Foreign policy hawks frequently portray military action against Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program as a preferable alternative to the possible outcome of a nuclear weapons possessing Iran. While President Obama remains committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, telling an audience in March that, “Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment,” a report released yesterday by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) explores the policy implications of a nuclear armed Iran and the potential repercussions of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The report, whose authors include Colin Kahl, a former top Middle East policy official at the Pentagon, concurs with Israeli, U.S. and IAEA reports that Iran’s leadership has not yet committed to constructing a nuclear weapon. More importantly, “if Iran’s nuclear progress continues, the supreme leader could conceivably be satisfied with stopping at a ‘threshold’ capability just short of full-fledged weaponization,” reads the report.
And while a nuclear armed Iran would “be more aggressive and dangerous than an Iran without nuclear weapons,” Kahl and his coauthors Melissa Dalton and Matthew Irvine find that “Iran is unlikely to deliberately use a nuclear weapon or transfer a nuclear device to terrorists for use against Israel.”
Addressing policymakers, the CNAS report, “Risk And Rivalry: Iran, Israel And The Bomb,” advise that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon should remain a priority and that Israeli and U.S. policymakers should avoid drawing red-lines and taking “steps that limit diplomatic options.”
The CNAS authors find that an Israeli strike on Iran “would likely backfire, increasing the risks to Israeli security and regional stability” and a U.S. attack could, at best, produce “a significant delay in Iran’s nuclear program.”
While a nuclear armed Iran is, as the authors acknowledge, a dangerous outcome, they push-back at the notion that Iran’s leadership is suicidal and irrational, finding that “the actual behavior of the Islamic Republic over the past three decades indicates that the regime is not suicidal and is sufficiently rational for nuclear deterrence.”