Text size

How many centrifuges does North Korea have? How much enriched uranium does Pakistan have? What nuclear fuels are in Israel’s possession?

Even if someone does have the answers to these questions, it’s not because these countries have volunteered the information − far from it. But Iran, on the other hand, won’t shut its mouth for a second.

We don’t know everything about Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but recall how Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood in front of television cameras and peeled the plastic wrapping off the country’s centrifuge rods. He doesn’t conceal the fact that he has enriched uranium at levels of 3.5 percent and 20 percent. Iran also readily discloses how many new centrifuges it has in its possession and when they were assembled.

Yet more surprising is Ahmadinejad’s public declarations about precisely what he intends to develop, assemble and enrich, and when. It’s as though he’s producing television promos. One might wonder why Iran is so public about its nuclear program. Why, for instance, does it not adopt Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity?
The answer is that Iran simply does not want to do so.

There is a consensus in the West, and also in Israel, that Iran has not yet decided whether to develop a nuclear weapon. But why hasn’t it decided? If it has no intention of producing such a weapon, then what’s all the fuss about? And if Iran does really want to develop a nuclear weapon, why is it waiting?

If sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States are truly stifling Iran’s decision-making process, then there’s no obvious reason to attack its nuclear facilities. Keeping the sanctions in place permanently should be enough to preserve peace. The sanctions might even be lifted at some point, so long as the West threatens to reinstate them should Iran risk a change in policy.

Yet the answers to all these questions appear to be deeper than we might initially think. It’s hard not to be astounded by Iran’s diplomatic successes over the past decade. Thanks to America’s occupation of Iraq, Iran managed to come across as Iraq’s patron. It also functions as Syria’s strategic backer; and via Hezbollah, Tehran controls Lebanon’s domestic affairs. It invests considerable funds in Afghanistan, and helps Pakistan manage wide-ranging affairs with India. This week it offered to help Egypt bolster its economy, should the United States decide to freeze aid to Cairo; in Egypt, there is vocal support for such a relationship with Iran.

Iran also maintains close relations with Turkey, Qatar and several North African countries.

And it isn’t very fastidious about an ally’s Sunni or secular character, either. Tehran is not motivated by the creation of Shi’ite coalitions or by Islamic revolutions. The Iranians are aware that Sunni states are wary of dealing with Shi’ites, and also that Sunni Islamic thinkers and leaders loathe the Shi’ite movement, which is regarded by many of them as outright apostasy. Iran’s calculations are not spiritual; they are strategic and rational. Many observers, including the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, are certain of this fact.

Iran also is not content with strengthening its regional status. Its major success involves the way it manipulates Western powers’ foreign policy with regard to Eastern powers − China and Russia. Iran stirs up disputes between Israel and the United States, which opposes an attack on Iran. And it has been able to forestall attacks on Syria. No country or coalition from the West wants to put Iran to the test, particularly not at a time when the overriding goal is to engage in a nuclear dialogue with Tehran.

In this way, the West has shown Iran that it has no need for a nuclear bomb. It has been enough for Iran to simply demonstrate its capacity to develop unconventional weapons. Such a threat has transformed Iran into a superpower able to manipulate the positions of countries around the world. Iran isn’t in a hurry to cross the line between having the potential to manufacture a bomb and actually producing such a weapon. It might never cross that line. Why should it furnish the West with a pretext to attack or impose more sanctions against it?

As things stand, Iran has achieved its goals without needing to stockpile nuclear bombs in its arsenal. Which is ideal, as far as Tehran is concerned. Iran has attained optimal deterrent power. The gist is this: Tell your friends what you’re capable of doing to them, should you choose to do so, and wait for them to embrace you. Wait a second, that’s Israel’s policy, isn’t it?

Read this article in Hebrew