Is There a Silver Lining in the Iran Deal?
Let us begin by acknowledging that a nuclear Iran, prompting a probable Middle Eastern arms race, is not good, but it is also not an immediate existential threat to Israel. The reason is that, over the course of their now 36-year-old regime, the mullahs have demonstrated that they are not clinically insane; evil, yes (and it is always dangerous to conflate the two), but not nuts. They are not the sort of men who will strap on a suicide belt and rush out to immolate themselves in a marketplace or mosque; they are the sort of men who will encourage, exhort, and order others to do so.
It is therefore worth remembering that such men as Meir Dagan and Efraim haLevi, both former heads of the Mossad and presumably better informed than any of the rest of us, both insisted during the last election campaign in Israel that Netanyahu’s harping on the Iranian nuclear threat was greatly overblown. Both men may be politically on the Left, but no one should doubt that they are Israeli patriots and not suicidally inclined.
Israel has made provisions for deterrence along the lines of the old American Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine (not inappropriately abbreviated MAD; we’ve stipulated that this is a bad deal), and have been very careful to leak that Israeli submarines armed with missiles patrol the Indian Ocean off Iran’s coast. Israel possesses surface-to-surface missiles, and doubtless the warheads to equip them with; I’m sure some of them are trained on Iranian targets as this is written, waiting for satellite notification of an Iranian launch.
Finally, earlier this year Israel quietly acquiesced in an American decision to declassify a Reagan-era assessment of her nuclear research which highlighted that then, in the mid-1980s, Israel was close to developing thermonuclear capabilities, with the strong suggestion that H-bombs now form part of Israel’s arsenal.
It is worth remembering that H-bombs use a Hiroshima-sized weapon as a trigger, a fact which I am certain is not lost on a people so clever as the Iranians.
The mullahs are not particularly eager to be issued their 70 virgins, nor do they wish to see the Iranian plateau converted to a sheet of fused, radioactive glass. So an Iranian bomb is not likely an immediate existential threat to Israel, grave though the development is; funding and flow of conventional weapons to Hizbullah and Hamas are both more serious and more immediate.
One unintended consequence of Iran’s diplomatic and economic isolation over the last decade or so has been to make internal propaganda very much easier, promoting a siege mentality, a strong sense of “us vs. them.” Economic hardship coupled with a cunningly incessant propaganda campaign has made recruiting those chanting crowds relatively easy for the Khomeinists.
However, engaging in trade with the world means that Iran has to open up in ways which the mullahs have probably not anticipated. In particular, such engagement with the free and bountiful societies and economies of the West may serve to spark anew the sort of discontent which sparked the anti-government demonstrations of 2009. And in 2017, there may be a very different president in the White House to take advantage of the situation.
An unintended consequence of Obama’s “legacy” agreement may well be the demise of the Khomeinist regime.