Iran's aim is to become a global - not merely a regional - nuclear player.
By YUVAL STENITZ
If the West fails to prevent the nuclearization of Iran, such ineptitude will likely be analyzed by future historians in the context of Europe's failure to block the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
No one can predict the future. Nuclear ayatollahs could become more responsible for their people's fate than for their own apocalyptic faith, and hence less aggressive toward Western "infidels" and their allies.
Yet, my argument is that those managing the Iranian threat must consider not just the mullahs' raw desire to obtain the bomb, but also their approach to nuclear force-building.
Any comparison between Iran's nuclear program and those of India, Pakistan or North Korea, is misleading. Iran strives to become a global nuclear player, and thus invests billions of dollars in both nuclear and missile industries to achieve this aim.
While India and Pakistan produce few nuclear bombs per decade, the Iranian infrastructure is planned from the outset to have the capacity of producing hundreds of nuclear weapons in a similar period. The Iranians have already admitted that the Kashan nuclear plant, which was covert for years, is planned to contain 54,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment ("solely for energy purposes"). In a public hearing conducted at the US Senate in September 2003, official as well as independent experts assessed that when utilized for fissile material, those centrifuges could enable the production of 20 to 25 nuclear devices annually. And this does not yet include the amount of the anticipated plutonium production in the huge heavy-water reactor under construction in Arak.
AN ANALYSIS of Iran's missiles program raises similar questions. While India and Pakistan develop missiles capable of reaching one another, Iran is looking far beyond its immediate surroundings. Teheran refuses to make do with its currently deployed Shihab-III missiles already capable of striking Israel and the entire Middle East (as well as some Balkan states).
The Shihab-IV missiles, that might become operative in a few years time, are assumed to have a range of 5,600 kilometers, thus covering Western Europe. The subsequent Shihab-Vs are likely to be able to reach Washington and New York.
Let's also recall the revelation by Ukraine about the unauthorized sale to Iran of 10 to 20 nuclear-capable cruise missiles, with ranges up to 3,200 km. and sea launching capabilities.
Thus examining the magnitude of Iran's nuclear industry, combined with its far-reaching missiles program, reveals a global power in the making.
First, Iran would be able to ratchet up its regional influence and to erode the US and UK's traditional influence in the Gulf States. It would further increase its chances to dominate Iraq and to form a Shi'ite crescent via Syria to the Mediterranean, encircling Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Second, the imminent threat to Europe's major cities would further increase European-American tension over their respective Middle East policies, prompted by the European tendency to sacrifice Israel's security interests in order to appease the Muslims.
Thirdly, competition for regional leadership might lead other authoritarian regimes, including Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya, in the same dangerous direction - something that may already be happening. Egypt's recent declaration regarding the establishment of three nuclear electricity plants is a serious cause for alarm. A world that seems ready to capitulate to Iran's egregious violation of the NPT would standby helplessly in the face further proliferation in the area.
AND THEN there is the worst-case scenario. Historically, who could have predicted that the massive arming of the Third Reich in the early 1930s would have resulted in the global catastrophe that played itself out in the 1940s? Optimists who nowadays trust the rational thinking of the ayatollahs seem more and more like the optimists of the 1930s who calmed themselves by appealing to the rationality of the Nazis.
The Hitlerian analogy is only strengthened by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and his public commitment to rid the Middle East of Jewish or Israeli presence. The ayatollahs' jihadi persuasion, which sees the West as the eternal enemy of Islam, forces us to admit the possibility of a worst case scenario.
OVER THE past year, the UN showed its complete ineptitude to such an extent that the Iranians seem to no longer even enjoy playing cat and mouse with the international body. Eyes throughout the Middle East, indeed the entire free world, are now fixed on the United States of America.
With a nuclear world war no longer a far-fetched possibility, how would history judge America's current leadership if those who managed to get the US bogged down in Iraq to save the world from virtual chemical weapons wind up failing to save the world from a real nuclear threat in next-door Iran?
The writer, a Knesset member, served as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for the past three years. He also chaired the Israeli Inquiry Committee on Intelligence following the 2003 war in Iraq.
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