Iran: Crisis Point

Mohsin Zeb

As Iran nears its nuclear ambition, the consequences of a nuclear Iran become increasingly clear. It is not a pretty picture, concerns about an Iranian nuclear arsenal spread far and wide. Beyond the usual suspects of the United States of America, Great Britain in the role of sidekick and Israel, who considers itself the most likely victim of any future Iranian nuclear stockpile, the states in Iran’s region especially those on the Arab peninsula, appear to be equally nervous. Indeed, the reality is that the establishment of an Iranian nuclear arsenal will spur on regional and global nuclear proliferation that would further exacerbate the global risks spanning from unchecked nuclear proliferation.

Saudi Arabia has already publicly stated that it will pursue nuclear weapons if Tehran accomplishes its objectives in that field. No less a figure then Prince Turk al Faisal, a senior member of the Royal Family, stated a completed Iranian nuclear device would “would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences”. He went on to clarify what such dramatic steps would be undertaken, eliminating any doubt that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, proliferation in the already volatile Middle East would become inevitable. He stated, “We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don’t. It’s as simple as that. If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.” The world can rest assured that if Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia will not stand still. Should Riyadh join the nuclear club, the pressure on Cairo and Ankara to keep pace with their regional competitors will be immense. Thus suddenly nuclear weapons would have made a presence across the region, throwing gasoline onto a region that is explosive enough as it is.

As to how the Saudis will go about establishing a nuclear arsenal to provide a shield against a belligerent Tehran, there is a considerable body of opinion that believes Riyadh has already made moves to such affects via its long standing and intimate ally, Pakistan. Consider the 2011 report “Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces 2011” from the Federation of American Scientists. It reports that Pakistan will have 150-200 nuclear warheads by the end of this decade. This represents a huge expansion of Islamabad’s arsenal and a move beyond minimum credible deterrence vis-à-vis India. Coupled with the expansion of its nuclear infrastructure including new, more potent reactors, new plutonium reprocessing facilities and ever-evolving missile stockpile, it is clear Pakistan is working towards some objective. As it is difficult to identify strategic rivals or enemies beyond India, the question must be asked, why is Islamabad churning out nuclear warheads at a rate that will make it the worlds fourth or fifth biggest nuclear power by 2020?

I am not accusing Pakistan of meeting Saudi nuclear orders, but merely pointing out that such a scenario has been gamed by many analysts who note the developments in Pakistan quizzically. Indeed globally reputable publications such as the Guardian, Die Spiegel and the Washington Times have hinted at such conclusions. What is not a matter of speculation, but rather cold, hard facts is that Riyadh has been tremendously generous to Pakistan over the years and eased many financial tough spots for Islamabad. This financing has extended to cover military issues. Undoubtedly, Riyadh will want some return on those billions.

It seems that Saudi Arabia has taken some tentative steps to ensure itself against a nuclear Iran, primarily through some sort of nuclear pact with Pakistan. Indeed the notion of a nuclear pact that would see Pakistan cover the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was first aired in 2003, when the Washington Post quoted a “ranking Pakistani insider”. Although both sides have denied it, time alone will tell the degree of cooperation reached between the two states. What is clear is that Saudi Arabia is not going to sit still to be under the eternal threat of Iranian nuclear arms.

Other regional actors too will be compelled to seek protection against a nuclear Iran. Israel has long-standing hostilities with Iran and may decide to act before Tehran crosses the threshold of weaponization. This is obviously the worse case scenario given that it would spark a regional conflict. As Israel is already an established nuclear power, this does not represent a proliferation risk. Others who may however feel compelled to seek protection by establishing their own nuclear stockpiles include Egypt and Turkey as already stated. Proliferation of the most lethal of arms to both countries would represent a dangerous breakdown in the global nuclear non-proliferation order and bring such weapons to North Africa and to the borders of Europe, a wholly unacceptable development. I find it hard to imagine a world where Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel possess nuclear weapons sitting well with Cairo and Ankara if they are to be without. The only conclusion one can reach is that Iran and the Iranian case represents the most delicate card in the pack. Should it go nuclear, the entire non-proliferation regime is at genuine risk of collapse.

Thus it is imperative that Tehran be stopped. The safety of the greater Middle East and by extension the wider world is at risk should Tehran develop a nuclear sabre by which to threaten the safety of regional states. As talks and diplomatic manoeuvres appear to have failed to stall Iran’s nuclear drive, the time has come for a final ultimatum. Either Tehran abandons its reckless policy of nuclear proliferation or it faces targeted strikes to key facilities. The global nuclear non-proliferation regime rests on its enforcement here; this is a fulcrum in time that may well decide the trajectory for the future of the NPT and regime. Should it fail, a near half-century of progress may be lost as other states will too seek the most lethal of weapons to ensure their own security.

The global community is widely in agreement on this. The states of Europe and the US, the Arab league and many others all agree that a nuclear Iran is a global security catastrophe. Time then for a coalition to be brought together to enforce our collective right to a safe world by putting an end to Tehran’s program. Whilst we’re at it, regime change wouldn’t be so bad either. The progressive Iran of the Shah was a pillar of regional stability, and undoubtedly anything is better then the oppressive regime running Tehran now.

Failure to act today will mean we pass a far more dangerous world on to our children. No one wants that.

Mohsin Zeb, Kings College London.


‘When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite’.

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