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Those who argue that the world can live with a nuclear Iran ignore the likelihood that a nuclear arms race is likely to ensue in the Middle East, which will exponentially increase the danger to the region and beyond. The cost of stopping Iran's drive for a bomb, therefore, must be balanced with the benefit of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
If Iran has nuclear weapons it can also pose an indirect threat by sharing the technology or an actual weapon with other Muslim countries or terrorists. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows the peaceful pursuit of nuclear technology, including uranium mining and enrichment, under oversight by the IAEA, but President Ahmadinejad raised worldwide concern about nuclear proliferation when he told the UN General Assembly in September 2005, "Iran is ready to transfer nuclear know-how to the Islamic countries due to their need." Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, repeated the proliferation threat several months later when he told the president of Sudan, "Iran's nuclear capability is one example of various scientific capabilities in the country....The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to transfer the experience, knowledge and technology of its scientists."
If Iran succeeds in getting a bomb, it will also create a potential arms race as Arab states see the need to obtain weapons to deter the Iranians. "It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon," said President Obama. "Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe." Obama added: "The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world."
In fact, since 2006, at least 13 Arab countries have either announced new plans to explore atomic energy or revived pre-existing nuclear programs (including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, and Syria) in response to Iran's nuclear program (Strategic Insights, Volume VIII, Issue 5, December 2009). Many Middle Eastern countries sought to strengthen their nuclear cooperation with other nations, such as the United States, Russia and France. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE signed nuclear cooperation accords with the United States, and Russia and Egypt have laid the groundwork for Russia to join a tender for Egypt's first civilian nuclear power station. Kuwait, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan announced plans to build nuclear plants as well. Even Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world announced plans to purchase a nuclear reactor.
Most Arab countries say publicly they are only interested in peaceful uses of nuclear technology, but the fear is that some or all may follow the Iranian example and work toward building a bomb. In fact, former U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross said he was told by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, "If they get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons" (Haaretz, May 30 2012). The Saudi position was reaffirmed by an official close to Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal who said in June 2011, "If Iran develops a nuclear weapon that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit" (The Guardian, June 29, 2011).
As one of the world's principal sponsors of terrorism, a nuclear Iran poses the danger of giving terrorists access to nuclear material. Iran provides weapons to Hezbollah, which has targeted Americans, as well as Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets into Israel. Imagine if either of these groups were given any radioactive materials.
Former President Bill Clinton noted, "the more of these weapons you have hanging around, the more fissile material you've got, the more they're vulnerable to being stolen or sold or just simply transferred to terrorists." He added, "even if the [Iranian] government didn't directly sanction it, it wouldn't be that much trouble to get a Girl Scout cookie's worth of fissile material, which, if put in the same fertilizer bomb Timothy McVeigh used in Oklahoma City, is enough to take out 20 to 25 percent of Washington, D.C. Just that little bit." (Piers Morgan Tonight, September 25, 2012)
As Iran is demonstrating, it is not so easy to achieve a nuclear capability, especially with the whole world watching, but the region will become far more dangerous as the number of countries engaged in nuclear activities grows. A nuclear Middle East will also pose a threat to global peace and stability.