As is the case with the brokering of almost all international accords, potential consequences are weighed against potential advantages on each side, and almost no one gets everything that they wanted. The nuclear deal forged recently with Iran to put a measure of control on that nation’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for a loosening of sanctions has been applauded in some circles in the West, and condemned in others.
Perhaps most telling — despite laudatory endorsement by much of the Western leadership — is that no one has been saying the agreement is perfect. In fact, a great many are calling it a deal with the devil which might be called due before many of us realize.
And it’s never usually a good sign when the other side seems to be relatively satisfied with the deal — that always carries with it the suspicion the West may have given up much more than it should have.
There are few games that are more high-stakes than nuclear proliferation, and while atomic end-games in the Middle East should probably be avoided at almost any cost, the road that might lead us to that conclusion is worthy of our intense scrutiny.
On the face of it, the deal is aimed at giving the West time to mobilize action through a comprehensive international response to keeping the bomb out of the hands of Iran, increasing the “breakout time” — time needed to create a nuclear weapon — to one year, and putting limited strictures on the technology and infrastructure needed to construct nuclear weapons. In exchange, the West’s extensive sanctions which have crippled the Iranian economy will be largely lifted in coming months if Iran abides by the terms of the agreement.
Which is all well and good, but critics say the agreement misses the mark in a number of key areas. Firstly, it won’t mean an outright end to the Iranian nuclear program, and opens the door for Iran to quietly and slowly continue to develop nuclear weapons, albeit under the noses of U.N. inspectors. For others, throwing down the military gauntlet — to the point of raining bombs and missiles down on Iranian nuclear facilities, eliminating the threat once and for all, has always been a serious option considering the vastly superior military strength of the West. While perhaps not high on the wall chart of peace and compassion, even the threat of military force is often enough to make nations like Iran back away from nuclear brinkmanship.
Iran has continually proven itself to be a destabilizing influence in the Middle East, and its threats and rhetoric directed towards the West and especially Israel should not be taken as idle if it manages to acquire nuclear weapons. Long a goal of many Arab nations throughout the region, wiping hated Israel off the map could almost be considered policy considering some of the pronouncements that have been made by Iranian leadership.
Not surprisingly, the Israelies have been the most vocal opponents of the deal, with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it a mistake “of historic proportions”.
And there are similarities here between the inter-war appeasement period in Europe prior to WWII and the international response to nuclear proliferation.
Traditionally, while the international community has paid lip service to preventing proliferation since 1945, the track record is something else entirely.
Since world powers acquired the bomb and decided they were the only ones deemed worthy of its administration — there’s always been a whiff of the arrogant and hypocritical in this debate — nations like China, India, South Africa, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel have joined the club.
Israel has never officially confirmed if it has nuclear weapons, but the evidence would strongly suggest they maintain a significant nuclear stockpile, and there are obvious advantages to keeping their Arab enemies guessing. Which might make the whole debate surrounding this latest deal with Iran moot.
The so-called Jewish homeland has never been shy to act unilaterally when its interests are threatened, especially when it comes to the possibility of its hostile neighbours acquiring nuclear weapons.
Considering some of the rhetoric issuing from Israeli throats in recent weeks, the strong possibility exists that if the West does nothing to forestall Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program, Israel will act to protect her own interests.
And it wouldn’t be the first time. In June 1981, a unilateral Israeli air strike destroyed a nuclear reactor near Baghdad in Iraq in a “counter-proliferation preventative strike” which was strongly condemned by the international community, including Israel’s closest ally in the United States. More than two decades later, in September 2007 another Israeli air strike destroyed a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in the Deir Ez-Zor region in an operation that — this time — at least had the tacit approval of the United States, if not the international community.
Following the 1981 air strike, the Israelies adopted what is known as the “Begin Doctrine”, the common term for the Israeli government’s preventive strike counter-proliferation policy regarding their potential enemies’ capability to possess weapons of mass destruction. The groundwork for a potential strike against Iran is all already there in black and white.
Which is what the West might be quietly banking on. The lack of virtually any international response to the 2007 strike against Syria — unlike the 1981 attack — might have been considered an instructive experiment for Western democracies.
Giving Israel a free hand to deal with the situation unilaterally might be doubly attractive for Western powers — keeping them at arm’s length from further military involvement in the Middle East while achieving their own foreign policy goals.
The only problem with that scenario is that air strikes sometimes have the troubling tendency to develop into full-scale wars — and touching off a conflagration on the Asian continent isn’t the least of potential outcomes. If a military conflict went badly for Israel, the nation might be tempted to utilize its suspected nuclear arsenal — leaving no question about the disastrous consequences for not just the Middle East, but the entire world.