Vaez says he's confident that Israel's own nuclear deterrent
would keep Iran from launching a premeditated strike on Israel.
"[Iran] is not suicidal and will never commit the strategic
mistake of engaging in an unequal nuclear confrontation with Israel," he wrote.
Vaez adds that other Middle Eastern states, though rivals of
Iran, could likely live with a nuclear-capable Tehran. Countries such as Saudi
Arabia wouldn't seek their own nuclear weapons, he argues, saying it would take
"years" for them to amass the resources needed to develop their own warheads. In
any case, Arab states already have far more conventional arms than does Iran.
But the bigger question, according to Micah Zenko of the
Council on Foreign Relations, is one of trust. It's difficult to know how
Israel, Saudi Arabia and others would respond to an Iran that had announced its
intention to stop at nuclear latency, mainly because a lot depends on how that
claim gets verified.
"If they stop now and allow the [International Atomic Energy
Agency] to monitor in perpetuity, then Iran would not be believed to have a
nuclear weapon," Zenko told me over the phone last week. But if world leaders aren't
convinced by the IAEA's reports, the current crisis would likely continue. Even
if Iran complies with the inspection process as requested, suspicions about
secret nuclear activity might still endure.
Speculation aside, there are good reasons to think Iran
might be tempted to stop at nuclear latency. It balances the danger of
retribution by U.S., Arab or Israeli forces against the domestic political
successes Iran has sought with its nuclear research since the program began in
the late 1980s. Iran would accrue some measure of international leverage and
prestige as a nuclear-capable power, and it would enjoy a commensurate boost to
its domestic legitimacy, without becoming an actual nuclear pariah. It could
also claim to have succeeded in its goal of nuclear independence in spite of the
Western hawks such as Lieberman usually frame a
nuclear-capable Iran as a policy failure, but it could benefit the U.S. and
Israel as well. The United States could credibly claim a diplomatic coup --
after all, it would have convinced Iran not to build a nuclear weapon.
Washington would be able to avoid committing troops to a destructive conflict
it would rather not wage (and Iran would rather not suffer). Regionally, Israel
would retain its current first-strike nuclear advantage as well as an
overwhelming conventional superiority, and other Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia,
would have less of an incentive to equip themselves with nuclear weapons, given
the cost of developing the know-how and infrastructure to achieve parity with
Some top administration officials have suggested that Iran might
have the right disposition to select a middle-ground policy such as latency.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN's
Fareed Zakaria this month that he sees Iran as a
operating with regard to costs and benefits, just like any other state.
American intelligence estimates appear to support that view. In January, Director
of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress that Iran has not decided
to build a nuclear weapon, a belief he