The Iranian Bomb

I suggested that the world could live with it - certainly in a way that many Israelis feel they cannot. The judgment required to determine if a fanatically theocratic regime can indeed be trusted with that kind of power is an excruciatingly nuanced one, especially since the alternative - a pre-emptive strike - is so fraught with peril. There are no great options in front of us. But Jeffrey Goldberg moves the goal-posts further in his latest post, trying to forge a debate about Iran's nuclear capacity beyond the Israel question alone. Money quote:

Can we really live with a Middle East that has eight or ten nuclear powers? And will our allies succumb to Iranian pressure and one day line-up against us? Right now, we have enormous influence in the Gulf states, influence that helps us fight terrorism and assure the smooth flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. All this changes if Iran becomes a proven nuclear power. Our Gulf allies will have to make impossible choices, between the country that has guaranteed order in their region, and the rising Shia power.

Something else changes: Terrorist groups that threaten, or have threatened, American targets - terrorists in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon - will come under the protection of the Iranian nuclear umbrella.

Hezbollah's rockets have helped the group establish a local deterrent to Israeli attack; an Iranian bomb would strengthen Hezbollah in Lebanon, and well beyond Lebanon.

An Iranian bomb would also set off new tension between India and Pakistan, an ally of Saudi Arabia that would almost certainly turn to Pakistan for help with its program, making the Indians, who are already distressingly close to India, exceedingly nervous. 

All these points are well taken. But the rise of the Shia is probably unstoppable and nuclear technology simply cannot be uninvented. If it isn't developed by the Iranians, they may one day purchase it. I like the status quo, in which Israel and Israel alone has nuclear power in the Middle East. But I see why its neighbors and enemies do not see things that way; and I don't see a future in which such a unipolar nuclear situation in the Middle East is permanently feasible. The question is how we manage that perilous transition toward deterrence - and who we trust in the coming years to avoid catastrophe.