What would happen if Iran had the bomb? (+video)
Even as Tehran signals an interest in nuclear talks, many experts have already envisioned what the world would look like if the country got nuclear weapons. It wouldn't be as dire as many fear, but it would unleash new uncertainties - and perhaps a regional arms race.
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A nuclear Iran would be destabilizing, but it would not threaten the existence of the US or Israel, he says – a view echoed by a number of senior Israeli security officials. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan called an Israeli strike against Iran "the stupidest thing I've ever heard."Skip to next paragraph
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Riedel, of the Brookings Institution, envisions a kind of "mutual assured destruction" stability, too. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, "there is no evidence to suggest the Islamic Republic of Iran is suicidal or seeking to end itself in a mass moment of Armageddon," he says. "In fact, to the contrary, the underlying motif of this revolution from Day 1 has been the survival of the revolution, to keep a revolution alive in Iran."
In Israel, even talking about living with a nuclear-armed Iran has long been taboo because it might appear to concede that what the US, Israel, and Europe have declared "unacceptable" is, in fact, acceptable. Yet that was the scenario of a simulation last October by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), an Israeli think tank affiliated with Tel Aviv University, that gave insights into what might happen across the region if Iran became a nuclear state.
The surprising result, the day after a hypothetical Iranian nuclear test, was not war. Instead, all the main players – from Washington to Moscow to Tel Aviv – adjusted rather easily to the new reality, with few dramatic changes in behavior.
Even Iran, rather than wielding its handful of new atomic bombs as a sword of Damocles over a fearful region, attempted "to use them to reach an agreement with the major powers to improve its strategic standing," according to the INSS report on the simulation published in January.
"The sky won't fall the day after," says Yoel Guzansky, a research fellow at INSS who shaped the simulation and was an Iran specialist in the Israeli prime minister's office for four years until 2009.
Other surprises to come out of the simulation included the Israeli team still threatening to use the military option against Iran even after the bomb test – Israel "stressed consistently that it cannot accept a nuclear Iran" – as well as a calming message from the prime minister's office that Israel was "well protected by advanced systems and will know how to respond if necessary." Overall, though, the response "was that a wide scale military attack against Iran is not in order," noted INSS.
For its part, the US opted for deterrence and containment of Iran in the short term, and applied "massive pressure" on Israel not to take military action that it implied would harm US-Israeli relations. In the long term, however, "the US goal was regime change in Iran, on the assumption that a different regime would be easier to contain."
The players in the simulation also examined the establishment of a regional security alliance of Sunni-dominated countries, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to counterbalance the newfound power of Shiite Iran. Egypt pleaded with the US to advance a military option. Saudi Arabia suggested that it had already found its own way to counter Iran. It urged Pakistan to immediately honor the "nuclear commitments" formalized between the two countries over the years.