- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 9, 2008

Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel. That´s the conventional wisdom. But what if Iran´s belligerent behavior is just a big bluff designed to push petroleum prices higher?

Nuclear weapons would undermine, not enhance, Iran´s national security. The mere perception that a country is trying to acquire nuclear weapons makes it a target. Saddam Hussein found that out the hard way.

If Iran had a nuclear arsenal, Israel, the United States and France would immediately target Tehran with nuclear missiles. In 2006, then-President Jacques Chirac of France warned that any large-scale, state-sponsored terrorist attack on France would invite a closely targeted nuclear response.

Trace elements of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the fallout of a terrorist nuclear bomb could potentially identify its source. In 2003, the Iranians admitted using centrifuges containing traces of HEU. Iran claimed the HEU residue was from equipment obtained from Pakistan. Any nuclear device used by terrorists might be traced back to countries in the A.Q. Khan nuclear network, specifically Pakistan, Libya, North Korea and Iran.

But Pakistan is an ally, Libya has forsaken nukes, and North Korea, with thousands of artillery pieces just 35 miles from Seoul, is too dangerous to attack. Downtown Tehran would be the most politically palatable return address for any nuclear retaliation and the Iranians know it.

Iran has no need for a nuclear deterrent. The U.S.-led attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan eliminated Iran´s two hostile neighbors — Saddam and the Taliban. A nuclear Iran would alarm Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They could join a formal U.S. alliance seeking an American nuclear umbrella. Iran would be surrounded by permanent U.S. bases and American-trained Arab armies.

Saudi Arabia or Egypt might go nuclear, if they believed Iran had nuclear weapons. Washington recently signed a memorandum with Riyadh to help the Saudis with civilian nuclear energy as we did the shah of Iran in the 1950s.

If Israel were attacked by Iranian nuclear weapons, Iran would be annihilated by Israel´s 75 to 200 nuclear warheads. An Iranian nuclear strike on Israel would spew massive radioactive fallout on millions of Muslims in the region. First-generation nuclear bombs typically have much more radioactive fallout than advanced warhead designs. Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians are poverty-prone and far less likely to have access to bomb shelters than Jewish Israelis.

An Iranian-Israeli nuclear exchange could endanger Muslim holy sites in Qom, Iran and Jerusalem. Iranians would also worry that Israeli authorities might use an Iranian nuclear strike as cover to destroy the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem themselves and blame it on Iran. If Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem were believed to be destroyed by Iranian Muslims, Israeli Jewish leaders might call for rebuilding a new Jewish temple on what they call Temple Mount. Persia and Shia Muslims would be forever shamed throughout the Islamic world.

The unanimous consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies last November, was that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program after Saddam fell in 2003. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also said that Iran has no active nuclear weaponization program. The IAEA had been right about Saddam´s lack of nukes. The faulty intelligence on Iraq´s WMDs and on Iran´s nuclear program both came from biased resistance groups looking for Western help to overthrow the regimes.

Iran´s higher oil revenues have allowed it to amass more than $70 billion in foreign exchange reserves. More than 85 percent of Iranian government revenue comes from the oil sector.

Iran´s grand ayatollah, Ali Khamenei, is playing the same dangerous game once practiced by Saddam. Both men played coy with the international community about their country´s intentions and capabilities regarding nuclear weapons. Both Khamenei and Saddam believed that they gained politically and economically if they stroked the fears of the international community. But Mr. Khamenei, like Saddam before him, is overplaying his hand in this very risky game of high-stakes poker.

In his 1961 inaugural address, President Kennedy warned Third World dictators that: “those who seek to ride the back of the tiger may end up inside.” Saddam’s duplicity devoured him. That´s a warning that has, so far, gone unheeded by the mullahs who rule Iran.

Frank Richter, who taught international politics at Wayne State University, is a member of the World Affairs Council.

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