Uncertain Future of a Nuclear Iran

Experts Play Out Scenarios if Islamic Republic Gets Bomb

Whither Nuclear Iran? What would happen if the Islamic Republic is able to create a nuclear weapon. Experts do not agree whether its leadership would become more or less aggressive or what it might mean for Israel.
getty images
Whither Nuclear Iran? What would happen if the Islamic Republic is able to create a nuclear weapon. Experts do not agree whether its leadership would become more or less aggressive or what it might mean for Israel.

By Nathan Guttman

Published February 20, 2012, issue of February 24, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It is a scenario no one wants to imagine, but scholars are already gaming out its implications: What will the world look like after Iran achieves nuclear capability?

It is, for now, no more than an intellectual exercise. All experts see dire consequences. Yet most do not believe in the “existential” doomsday scenario that Israel has portrayed for itself. Iran, experts interviewed by the Forward predict, will not launch a nuclear attack on Israel.

Nevertheless, the regional and global implications of having Iran join the nuclear club, should that occur, will be dangerous and will impact Israel, the Gulf region, Europe, Latin America and, perhaps most of all, the United States.

Giora Eiland

Giora Eiland
kai mork
Giora Eiland

As a former Israeli general and top security official, Giora Eiland finds it hard even to consider the possibility that Iran will become nuclear. Official Israeli policy states that under no circumstances should Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, and Eiland believes that Israel will stick to this rule.

Pressed to speculate on how the region will look if Iran nevertheless somehow does become nuclear, Eiland draws a troubling but complex picture. Iran, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council said, will not necessarily launch a nuclear attack against Israel, since leaders in Tehran understand they’d face a devastating response from Israel and a nuclear attack from the United States that they could not sustain. “Iran doesn’t want a nuclear weapon to attack Israel,” said Eiland, who is now a senior research associate at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “What they want is regional deterrence.”

The real impact of an Iranian bomb will be on the region. By obtaining nuclear capability, Iran will set off a regional nuclear arms race and will threaten Iran’s Sunni neighbors, Eiland said. “Every regional conflict will look different. A nuclear Iran will force all players to face many new constraints.” But there is a silver lining. While the short term is full of threats, in the long run, other Middle Eastern nations could acquire nuclear weapons and offset Iran’s advantage.

Israel’s strategic edge will not be lost, Eiland said, because it rests not only on its reported nuclear capabilities, but also on robust conventional military activity and on the full support that Israel receives from America.

Eiland also offers a counterintuitive idea: Introduction of a nuclear weapon by Iran could create communication channels between Jerusalem and Tehran that currently don’t exist. Citing the American-Soviet Cold War scenario and relations between two other nuclear foes, India and Pakistan, it is clear that some kind of an Israeli– Iranian dialogue will be needed in order to avoid a nuclear catastrophe. “We should also remember,” Eiland added, “that at the end of the day, Iran is a natural ally of Israel after the current regime falls.”

Ash Jain

Aish Jain
courtesy of aish jain
Aish Jain

A former member of the State Department’s policy planning team, Ash Jain recently published a paper detailing possible scenarios for a world in which Iran has nuclear power. His predictions, formulated in a research paper he prepared in his current position as visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, are gloomy, but they do not include a nuclear war between Iran and Israel.

“The major concern,” Jain said, “is that Iran will feel shielded and have the freedom to pursue its regional ambitions by using asymmetrical methods such as terror and subversion.” First to feel the pressure, Jain believes, will be Iraq and the Gulf countries, which will be pushed to adopt anti-American and anti Israeli policies. “They want to diminish Western power and replace it with Iranian power,” he said, adding that “Israel will bear the brunt” of this Iranian attempt.

According to Jain, a nuclear Iran could provide Hezbollah and Hamas with a “nuclear umbrella” that will allow these groups to carry out attacks against Israel without fear of major retaliation. “In this context,” he added, “Iran could provide them with chemical and radiological weapons that will be directed at Israel.” He also argued that the chances of reaching a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians will decrease significantly once Iran turns nuclear, since extreme players such as Hamas will be bolstered while the moderates are sidelined.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.