Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

Fear of Mideast Arms Race

As Iran continues to develop its nuclear program, analysts fear that an arms race in the Middle East could begin. If sanctions continue to fail, these analysts say that military action is necessary to prevent this. Bettina Marx reports

photo: AP
Non-compliant: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

​​ As world powers negotiate on how to deal with Iran's continuing development of its nuclear program, concerns about a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, prompted by Iran's determination to build nuclear weapons, are mounting.

Officials from the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and China participated in a conference call yesterday to discuss how to handle Iran's flaunting of international demands to cease nuclear work. These countries, while attempting to deter Iran from continued nuclear development by offering Tehran incentives to allow more oversight of its program, are also threatening sanctions if Tehran does not stop work toward producing weapons grade uranium.

Iran, which has faced sanctions from the United Nations three times, says it is developing its nuclear program for peaceful purposes and has refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its nuclear facilities. It is party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but repeatedly has been found non-compliant.

There is growing fear that Iran will not stop work toward a weapon unless drastic action is taken. Middle East experts said that if Iran continues on its current path, a nuclear arms race in the region could ensue.

''Turkey, Algeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are all potential candidates to develop nuclear weapons," Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, told Deutsche Welle. ''And they will say, if [nuclear weapon development] is permitted in Iran, why can't we develop weapons as well?''

A threat beyond Israel

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (photo: AP)
Trying to alter the political balance of power in the Middle East: Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

​​ A nuclear-armed Iran is widely seen as a direct threat to Israel, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has pledged to ''wipe Israel off the map.'' Israel has not ruled out preemptive strikes against suspected nuclear sites inside Iran if development continues.

But Iran's possession of a nuclear weapon has implications for other countries in the region as well, Mustafa Alani, senior advisor and program director at the Gulf Research Center says.

''The question is not whether Iran uses the bomb against other countries in the Middle East," Alani told Deutsche Welle. ''But the question is whether Iran has control of the region, and the political consequences of a dominant Iran.''

The political balance of power in the Middle East at the current time is relatively stable. Israel has a dominant military and nuclear weapons, as well as the backing of the United States. Economic power is diversified, as a number of states have thriving oil industries. The region is also politically stable, with the exception of Iraq, which is trying to sustain a functioning government in the wake of the Iraq war.

A nuclear-armed and increasingly belligerent Iran would dramatically alter this balance. Ahmadinejad would hold disproportionate clout, and if recent belligerent statements toward Israel are to be believed, seems to be willing to use it.

Preemption vs. nuclear war

In the past, analysts have told Deutsche Welle that Israel is unlikely to carry out unilateral military action against Iran, as any action is not likely to destroy Iran's entire nuclear infrastructure. Last month, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told Congress ''no strike, however effective, will be in and of itself decisive.''

However, the Gulf Center's Sager says that if economic sanctions continue to fail, preemptive military action to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is needed. The power Iran would have would be too great and too much of a risk to the region.

''If I had to chose between living with Iran as a constant threat, or a military strike with limited retaliation, I can more easily live with the military option,'' he said.

Bettina Marx

© Deutsche Welle 2010

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