Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today and former head of Gannett, says there’s no justification for so much alarm around Iran’s nuclear ambitions. (For the umpteenth time it should be noted that no one outside Iran actually knows for sure what those ambitions are. For that matter, the Iranians themselves may still remain undecided about their goals.) Neuharth says:
It’s so simple: Countries that have nuclear weapons and know when or how to use them — or more likely not use them — will be the survivors and leaders.
Those who misuse them will die as other countries with nuclear weapons retaliate.
It appears USA Today took some heat from those who think it’s the duty of every mainstream U.S. publication to join in the hysteria being fomented by Israel’s leaders and so Neuharth’s op-ed is now “balanced” by some feedback from one of Washington’s chief fear-mongers, Dennis Ross:
Iran with nukes means a nuclear war in the Middle East becomes far more likely. With no one able to strike second, everyone will be on a hair trigger in a region with lots of triggers for conflict.
There is a host of assumptions loaded into those two sentences.
Firstly, the catalyst for nuclear proliferation across the region would be the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. Why so? Why wouldn’t the most obvious such catalyst be the first country to have introduced nuclear weapons into the Middle East, namely, Israel? Conversely, wouldn’t the most effective way of preventing a regional nuclear arms race be for the sole nuclear power to disarm before anyone else acquired nuclear weapons?
Secondly, even if as Ross implicitly predicts, Iran risks promoting a Middle East nuclear arms race, is it really true that within a densely clustered group of nuclear armed states, each state has a greater incentive to initiate a preemptive strike because no one will have a realistic second strike capability?
It seems like the opposite argument carries as much if not more weight. That is to say, the closer the proximity between nuclear adversaries, the less the risk that they will attack each other. Why? Fallout.
The only country in the Middle East that suffers less risk that radiation released by its own weapons might drift back towards its own territory is Israel. Moreover, Israel is surrounded and interlaced by a unique human shield: five million Palestinians.
A nuclear strike on Israel would put at risk the lives of every member of a population whose interests every political leader across the region has long declared as dear to their hearts. (This is not to deny that these pro-Palestinian sentiments have often been utterly cynical, but that cynicism notwithstanding, it’s hard to imagine how an Iranian leader or anyone else could justify the harm to Palestinians that would be caused by a nuclear strike on Israel.)
Does the fact that there are 25,000 Jews living in Tehran offer Iran a similar form of protection from an Israeli nuclear attack? I don’t think so.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he believes the Iranian government is a “rational actor.”
The same should be said of Israel.
However passionately its leaders might express their fear of an “existential threat” posed by Iran, the Islamic republic’s acquisition of a few nuclear weapons would not threaten Israel’s existence while it maintains an arsenal of as many as 200 nuclear weapons. What it would do would not merely threaten but irrevocably alter the regional balance of power.
A Middle East in which Israel was no longer the sole nuclear power, would be a region in which Israel could no longer enjoy the same level of political impunity. The Jewish state would lose its swagger. The pressure for it to make peace with its neighbors and to recognize the political rights of the Palestinians would be stronger than ever. Iran, cast in its current role as a putatively genocidal arch-enemy, is merely a device used to forestall this political day of reckoning.