In his cover story for this week’s edition of the magazine James is, quite characteristically, honest enough to acknowledge that the consequences of attacking Iran would be “horrendous” and, of course, he is also right to argue that there are any number of terrible possibilities if Iran does acquire nuclear weapons. He sums them up:
However he also raises the spectre of a doomed Iranian regime lobbing nuclear missiles at Israel as part of a final death and glory mission. But will the timetables of political reform and nuclear development coincide quite so neatly? When the head of Mossad says that Iran won’t have a nuclear weapon until 2014 then it seems likely that Armageddon 2010 is not on the cards. So there may be rather more time than is sometimes supposed.
It would spark an arms race across the Middle East. Many in the intelligence community are convinced that Saudi Arabia has a deal with Pakistan to buy a bomb off the shelf if Iran goes nuclear: a Shiite bomb must be countered with a Sunni one. Iran would also step up its support for disruptive, violent groups across the region — Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shiite extremists in Iraq, and Hamas in Israel/Palestine. The international community would have little leverage on a nuclear-armed Iran and thus little hope of moderating its behaviour. Peace and stability would be further off than ever.
More importantly, the events of the last week seem to me to have weakened an already problematic case for military intervention against Iran. Forcing Iranians to choose between their political aspirations and their patriotism is a dumb idea since, I’d hazard, the vast majority will choose patriotism. We should not forget the great favour Saddam Hussein did the fledgling Islamic Republic when he invaded Iran in 1980.