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The expectation of Iran developing a nuclear weapon was perceived as diminished after Tehran decided not to launch a full-scale attack on U.S. forces in Iraq and elsewhere after the successful America drone attack on General Soleimani. Certainly, that was the consensus of Western news coverage. This view was quickly changed when the Ayatollah-led Iranian leadership stated that Iran’s nuclear program would have no limitations in production. In fact, President Rouhani went further by announcing their nuclear fuel production had progressed apace and now was greater than before the joint accord of 2015.
To the surprise of many, the technical reaction to the high-level Iranian statement was hardly what one would have considered excited. In fact, the story quickly circulated that the Iranians actually already could build nuclear-capable missiles if they desired! This position is based on the fact that Tehran already has a medium to long-range missile capacity and the technological ability to put a nuclear weapon on selected missiles. In other words, they already are a nuclear power. They just haven’t made the announcement. All of which was rather clever because it also wasn’t in the interest of the major powers to inject a greater fear into the international community of the more imminent potential of a nuclear conflict.
The Iranian leadership could not resist emphasizing its nation’s nuclear development capability, even though they did not go so far as to admit Iran already is nuclear-capable in varying degrees. The problem now exists for Washington and elsewhere as to whether it can or should acknowledge the fact that Iran already can have a nuclear weapon capability any time it wishes. This recognition would pose the obvious question: What is the U.S. and their allies willing to do about it?
The prudent action would be to create a story that suggests the Iranians just don’t have the key elements available that would provide serious target acquisition capability – or some other key weaponizing component. Of course, this wouldn’t pass the required military “smell test.” If one accepts the fact that Iran has been acquiring this sort of technical capability in one form or another for years. These are items that clever Iranian engineers have been working on – with and without help from external sources. It is well known that one doesn’t need a clever political entree into Moscow or Beijing to obtain the needed technical intelligence if you can pay the price. And Tehran has plenty of money and covert contacts to make that happen.
All of this brings up the question as to why Iranian leadership would want to open the door to such a concept via leaderships’ braggadocio? To begin with, the Tehran regime is worried about controlling its own fractious public. The threat of a nuclear war may be thought of as a way to inject a new element of serious international conflict as a quieting element – useful in tamping down internal dissent. This argument may tend to run counter to typical Western logic, but it plays well with the traditional Persian threat devices. *Scare the populace by implying larger potential horrors” may be deemed to work well with a public itself caught between a medieval religious dominance seeking world influence and the modern world they know exists all about them.
The real danger for Iran is the possible threat another incident, such as Tehran’s missile attacks on the easily accessible Saudi oil facilities, will bring a large and devastating counterattack by U.S. and allied naval and air forces. It is obvious that such a counteraction at this time will aim to destroy all of Iran’s nuclear facilities ranging from research centers to actual nuclear-capable missile sites along with those facilities that are simply conventionally armed. It would be a devastating action and Iran would be left no longer a modern military or industrial state. Revolution itself would stand a good chance of succeeding in deposing the existing government structure. Unfortunately, the chance that such a conflict would remain limited to Iran remains a very low possibility.
As usual, there would have to be extensive overt and covert diplomatic negotiations regionally and with both Russia and China integral to both pre and post-conflict issues. The result of the latter two instances would perhaps be of equal or greater importance internationally than the Iran war itself. All of this can be avoided if the government of Iran simply agrees to the reasonable international norms that they well know are available to them.