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Iran Armed with Nuclear Weapons: Are We Ready?

Nuclear Weapons Russia
Trinity nuclear weapons test. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Time to Plan for a Nuclear Iran – The Biden administration’s negotiations with the Iranian regime about its increasingly threatening nuclear program are on the verge of collapse. After more than a year of meetings, the Biden administration has failed to repair the shortcomings that prompted President Trump to withdraw from the original nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration in 2015.

The Vienna talks about reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka JCPOA or the Iran nuclear dealstalled in March, after Russia demanded immunity from Ukraine-related sanctions for billions of dollars it will reap for nuclear work in Iran under the deal.

After the Biden administration conceded on that issue, negotiations broke down over Iran’s demand that the U.S. lift sanctions imposed on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards due to terrorism. This would have rewarded Iran with extra benefits not included in the JCPOA, which only lifted sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear efforts.

It’s not clear when—or whether—the talks will resume.

Equally disturbing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently testified to Congress that Iran could finish enriching the uranium needed for a nuclear weapon—aka “breakout time”—in a few weeks if it decided to do so.

That’s deeply troubling.

The “lengthening and strengthening” of the (deeply flawed) Iran nuclear deal that Team Biden promised was firmly rejected by Tehran. That means that a future nuclear crisis with the Iranian regime remains a strong possibility even if another defective agreement is reached, which itself looks increasingly unlikely.

Now is the right time to start looking at what will likely happen if the Iran nuclear negotiations fail outright.

Nuclear Power #10?

Iran has made significant progress on its nuclear program since it began openly violating the JCPOA in 2019. Tehran has exceeded the limits of the nuclear deal in a number of ways, including restrictions on the size of stockpiles of enriched uranium, levels of uranium enrichment, and the use of advanced centrifuges.

These scientific and technical resources and capabilities put Iran on the path to developing and fielding a nuclear weapon.

The failure to reach an agreement that permanently ends Iran’s nuclear aspirations would be a major diplomatic failure. It would also destabilize the Middle East and have major repercussions for U.S. and international security, including Iran becoming a nuclear weapon state—and the trouble that comes with it.

War in the Middle East

Any evidence of Iran moving toward the development and or deployment of a nuclear weapon is expected to provoke a significant reaction in the Middle East due the threat it poses to Israel and the Iran’s Arab neighbors, most notably Saudi Arabia.

It is more than likely that Israel would take military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon by striking Iranian nuclear facilities, perhaps in cooperation (e.g., overflight rights) with equally concerned Arab partners.

It should also be expected that Iran wouldn’t simply absorb the Israeli attacks without a violent response. Tehran has the largest missile arsenal in the Middle East, many of which can reach Israel’s major cities.

Iran also has an ally in Syria, which hosts Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps bases that could strike Israel. Tehran would also turn to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Gaza’s Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad, and Iranian-controlled Iraqi militias to assist in meting out its revenge on Israel.

The Iranian regime would certainly blame the United States as being complicit in any Israeli or other attack on Iran over its nuclear program, whether it was involved or not. It should be expected that Iran and its proxies would escalate their ongoing attacks on U.S. bases and its interests overseas.

Nuclear Proliferation

Another consequence of Iran developing a nuclear weapon is that other states will face strong pressure to follow in its path. The security dilemma created by a nuclear Iran would spur a regional arms race at the conventional—and possibly nuclear—level.

While Israel is widely believed to be a nuclear weapon state, the prime candidates for a cascade of new nuclear proliferation include regional powers Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey.

Beyond the increase in regional tensions derived from an Iranian nuclear breakout, efforts at counterbalancing Iran’s nuclear weapons arsenal would strain global arms control and nonproliferation treaties, regimes, and norms.

When a country becomes a nuclear weapons state, the perception of its clout, leverage, prestige, and even legitimacy are bolstered significantly, usually at the expense of others, especially regional rivals and enemies.

Due to its new nuclear deterrent, Iran would gain a new freedom of action to escalate its provocative policies, including a drive for regional hegemony, anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli policies, and its support of international terrorist organizations.

Considering Iranian aspirations, a nuclear Iran would significantly shift the balance of power in the Middle East, further destabilizing an important region that plays a critical role in supplying the world’s energy.

Unfortunately, the possibility of reaching a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the threats posed by Iran’s nuclear program looks remote at this moment, meaning that the United States, its allies, and partners need to start thinking about dealing with more dangerous times ahead.

Dr. Peter Brookes is The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Research Fellow for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Counter-Proliferation. James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation, has written extensively on regional issues and international terrorism since 1978.

Dr. Peter Brookes is The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Research Fellow for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Counter-Proliferation. James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation, has written extensively on regional issues and international terrorism since 1978.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Him

    May 18, 2022 at 10:49 am

    When Republicans and Right Wing people see the Democrats and Obama giving Iran billions of dollars, and allowing Iran to continue its nuclear program, the Right Wing people cannot understand how the Leftists can do all that.

    To make sense of it, you’ll often see comments by Right Wing people to the effect that those people on the Left are doing these things because “they hate America”.

