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The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg recently reported in a much-read magazine cover story on the likelihood of Israel bombing Iran. Like many discussions of Middle East politics, it is concerned with the consequences of Iran's apparent drive to procure nuclear weapons.

That makes former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans's recent argument all the more interesting. He is not so sure Iran will actually try to produce an atomic bomb, and explains why in a recent piece for Project Syndicate. "No one should underestimate the difficulty of assessing Iran’s real intentions," admits Evans. But,

That said, too many policymakers and commentators have rushed to judgment, insisting that Iran is irrevocably determined to build nuclear weapons, or that it wants a break-out capability that is just as dangerous. In fact, there is good reason to believe that the situation is less alarming and more containable than this.

He summarizes five reasons Iran might "stop short of building the nuclear weapons that it may soon have the capacity to produce." He admits it may seem implausible that Iran would rush for weapons it didn't want to produce, but he says he's heard these reasons "stated with clarity and consistency" in his "many off-the-record discussions with senior officials in Iran and elsewhere over the last few years." Here they are:

1. "concern that Israel will perceive the existence of one or two Iranian bombs as an existential threat, demanding a pre-emptive military attack... Iranians think such an attack unlikely if they do not cross the red line of actual weaponization."

2. "zero tolerance in Russia and China for an Iranian bomb, and [the understanding that] all the rope that that these powers have so far given Iran in the Security Council will run out if Iran weaponizes"

3. "a clear perception in Iran that acquiring an actual bomb would lead to impossibly stringent economic sanctions," far worse than the ones currently imposed

"Iranians acknowledge that any regional hegemony bought with nuclear weapons is likely to be short-lived. There is skepticism about the capacity of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey to move quickly to build bombs of their own, and a belief that they would be under much international pressure, especially from the US, not to do so. But there is also a clear view that Arab-Persian, Sunni-Shia, or more straightforward regional power anxieties would make a nuclear-arms race inevitable."

5. "weapons of mass destruction simply violate the precepts of Islam. Few in the West are likely to find this line very compelling, but it has echoed strongly in every conversation that I have ever had with Iranian officials, senior or minor. And it is not without plausibility: Iran did not, after all, respond in kind when it was bombarded with chemical weapons by Iraq."

Evans is careful to say that this does not mean "Iranian intentions can be taken on trust." He does seem to think, however, that the general consensus regarding Iran's determination to build a bomb needs to be reexamined.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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