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The Iranian threat

April 30th, 2009

Iran may soon have the technology to build a nuclear weapon. Israel claims that Iran has already reached that point, and has threatened to attack its nuclear facilities if no action is taken. But before we start a potential nuclear war, we should ask ourselves three questions. First of all, why does Iran want nuclear weapons? Secondly, is a nuclear Iran more dangerous than a non-nuclear Iran? And, if so, what are our possible courses of action?

If we put ourselves in the Iranians’ position, it’s easy to see why they’re so persistent. With U.S. forces on both its western border in Iraq and its eastern border in Afghanistan, Iran likely thinks that it is our next target. Also, consider the fact that Israel, Iran’s archenemy, is the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons. With these points in mind, it seems as though an Iranian nuclear program would be primarily for defense and deterrence purposes. But would Iran ever use a nuclear weapon in an offensive attack?

I doubt it. Iran knows that any attack on the United States, Israel or any other U.S. ally would result in a devastating U.S. nuclear response that would completely annihilate the Iranian regime, along with the rest of the country. Despite the antics of Iranian President Ahmadinejad, he is at least smart enough to know this.

Some, however, think that instead of attacking Israel directly, Iran will supply the “terrorist” organizations it supports – Hezbollah and HAMAS – with a nuclear weapon to attack Israel. Now, this concern could be easily addressed if a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was finally found. But regardless, any such attack would be linked back to Iran, which would then face the same consequences as if it had attacked Israel directly.

So even if Iran manages to develop nuclear weapons, it would never use them unless it was attacked first. Of course, I could be wrong. In which case, we need to determine what ways we could prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons in the first place.

Israel’s military approach of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities should be ruled out. So should economic sanctions aimed at crippling Iran’s economy. Although they might work in the short-run, these actions would only further anger Iranians and strengthen their resolve to develop a nuclear program.

The only way, therefore, that we can deal with the Iranian nuclear threat is through direct negotiations with Iran. Our goal should be reaching some type of “grand bargain” similar to the one offered by Iran to the United States in 2003, which included economic incentives, more cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a commitment to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (The Bush administration rejected the offer.)

However, at this point in time, with Iran so close to developing a weapon, we’re going to have to increase what we offer. Perhaps we could allow Iran to develop nuclear technology for energy purposes, but not for any actual warheads. In return, Iran would allow full weapons inspections to ensure they abide by these terms.

This solution may offer the quickest fix to the Iranian nuclear threat. And time is absolutely of the essence, because each day we spend trying to coax Iran into giving up its pursuit of nuclear capabilities, Iran gets that much closer to building a nuclear bomb.