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Many arguments abound from skeptics who believe Iran would never actually fulfill their threats to use a nuclear bomb - Iran would never want to kill innocent Muslims; the Iranians are worried about mutually assured destruction; the Ayatollahs are driven by rationality not theology or ideology.
But do any of these theories hold water? And, futhermore, if Iran reaches the nuclear threshhold, would Tehran even need to actually use a nuclear weapon to influence events in the Middle East?
According to the Congressional Research Service, "Iran's ballistic missiles challenge U.S. military capabilities and U.S. influence in the Middle East." U.S. intelligence also indicates that "Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East ... many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload."
The Pentagon believes that Iran's missiles "threaten U.S. forces, allies, and partners" in the Middle East. Additionally, "Iran has not shown that it is deterred or dissuaded by U.S. conventional military superiority, or by U.S. and international sanctions, or by the deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defense capabilities."
Iran's leaders have made little effort in recent years to mask their true feelings toward Israel, the United States and the West. Reaching the nuclear weapons threshhold would only lend more credence to the almost daily threats made by Iran against the Jewish State and its allies.
In the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "Those who dismiss Iran's threats as exaggerated or as mere idle posturing have learned nothing from the Holocaust ... There have always been those among us who prefer to mock those who tell uncomfortable truths than squarely face the truth themselves."
Iran has a long and proud history. It is believed to be one of the oldest civilizations, dating back more than 6,000 years. For 200 years, what was once called Persia, controlled territory from Egypt in the west to Turkey in the north, and through Mesopotamia to the Indus River in the east. By the 5th century B.C.E., it was the largest empire the world had ever seen.
Iran's leaders are not interested in a bomb just for the sake of having nuclear capability; they undoubtedly believe possession of nuclear weapons will allow Tehran to intimidate its neighbors and spread its radical brand of Shiite Islam throughout the region and the world.
Those who argue that the world can live with a nuclear Iran ignore the very high likelihood that a nuclear arms race will ensue in the Middle East, exponentially increasing the danger from nuclear weapons to the region and beyond. If Iran has nuclear weapons it can also pose an indirect threat by sharing that technology or an actual weapon with other Muslim countries or terrorists.
Already, at least twelve Muslim countries in the Middle East have began pursuing a nuclear capability, many of which explicitly in response the growing threat from Iran. The cost of stopping Iran's drive for a bomb, therefore, must be balanced with the benefit of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
From Hamas in Gaza to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran is the patron for many of the world's most fearsom Islamic militant organizations. It is the Iranian model of revolution that characterize the rhetoric of many extremist groups and it is the source of money that often pays for the weapons, training and literature that are the backbone of Islamic extremist violence.
If Iran succeeds in developing nuclear weapons, a serious threat would emerge by way of the scenario that a nuclear Iran may decide to transfer those materials to either homegrown or foreign terrorists to threaten countries in the Middle East and beyond.
The likelihood that a nuclear-armed Iran would target Western cities is low, given the massive retaliation that would follow. Even the prospect of nuclear terrorism is not the fear driving the West's campaign to stop Iran's nuclear project. The primary motivation is oil.
Given that ensuring the supply of oil at a reasonable price is the principal national security interest of the United States and other Western countries driving their Middle East policies, this should come as no surprise. The fact that China and Japan and other non-Western nations are highly dependent on Middle Eastern oil has also made these countries allies in the effort to prevent Iran from building a bomb.