As talk of an imminent Israeli attack on Iran veers from frenzy to doubt, I outline the nine most important questions (and answers) regarding this operation: Are the Iranians willing and capable of developing a nuclear weapon? What will happen if they get it? Is a military strike necessary and effective, or harmful? Who is against and who is for the strike?
1. Does Iran intend to develop a nuclear weapon?
Probably yes. Iran (unlike Israel) has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which bars all signatories from developing nuclear weapons, aside from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. But Tehran has already violated its commitments under the NPT, and at least two countries (Iraq and North Korea) have developed or come near to developing nuclear weapons after signing the NPT. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued a religious decree, a Fatwa, ruling that possessing or using nuclear weapons is contrary to Islam. Yet this ruling does not seem to exclude the development of a nuclear breakout capability, where a country could quickly construct a nuclear warhead if it felt the need for it (e.g. Japan). Despite Iranian denials, this seems to be the main aim of their Uranium enrichment program, not to mention work they may have done on developing a nuclear warhead.
2. Can they do it?
Probably yes. Building a nuclear weapon is an immensely difficult and expensive undertaking, requiring the gradual accumulation of complex technical skills. This is part of the reason why predictions about Iran’s imminent possession of such weapons have been disproven again and again over the past two decades. Yet over that period, Iran has made progress towards that goal, albeit much more slowly than Western intelligence has estimated. If North Korea could do it, it is certainly possible for Iran, although it will have to decide at each point whether it is willing to invest the necessary resources and efforts.
3. Will they launch a nuclear attack on Israel or other countries?
Probably not. Iran has certainly threatened Israel many times, and has not disguised its objection to the country’s very existence. Many argue that a country run by fundamentalist clerics cannot be trusted to operate on a rational basis: its leadership may decide that a divine imperative to destroy Israel overrules any other consideration. But this argument is belied by the...Read More