The current Spectator published a noteworthy essay on the dilemma faced by Israel from a nuclear armed Iran. It ends with the question that concerns me. Why is Iran so obviously provoking Israel? Does Iran already possess Russian nuclear weapons? The article can be read in entirety here at The Spectator. It ends with this:
"A successful military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, by America or Israel, will be cause for private celebrations throughout the Middle East, though public expressions of diplomatic outrage will predictably be as ferocious as those that followed Israel’s pre-emptive strike which destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981.
Iran has been emboldened by its recent successes in Iraq and Lebanon. Without firing a single shot or suffering a single casualty, Iran has emerged as the most influential player in Iraq, America not excepted. ‘The Iranians can look forward to many years when they will be able to regard Iraq as their backyard,’ a senior Iraqi political source told me last week. And, through its Syrian ally and Hezbollah proxy, Iran has also become the dominant force in Lebanon.
Beyond Iraq and Lebanon, Iran is seeking to use its economic muscle to build influence in the Muslim world. But it remains hampered by two intrinsic disabilities: first, it is a Shiite state in a largely Sunni environment; second, it is a non-Arab state in a largely Arab world. To overcome these handicaps, Iran has to prove its credentials, and it can achieve this not only by acquiring the ultimate weapon, but also by being first among equals in its hostility to the Jewish state, the totemic issue of the entire Islamic world.
Two niggling questions remain unanswered: why are the Iranians so brazenly flaunting their nuclear programme? And why are they so obviously goading the Israelis by issuing a flurry of existential threats? They seem to be deliberately provoking an Israeli attack. But that could be precisely what they want to achieve.
In addition to Iran’s indigenous nuclear programme, there have been reports that it has bought several nuclear bombs ‘off the shelf’ from rogue scientists in the former Soviet Union. So, for all the fuss about its nuclear programme, Iran might already have several tactical nuclear weapons stuffed in its armoury.
If Israel is drawn into a pre-emptive strike, the Iranians might reckon that the international community will judge an Iranian nuclear response to be proportionate, even justifiable. With their political compass fixed at the dangerous intersection of ideological fervour and religious zealotry, the mullahs of Tehran could be calculating that such an outcome will succeed in both burnishing their Islamic credentials and realising their cosmic dream of dominance."