With recent revelations of a previously undisclosed Iranian nuclear facility for uranium enrichment and a recent fit of long range missile testing, the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambition is reaching critical mass. However, what’s lost in the frenzy of media reports and official denouncements from western leaders is a more fundamental quandary.
Despite its president’s rhetoric I don’t believe the Iranian government, even in its currently fragmented state, is as loony or nihilistic as the world envisions it to be. Ahmadinejad’s calamitous anti-Israeli nonsense is less about Iran’s apocalyptic nuclear intention to incinerate Tel Aviv and much more about exciting his conservative base at home as well as serving a rally cry for Iran’s Arab proxies and allies during a time of waning Iranian, regional influence. Ahmadinejad’s need for a foreign bogey man is at an all time high, given the largely contested recent elections and the virtual, final nail in the coffin of the Khomeini revolution. So what does Iran hope to gain first, by its belligerent non-compliance with the NPT, and second in actually realizing the development of a deliverable nuclear weapon? Some thoughts:
While the world’s custodians of the NPT (specifically the US, UK and France as concerns Iran) envision it as a measure to mitigate nuclear proliferation, Iran utilizes it as a measure of leveling the geopolitical playing field. Lacking a stable, proliferate economy, anything resembling a robust, modern military (Iran lost it’s sole AWACS recently during an airshow) Iran is wholly reliant on three measures to project itself onto the radar screen of global matters. The threat of regional primacy, resource connectivity (Iran is China’s largest oil supplier) and the murky threat of possibly developing a nuclear weapon.
Iran isn’t currently pursuing a functioning and deliverable nuclear weapon. Iran want’s <i>access</i> to a functioning and deliverable nuclear weapon. In one respect, full development would bring Iran into the “Big Boyz Club” of global prominence. However, the mere existence of Iran’s nuclear program poses an existential threat to itself. Not likely from the above mentioned custodian’s of the NPT but almost certainly from Israel. In this Iran skates very thin ice.
In the short term, so long as the Israeli’s believe Iran’s nuke program remains in the nascent stage (partial enrichment of uranium below weapons grade) diplomatic measures remain the mainstay globally and politically feasible in Tel Aviv. The closer intelligence or, more importantly, media reports tie Iran to a viable nuclear weapon the more eminent and politically necessary Israeli interdiction becomes. Iran is neither blind nor deaf to this reality. By staging incremental, if internationally illegal, steps in stockpiling uranium at low levels of enrichment (5%) Iran is building a framework for the ability to piece together a functioning nuke in a relatively short period of time. In going this route Iran gains some weight to throw around regionally and globally while ceding first strike capability to Israel and other nuke states.
The question, of course, is how long Israel is willing to hold back and endure the status quo. I expect nothing in terms of groundbreaking accomplishment from Iran’s October 1st palaver with the Group of Six. However the talks will set the mood, if you will, for what happens next. Should Iran’s representatives bring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fire and brimstone nonsense to the table I wouldn’t expect Israeli willingness to stand around waiting for the UN Security Counsel to bicker about sanctions.
Image credit: The Guardian