    I’m trying to make sense of it myself.

    But my guess – and maybe I’m naive – but when you get inside the brain of people like Obama, Biden and the Left Wing people, my guess is that they do not think thought such as “we hate America, so let’s allow Iran to continue with their nuclear program”.

    Rather – and once again, I’m guessing here, and trying not to be naive – but I think the Left Wing person has a deeply rooted philosophy that all people are inherently good. And the Left are burdened by their concept that America has not been nice in the past. So the Left feel that, if they only start being really, really, really nice to Iran – then Iran is going to be nice in return.

    It’s the same philosophy that led people like Richard Nixon (I realise he is Republican) to offer China to enter the mainstream WTO, thinking that if we be really nice to Communist Totalitarian China, and trade with them, then the Communist Chinese will eventually becoming less-Communist, and start being nice.

    That is the only reason I can think of for the Democrats, whenever they’re in power, taking immediate steps of allowing Iran to continue with their nuclear program.

    There has to be a deep-seated conviction in the Democrats that, deep down, the Iranians just want to be loved – and that if the U.S. is really nice to them, they won’t use their nuclear program to make bombs to flatten Israel, the U.S. and Europe.

    Alternatively, is there any modicum of truth, which the Right Wing constantly assert, that the Democrats actually hate America?

    My bet is that the Left/Democrats are driven by the naive worldview that, if we be nice to countries like Iran, then the Iranians won’t make nuclear bombs to bomb the West and Israel.

    But Americans, in general, show great naivete in cross-cultural relationships. The Americans, being a young nation, do not know what it is to have a culture where deep hatreds run for thousands of years. So, when the Iranian mobs chant that American is the great Satan, and that the Iranians want to destroy Israel and America — that type of hatred probably is not going to dissipate just from the Democrats being nice to Iran. There’s a chance that the Iranians are going to act true to form, and to hold cultural grudges that last thousands of years, as is common in Middle Eastern culture.

    In summary, the West, and particularly the United States, is not ready for a nuclear-armed Iran, because the Left side of U.S. politics is convinced that Iran would not turn out to be a Putin-like nuclear power – simply because the Democrats were so nice to Iran by letting them have their nuclear program for peaceful purposes. It’s the Neville Chamberlain approach, that if we intend peace, then surely the other side should intend peace as well?

    • Michael Nunez

      May 18, 2022 at 12:21 pm

      Isreal will have something for Iran if they get caught with anything that even appears like one .

    • John

      May 18, 2022 at 1:05 pm

      Don’t you think that the peoples of Russia do not care about the opinion of the lowered Bandera Nazi? They definitely don’t have to ask you how to protect yourself. Remind me who in the world used nuclear weapons? So shut your mouth and sit still, cock.

    • Joe Comment

      May 18, 2022 at 1:08 pm

      Him: You made a few inaccuracies here (it was George W. Bush, not Nixon, who was President when China entered the WTO, for example). But the biggest one is the statement about Democrats “taking immediate steps of allowing Iran to continue with their nuclear program.” Iran was already continuing with their nuclear program. They didn’t need us to “allow” them to do it. They had the capability and the right. The negotiations around that were an attempt to restrict that activity. What do you think was the alternative? Should have gone to war to try to stop them by physical force? Yes, we had trade sanctions, but what’s the point of them other than as leverage for negotiations?

    • David

      May 19, 2022 at 10:18 am

      I think you’re on to the main thing.

      People on the left think that mankind is improving – that we’re evolving to a better state. So we’re inherently good we can build utopia on this earth.

      People on the right think mankind cannot be made good. The nature that existed in ancient Romans is the same nature that’s in us today. So because of that you have to put walls up to restrain man’s tendency to do bad.

      Whether people realize it or not, I think this root difference is what leads to the actions that seem crazy or ridiculous to someone on the other side.

      • Joe Comment

        May 19, 2022 at 11:32 am

        David: But what’s a supposed right-wing solution in the Iran case? Trump tried increasing the sanctions, and Iran responded by ramping up their nuclear program. Was Aesop showing left-wing tendencies when he told the story of the North Wind and the Sun?

    • Pebo

      May 19, 2022 at 11:27 am

      Regarding US/China relations, in the late 60s, The Soviet Union under Breshnev was engaging Chinese troops with border skirmishes. Mao, quietly through a back channel asked for US help because the Soviet military was far more advanced than China’s. Nixon, worried about a Soviet troop invasion of Europe, thought it best that the Soviets understood that the US would provide advanced weaponry to the Chinese if it came to it. Now the Soviets had to worry about defending two far removed borders with troops and not just Europe alone. My understanding is that Kissinger was against the deal, but went ahead and set up the meeting between Nixon and Mao.

  2. Error403

    May 18, 2022 at 12:31 pm

    Hypothetically, an Iran with nukes is harmless, completely harmless.

    Realistically, and dangerously, a NATO horde armed with hypersonic weapons is game over situation for unlucky countries that have migrated or moved next door to NATO borders.

    World war 3 will become the true great gift to humanity when US starts deploying an array of hypersonic systems across the globe.

