Iran’s nuclear capabilities

Thomas Schelling, a Nobel laureate and an expert in nuclear strategy, spoke at the New America Foundation in Washington last week.

Having recently attended the highly influential Herzliya Conference in Israel, Schelling said:

I was impressed with how many Israelis speculate that what Iran wants to do is to get just about where Japan is in terms of nuclear capability. Get to where they could have a few bombs in a few months, or maybe a few weeks, but not overtly test anything to prove they have it and maybe not to claim they have it.

I don’t know where the Iranians might get that idea, but I’d heard about it for a couple of years from Americans who study Iranian apparent nuclear policy and it strikes me as an idea that might not occur to the Iranians but it strikes me as a good idea. I don’t see any way to make them back down from where they are, but it might be possible to persuade them not to take the final step…

Israel’s President Shimon Peres, who also attended the Herzliya Conference yet lacks the slightest nuance in his assessment of Iran’s intentions, yesterday declared that Iran poses a threat to the whole civilized world.

“A threat to the peace of the Jewish people always carries the danger of turning into a threat to the civilized world as a whole,” Peres said in Jerusalem on Sunday.

That’s a statement eerily reminiscent of something the Israeli historian, Martin van Creveld, said a few years ago while referring to Israel’s own nuclear arsenal: “We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.”

Which begs the question, given that Israel has an arsenal of several hundred nuclear weapons and Iran so far has none: Of which state should we be more afraid?

In considering the Iranian nuclear threat, there is another reason for thinking that the Iranians may well have calculated that attaining a nuclear capability without assembling a nuclear arsenal is in their best interests — not simply because of the international ramifications but because of the regime’s own internally complex and fractious power dynamics.

For Iran to actually acquire the bomb and not simply the means to produce it, begs difficult questions of command and control. Could the regime withstand a potential power struggle that might ensue over how weapons might be dispersed and under whose authority? The prospect of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards becoming Iran’s nuclear masters might be sufficiently galling to everyone outside the IRG, that nuclear capability appears as full a measure of nuclear power that the Islamic state can safely handle.

When it comes to assessing Iran’s nuclear intentions there is an abundance of evidence that it is indeed a rational actor and virtually none that it operates in the thrall of an apocalyptic vision of the future.

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2 thoughts on “Iran’s nuclear capabilities

  1. Randy Martin

    An Nuclear or Near Nuclear Iran would have to result in a detente. Iran and Israel have time and again demonstrated their desire of “self existence”. Irans “self negation” is unthinkable though the rhetoric abounds with such exaggeration. On the other hand Israel in it’s phobic zeal might well decide to annihilate Iran before it could match strengths with Israel. I think Israel far more prudent than this realizing such an attack would end it reign in the region. Perhaps the best thing that could happen is for Iran to “get nukes” so the two would final be compelled to come to the table and agree that “self negation” is not an option.

  2. DE Teodoru

    Herzliya Conferences has become a money sucking gala where Israeli leaders subtly squeeze the Diaspora for cash. It is always blackmail: send money or else…For quite a while Israel knew that we can’t say “no” to Iran after saying “no” to India and Pakistan without any effect on their nuclearization. The Obama hypothesis of “loose nukes” is an insult to nuclear states that only Rahm Emmanuel could have dreamt up. Israel’s greatest worry is that at 62 “Israel is [NOT] cool,” as her ads claim so Israelis are leaving for other “cooler” places north. Recall that it was at a Herzliya Conference that Sharon declared that any Jew who does not move permanently to Israel by 2020 “will lose his Jewish soul.” Alas it’s not working and the “one-state-two-peoples” solution is becoming an acceptable alternative to ever more Jews as they grow impatient with its antics abusing the two states option.

    Jews are an accomplished people in a lot of places, Israel being only a small place where only a few do anything. Schilling has been dragged into commenting on the Peres [the babbler Likud used to curse when PM] atmospherics directed at us “dumb goyim.” It’s embarrassing to listen to the dear professor repeat the obvious as if news. Even the moderator impatiently cut him off. Since 2004 Israeli commissions of military and academics have made clear that there is no chance that Iran will use nukes as anything but deterrent. This cannot be said about Israel, for it is using power now more as an attention seeking device that includes nuclear blackmail, hence her “nuclear ambiguity.” The prodrome to manifestation of her Holocaust Psychosis is its “greatness” neurosis, acquired, not as Mideasterner, but as East European when Likud was only a proto-fascist movement. Israel cannot get over that neither NATO nor EU would accept her as their beloved finger in the Middle East because they consider it a Semitic part of the Middle East rather than a European nation (hence the charge of inherent anti-Semitism that makes Europe “Eurabia”—vengefulness for scorned flirting knows no bounds. You cannot imagine what this does to Israeli’s neurotic narcissism. Israelis, when in Europe, feel like they’ve really been in someplace fantastic and are then forever held suspect as potential olims in reverse by their state, though all Israeli leaders hold multiple passports.

    This need to wreck the party because no one will dance with her will only drives Israel to torture Palestinians as an attention seeking device. But that will not provoke her to fire nukes. Such nuclear psychosis will manifest if it ever comes to fear that insignificance marks its non-primary status in the minds of the very Americans and Europeans it has so coyly courted trying to get them to ask her for a dance. Feeling disregarded invariably turn into feeling threatened; then the narcissistic neurosis escalates into the Holocaust psychosis. But then that symptomatology was also manifested by binLaden when he felt disregarded and invoked shift of focus to Crusader “far enemies” as top priority over “near” ones.

    There is always the hope that Arabs and Israelis will conclude that in the end their dignities will be far better appreciated if they engage in a marriage of cousins in the great Semitic family between high-tech modernist Israelis with oil rich Arabs. For that Israel has to first realize that she is not the “coolest” chick at the dance and is not destined to dominate the attention of the West despite the endless efforts on her behalf of her pushy and pesky neocon kin. Indeed, turning our back on Israeli attention seeking threats (such as stop bringing flowers when she misbehaves) may bring her closer to recognizing the value of a marriage of Semitic cousins over misbehaving to blackmail West into paying her attention. Peace depends on the West’s ability to withhold reward in face of bad behavior. No one owes her flowers; she must earn them as Mrs. Middle East rather than perpetual Miss Europe wanna-be living in the Middle East and throwing tantrums.

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