Meir Dagan, a former director of Israel’s secret service, the Mossad, and someone who ought to know, says Iran is still years from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He is quoted as saying, “Not before 2015.” Like all Israelis, he says Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability will significantly affect the politics of the Middle East. Dagan has also said force should be used only as a last resort because the price of war with Iran is a heavy one. What he doesn’t say is that when Iran gets the bomb, Israel’s four decades old monopoly on nuclear weapons capability in the Middle East will be over. The military balance of power in the region, however, will not be transformed as Israel will continue to have military superiority over any and all of its enemies, backed by the support of the world’s only super power, the United States. Iran is backed only by Syria, and that relationship is in deep trouble because Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is in deep trouble. Iran is not an existential threat to either America or Israel.
Much will depend on the circumstances under which Iran acquires the bomb. If Iran is first attacked by Israel or the United States in an attempt to prevent acquisition, Iran is likely to be even more determined to get the bomb and may be more inclined to use it to retaliate. If Iran surprises the world with an unexpected nuclear test, as India did in 1998, it will shock the international community and perhaps lead to more sanctions on Iran. If Iran simply acquires the capability and begins to build a nuclear arsenal without a test or any public acknowledgement that it has crossed the nuclear threshold, as Israel is believed to have done in the 1960s, the impact will be in slow motion.
For all of us who care about preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb, what’s the best way to keep preventing that? [The JCPOA is] not perfect, but it’s something. These conventions are never based on the premise that all the parties are telling the truth, it’s about enforcement mechanisms. No arms control agreement is based in trust.