In the past few weeks, sanctions against Iran have caused its currency, the rial, to lose a third of its value. There are some indications that the possibility of a military strike against Iran is losing popularity among leaders in Israel and the United States.
But prominent voices in both countries continue to argue that a strike against Iran must happen. To not do so, they claim, will set Israel on the inevitable path to destruction. To do so would result in the dismantling of the nuclear program.
These claims ignore two facts: one, that top military figures in the U.S. and Israel have said that, short of an all-out invasion, a military strike against Iran will only set the nuclear program back by a year. And two, that Iranians leaders are not suicidal; they know a nuclear attack on Israel would mean the end of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The president of Iran has spoken strongly against Israel, it’s true. He’s even funded Hezbollah and Hamas, groups that have been a persistent threat to Israel.
A nuclear bomb, though, rises to a different level. Wars used to be launched to protect or gain territory. The advent of nuclear technology changed that paradigm: now, if a conflict between two countries crosses a certain threshold, there is the very real prospect that neither of those countries will have any land at all — it will be scorched into oblivion.
The reality that a nuclear attack by one country will lead to a reciprocal one by the other has led to a plummet in conflict between countries armed with nuclear weapons. Even during the Cold War, when tensions were the highest they’d been worldwide since World War II, no nukes were launched.
Rulers like power. This holds even truer for dictators, who lavish their people’s money on themselves. The leaders of Iran are no different. They agitate, they direct diatribes and terrorists against Israel. But they know very well that to launch a nuclear-armed missile against Iran would mean destruction. Israel and the United States possess far more numerous and powerful nukes than Iran ever will, and have more potent striking capabilities.
“But,” the argument goes, “Iran really, really hates Israel.” These same people draw upon Hitler as an example of how hateful speech can turn into atrocious action. Well, there were no nukes when Hitler was around. A more pertinent example is India and Pakistan. The two countries have, since their formation, been engaged in almost non-stop conflict. From religion to politics to historical grievance, the two are bitter enemies.
They also both have nuclear weapons. But, no matter how intense the fighting has gotten, no nukes have been launched. The countries recognize that to do so would mean extinction. The weapons weren’t meant for deployment; they were meant as counterbalance and deterrent.
Iran wants the same thing. As much as it hates Israel, it is also scared of it. Israel is the sole stable regional power with a nuke. Iran, as a rising regional power, doesn’t want that lopsided reality over its head. It wants stability and a counterbalance to Israel’s daunting military prowess.
Yet the country also knows that a weapon will not bring it on par with its enemies. It will still be massively outgunned; but a nuke will bring Iran’s leaders a measure of peace.
There’s no reason to believe Iran is on a suicide mission. There are a lot of crazier countries out there — North Korea, Pakistan and India, Russia — with nukes.
Rather than futilely attacking Iran or issuing dire warning about an imminent Iranian attack, world powers should be drawing up policies that reflect the reality of a nuclear Iran, not as a time bomb, but as a rational country with rational interests — none of which include self-destruction.