Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Iran: be alert, but not alarmed

Iran: be alert, but not alarmed

We shouldn't allow alarmism about Iran's nuclear weapons stockpile to get out of hand

Charles Richardson

1 November 2005

No-one is going to rise to the defence of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who outraged world opinion last week with his call for Israel to be "wiped off the map." Combined with the continuing controversy over Iran's nuclear program, they have added a sense of urgency to confrontation with the Iranian theocracy.

It has to be said, however, that the Iranians seem to have a better understanding of nuclear strategy than some of their opponents. In response to western protests, supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei was quoted yesterday saying "These ignorant people do not realize that nuclear weapons are no good for toppling regimes or governments."

He's right. Suppose Iran did acquire a nuclear weapon – what on earth is it supposed to do with it? Any use of it against Israel, or for that matter against anyone else, would simply invite massive retaliation by the United States, which has enough nukes to turn Iran into a parking lot at a few hours' notice.

Deterrence works. Perhaps some people think Iran's rulers are possessed by such religious fanaticism that they would risk worldly destruction for promised rewards in the afterlife, but there is no evidence for this: their behaviour suggests that they are crafty, self-interested tyrants.

We already have an Islamic dictator with weapons of mass destruction – General Musharraf of Pakistan. And while the West's cozying up to him is morally questionable, Pakistan poses no strategic threat. America's retaliatory capacity is enough to make sure of that.

Iran's mullahs may still be trying to build a nuclear weapon, whether for deterrence of their own or just for national pride. But it is equally possible that their nuclear program is, as they claim, just for generating electricity. Certainly nuclear proliferation is a problem wherever it occurs, but we should not allow alarmism about Iran to get out of hand. Remember where that got us to in Iraq.

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