    • Joe Comment

      May 18, 2022 at 8:50 pm

      Error403: Hypersonic weapons are not enough to prevent mutually assured destruction. What do you mean about countries “migrating or moving”? Is that intended as some kind of threat that Russia will annex part of Moldova? And what is so “unlucky” about being near NATO? You think it’s unlucky to live in Switzerland or Austria? In short, it sounds like you are a victim of Russian propaganda.

  3. Ben Leucking

    May 18, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    Left to its own devices, and without direct external intervention, Iran will eventually attack Israel with nuclear weapons. They have alluded to this many times. Diplomacy has utterly failed to dissuade Iran from proceeding on a technological course to achieve Israel’s destruction and it will continue to fail. There are just three options, and continued diplomacy isn’t one of them.

    First, allow Iran to achieve its nuclear objectives and wait for the air raid sirens. Benefits: Least difficult. Requires no action, courage or integrity. Downside: Millions will die.

    Second, utterly destroy Iran’s capacity to produce the bomb. Downside: Most difficult. Many will still die. Requires action and courage. Benefits: Permanent elimination of nuclear threat.

    Third: Facilitate the overthrow of the Iran regime from within. Benefits: Both the regime and its nuclear threat are eliminated.
    Downside: Requires action by external governments who lack courage.

  4. GhostTomahawk

    May 18, 2022 at 3:59 pm

    News Flash: Iran will gladly take whatever money and help offered to not build nuclear weapons… and build nuclear weapons. So let them. Stop giving them money and making it easy for them. If you want to stop them then do covert surveillance and blow all their facilities off the earth and kill their scientists. Can’t ask people to not do what they want to. Make them or shove off

  5. Jim Higgins

    May 18, 2022 at 4:14 pm

    Iran will commit suicide by creating the quake signature of a successful nuke test or by dropping a nuke on Israel. Israel will ask nobody before launching a full bore nuclear attack on Iran. The Iranian state will then cease to exist.

  6. Error403

    May 18, 2022 at 9:59 pm

    The difference between an Iran (hypothetically) with atomic nukes and a rampaging US-NATO-minions-vassals colossus is exactly similar to the difference between a lighning flash and a lightning strike.

    Understand the difference.

  7. george

    May 19, 2022 at 11:06 am

    My goodness, you actually used the Daily Signal as a source? AHAHAHAHA God, that’s so sad! You’re probably so excited to claim to friends and family that you’re a real “reporter” for a real ‘news” outlet.(Honest Ma, just like them reading-books told us exist) Nope sorry!

    I thought this was a serious publication but now, after a few days, I can see it’s just another red-meat far-right Republican echo chamber. Have fun with your Russian trolls and wish Q the best for me. Ta Ta

  8. Clifford Williams

    May 19, 2022 at 2:55 pm

    Christ! Does anyone remember all the hand wringing when India and then Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons? Many were saying they would destroy each other in a few years. Well, it never happened.

    If Iran wants to join the Nuclear club then that accept the risk. “If you use one of these weapons as a first strike you country will be burned down!”

    The fact is the whole “Nuclear non-proliferation” idea is over! After the west abandoned Ukraine to it’s nuclear armed neighbor there isn’t a country in the world that will accept the guarantee of protection from the west in exchange for not developing nuclear weapons!

    If Iran acquires nukes the the Saudi’s and the UAE will be right after them. This will keep the peace between them.

  9. Mark Richardson

    May 19, 2022 at 7:03 pm

    The day Iran finishes a Nuclear Missile, they will launch it at Israel.
    Ok, the MINUTE they finish it…

  10. Joe Comment

    May 20, 2022 at 4:40 am

    Some discussion above posed the choice of negotiation versus force as a left versus right thing and tried to psychoanalyze these positions. This is wrong. LBJ is considered a left-winger and he ramped up the Vietnam War. Reagan is considered a right-winger and he negotiated arms control treaties with the USSR. Negotiations and force are both means to an end. Do you believe if we blow up some nuclear facilities in Iran, the Iranians will respond by saying, “Oh well, better give up”? That’s similar to what the Japanese believed when they blew up some naval facilities in Pearl Harbor.

  11. Arash P

    July 21, 2022 at 9:37 pm

    -“Ladies and gentlemen, we got him”……”Yaaaay USA USA USA”

    -“We came, we saw, he died, hahahahahah”

    Remember those words?

    Americans should have worried about nuclear proliferation when they trashed countries that gave up their nuclear programs (Iraq and Libya) and violated their leaders with laughter in front of the whole world.
    When was the last time US told a nuclear armed state that “all options are on the table”?!

    You have no one to blame but yourself and your own hubris.

  12. smartalek180

    July 29, 2022 at 6:12 pm

    Two very simple questions that I like to pose to every right-winger who predictably whines about the “weak, flawed” nuclear deal with Iran:
    1: Under that deal, did Iran make progress toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons, or did they not?
    2: After the Trump regime unilaterally broke that accord, giving Iran permission to restart their nuclear program, did Iran make progress toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons, or did they not?
    The silence that is always the response to both those questions is profound.

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