Rumours are circulating that Iran is about to exit the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal agreed in 2015 along with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s resignation are imminent. The Iranians have denied these rumours even although it has not received any real benefit from the agreement. Hardliners argue that only nuclear weapons can provide for Iran’s security and shield it from potential attacks by the USA, Israel, or both.
Should the government of President Rouhani succumb to hardliner pressures, Iran hawks in the US and some Iranian opposition groups, along with Israel, Saudi and the UAE would certainly lobby President Trump to take military action against Iran. Within the Trump administration, National Security Adviser John Bolton would champion such a move. Bolton and other Iran hawks would argue that, if Iran is still standing, the USA cannot reduce the level of its military engagement in the Middle East and Southwest Asia because Iran would otherwise fill the vacuum.
Bolton has been quoted saying experts are worried that the Middle East would face an uncontrollable nuclear-arms race if Iran ever acquired weapons capability. Given the region’s political, religious and ethnic conflicts, the logic is straightforward. He highlights in other nuclear proliferation cases like India, Pakistan and North Korea, America and the West were guilty of inattention when they should have been vigilant, and this is no excuse for making the same mistakes again.
Bolton additionally says that comprehensive international sanctions, rigorously enforced and universally adhered to, might have broken the back of Iran’s nuclear programme. But the sanctions imposed have not met those criteria. There is now acknowledgment that the rosy 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which judged that Iran’s weapons programme was halted in 2003, was little more than wishful thinking.
Presently, the arms race is underway in neighbouring countries, driven by fears that Obama’s diplomacy helped foster a nuclear Iran. Bolton has stated that Saudi is expected to move first and has surely advised President Trump, that there would be no way the Saudis would allow the Persians to outpace them in the quest for dominance within Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitical hegemony.
Bolton additionally has quoted that Saudi nuclear funding is underway and analysts have long believed that Saudi can, overnight, become a nuclear power obtaining weapons from Pakistan. Egypt and Turkey, both with imperial legacies and modern aspirations, and similarly distrustful of Tehran, would be right behind.
Israel’s nuclear weapons have not triggered an arms race. Other regional states understood, even if they couldn’t admit it publicly, that Israel’s nukes were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure.
Iran is a different story. Extensive progress in uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing reveal its ambitions. Saudi, Egyptian and Turkish interests are complex but faced with Iran’s threat, all have concluded that nuclear weapons are essential. The evidence is accumulating that they have quickened their pace toward developing weapons.
Finally, remember US thinking lies in a 1992 policy paper entitled US Defence Planning Guidance. The paper stipulates that US policy is designed “to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources under consolidated control be sufficient to generate global power.”