An American met an Iranian. "You understand the Israelis even though your natural inclination is toward the Arabs," the American said. "No," corrected the Iranian. "Our natural inclination is toward Israel."

The interlocutors were President Richard Nixon and Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran. In July 1973 the shah visited Washington for talks with Nixon and national security adviser Henry Kissinger. With the evacuation of the British forces from the Persian Gulf and the Arabian peninsula, Iran became a basic element of U.S. policy in the region, which included emergency plans for the rescue of the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Jordan - "a small and weak kingdom" - from a revolution or an Iraqi or Syrian invasion.

The shah asked, and received, U.S. approval to establish nuclear power plants and twice hinted that he wanted nuclear weapons. Commenting on his hope to bolster energy and security ties with Europe, he said the Soviets "will not be able to take our country in its entirety. This is my best weapon, in the absence of nuclear weapons." In explaining his willingness to relinquish any desire for producing nuclear arms, the shah said: "I have a friend, the U.S., who is willing to provide for all my needs except nuclear weapons."

Like the shah, the Islamic Republic of Iran is claiming a top spot on the regional and possibly also the world stage, and promises to fight without surrendering to anyone who assails it; but it is hard to believe, despite its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, that its ancient national pride, which perceived the Arabs as inferior, has weakened in any way. One of the shah's aides told him that the Egyptians respected him. The shah was not impressed. "Only as long as it benefits them," he said. "I have little trust in the ability of the Arabs to be thankful."

U.S. President Barack Obama cannot set back Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's clock by 30 years, to the time before the presidents and the Congress emasculated the CIA and the other organizations from being able to assist opponents of the regime in Tehran. Nonetheless, there is some slight hope for such development, because only the fall of the regime will save the region from serious escalation, and possibly even war.

Iran's bid for nuclear capability challenges the world order, the regional order and the Arab-Israeli order. Iran is not the only state to achieve nuclear capability, but its case - unlike the cases of India, Pakistan and, reportedly, Israel - involves a violation of its obligations as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Obama cannot show restraint in the face of this, or in the face of similar tricks from North Korea, just as president Bill Clinton could not show restraint in the face of the wars of the Serbs in Bosnia and in Kosovo. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons it will be too late to deal with the issue or even to undermine the regime. They could fall into the hands of the extremists of the Revolutionary Guards, who will not hesitate to use them. The scenarios of nuclear attacks on American cities estimate 25,000 dead and 100,000 injured, with nearly half a million more affected by shock and panic.

A nuclear-armed Iran will control the Persian Gulf unchallenged.

General David Petraeus, who as head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) commands the U.S. military forces in the region, said last week that fear of such an eventuality makes Iran the "best recruiting agent for CENTCOM" in the Gulf states.

In addition to the very real threat that Iran will attack Israel and extend its nuclear protection over Israel's enemies, there is another crucial reason to refuse to view Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as a religious, bearded reincarnation of the shah. A nuclear Iran will also lead to a nuclear Egypt. This will be an unbearable challenge to Israel's defense doctrine and to the peace between Israel and Egypt. All those who seek peace between Israel and the Arabs must be ready for a war between Israel and Iran.