The Nuclear Sum Game

Israel would make a great mistake if it tried to eliminate Iran's nuclear program by force. It would have no chance - the nuclear facilities are dispersed, and most buried deep underground.

What does the recent explosion close to the North Korea-China border have to do with the proliferation of nuclear arms in the Middle East? Events of the past few weeks in the Korean peninsula, Iran and Vienna have once again made it clear that when it comes to the proliferation of nuclear arms around the world, there is a law of connections.

Nuclear activity in North Korea has an immediate effect on the decisions of policymakers in Tehran, Seoul, Tokyo and even Jerusalem.

A failure to restrain the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, as might be expected if the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in Vienna continues to treat them with kid gloves, is likely to lead to a negative chain reaction. This would have the end-result of additional states joining the nuclear club and the collapse of the global nuclear proliferation inspection regime.

While the attempt to stop North Korea's nuclear program is apparently doomed to failure, mainly due to the lack of determination by European states and successive American administrations, it is still not to late to succeed with Iran. The problem is that failure in Korea has direct repercussions on the ability to deny Iran nuclear arms.

The CIA says North Korea has at least one nuclear bomb and, as is made clear by the responses to the recent explosion - and it matters not that it wasn't nuclear - the international community has essentially come to terms with it.

This could turn out to be a critical error that will do great harm to the global strategy. Evidence of the acceleration of nuclear proliferation that may be expected in the wake of North Korea's procurement of nuclear capability was received only a few days before the explosion, when South Korea admitted it had separated plutonium in the 1980s and enriched uranium in 2000, in violation of treaties it had signed.

The prospect of South Korea deciding to develop a nuclear bomb is only a first step, argue Robert Einhorn, Mitchell Reiss and Kurt Campbell in a new book. The authors, all of them experts on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Clinton administration, allege that the failure to prevent North Korea's nuclear armament could also lead to Iranian nuclear armament, and in turn to that of Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria.

Their assessment is based on the assumption that the neighbors of a nuclear North Korea will want to have nuclear deterrence. The acceptance of a nuclear North Korea encourages the Iranians, who continue to mock the IAEA, and are secretly advancing toward the bomb.

The attempt by the Americans to have the issue moved to the Security Council, where sanctions could be imposed on Iran, failed once more last week, when the IAEA board of governors, led by Britain, Germany, Russia and France, adopted a soft resolution that calls on Iran to stop its uranium enrichment, and determines that the matter will be reexamined in November. The Europeans are still not convinced that Iran is trying to develop nuclear arms.

A nuclear Iran would not leave Turkey apathetic, and there are concerns that it would take actions to procure nuclear arms. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which view Iran as a threat to regional stability, might follow suit. Syria is likely to take steps in the same direction, on the assumption that it could get Iranian assistance.

Yet in spite of the negative repercussions such a development would have on the Middle East, Israel would be making a mistake if it decided to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program with military force.

This would have no chance, both because Iran's nuclear facilities are dispersed and most of them are buried deep underground, and because there is no information on many of them.

Israel should leave the job to the United States, in the hope that the Europeans will come to their senses and understand the danger to world peace posed by a nuclear Iran.