The Arab kingdoms would then face enormous pressure to capitulate, but self-preservation leaves them but one choice. "The Gulf states will choose to become US clients because they know Iran wants to topple their monarchies," Rabi says. Nukes or none, the mullahs would be checked. So there you have it, folks. There is no Iranian bomb, and according to the US State Department, it may not be around until 2013. When and if it comes about, a nuclear-armed Iran will not incinerate Israel, conquer the Gulf or dominate the supply of oil. Its newfound power will be mostly psychological and symbolic. Will it be dangerous? Sure. But nothing we cannot handle ourselves. The writer is a former military correspondent of the Jerusalem Post.