Snake Eyes: Rolling the Dice with Iran

In light of the recent nuclear accord with Iran it is worthwhile to consider how some have always argued there is no real inherent problem with Iran ultimately possessing a nuclear weapon. The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze this position, proposing the notion that the world should take great concern over Iran’s ultimate possible entry into the “Nuclear Weapons Club.”

This will be accomplished through a diverse review of topics, specifically the notion of Iranian proxies and their affect in the world, that an Iranian bomb would not spark an arms race in the Middle East, and finally the belief that the world could live with a nuclear-armed Iran as well as it has lived with a nuclear-armed Pakistan. (Conca 2014)

Iran totes that its program is for peaceful energy and that no nuclear weapons program ever came out of a legitimate nuclear energy program. It is theoretically possible, but not practical. Nations have tried, but even Argentina and Pakistan realized that if you want weapons, then you develop a weapons program and pick one of the two traditional paths to the bomb. And no one is fooled by an energy front anyway. However, the choice to develop a bomb will clearly require dedication and money, something to which Iran will soon have access because of the new accord. (Sagan 2010) So, to highlight this point, regardless of the deals struck between Iran and other countries regarding nuclear non-proliferation, Iran will be financially and scientifically able to create a weapon and use it to gain a clear upper-hand in any future negotiations. Then the world will have to also worry about other uses Iran might have for a nuclear weapon, specifically proxies.

Mr. Pillalamarri notes that “while some Iranian proxies have committed terrorist attacks, those are few and far between, especially as the zealous phase of the Iranian revolution fades to more realistic concerns. Compared to its neighbor, Pakistan, which actually has nuclear weapons, Iran’s proxies have engaged in many more stabilizing activities rather than random terrorist attacks that accomplish nothing geopolitically.” (Pillalamarri 2015) I would argue that Iran’s proxies have been responsible for as much, if not more, negative impacts geopolitically than most nations that have sponsored terrorism. This global reach should cause deep concern over the possible development, down the road, of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. State Department’s current concerns could not be made more obvious despite the current agreement:

•Iran has increased its presence in Africa and attempted to smuggle arms to Houthi separatists in Yemen and Shia oppositionists in Bahrain. Additionally, Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and its regional proxy groups to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and create instability in the Middle East. The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.

•Iran has historically provided weapons, training, and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, including the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), although Hamas’ ties to Tehran have been strained due to the Syrian civil war. Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and has trained thousands of its fighters at camps in Iran.

•Furthermore, the IRGC-QF, in concert with Hezbollah, provided training outside of Iraq as well as advisors inside Iraq for Shia militants in the construction and use of sophisticated improvised explosive device technology and other advanced weaponry

•On January 23, 2013, Yemeni authorities seized an Iranian dhow, the Jihan, off the coast of Yemen. The dhow was carrying sophisticated Chinese antiaircraft missiles, C-4 explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, and a number of other weapons and explosives. The shipment of lethal aid was likely headed to Houthi separatists in Northern Yemen. Iran actively supports members of the Houthi movement, including activities intended to build military capabilities, which could pose a greater threat to security and stability in Yemen and the surrounding region. (U.S. State Department 2013)

With such a sullied past and proven ties to terrorist activities on a global scale, the world should worry greatly over the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon and even worse, Iran’s geopolitical motivation in supplying proxies with such weapons.

Additionally, Mr. Pillalamarri notes that it is highly unlikely that the Middle East would go nuclear in response to an Iranian bomb. No Arab state has the industrial or technical capacity to build its own weapons. (Pillalamarri 2015) This idea can be easily argued against by looking at recent reporting out of Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials have issued explicit warnings about Riyadh’s intention to acquire nuclear weapons in the event Iran does. However, many analysts argue that such pronouncements are simply bluster aimed at drawing U.S. attention towards Saudi Arabia’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program in the hopes of securing additional security assurances from the United States. (Nuclear Threat Initiative 2015) So basically, if for no other reason, the U.S. should care about Iran getting a nuclear weapon because of the potential nuclear arms race it will spark, something the world should always fear.

Lastly I would like to comment on Mr. Pillalamarri’s thoughts on how it “would not be a big deal if Iran acquired nuclear weapons. Like Pakistan, it would quickly come to terms with the limitations of such weapons. In fact, by bringing countries closer to the abyss, nuclear weapons make them more aware of the consequences of foolish actions. Pakistan, a more unstable and dangerous state than Iran, has nuclear weapons and the world does not do much about this. That suggests that we can also live with a nuclear Iran if that comes to pass in the future.” (Pillalamarri. 2015) Mr. Pillalamarri hung part of his argument on the fact that, “…Pakistan, a more unstable and dangerous state than Iran, has nuclear weapons and the world does not do much about this.” This feels similar to someone saying, well, “we let the other guy do it and it hasn’t turned out so bad so we really cannot protest someone else doing the same thing.” This is a rather reckless position on which to balance the lives of the millions of people residing across the Middle East that would likely be directly affected in very real ways by a nuclear Iran.

The development of a nuclear weapon by Iran would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, specifically with Saudi Arabia, as well as put Israel on an extremely heightened and agitated state of military readiness. For those who still believe the nuclear accord does not go far enough to ensure Iran’s commitment to exclusively peaceful nuclear energy uses, this geopolitical concern does not seem like paranoia but more like logical realism given Iran’s track record on the diplomatic global stage. The accord is a risky roll of the dice by the West. Let us hope it doesn’t come up snake eyes.