BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

A Nuclear Iran? Get ready to Freeze!

What’s the problem with a Nuclear Iran?
It sounds like a set-up line for a joke in National Lampoon, but unfortunately it’s not. Simply stated, a nuclear-armed Iran means that eventually there will be a nuclear war between Iran and Israel. Then, we will all get to be in a science experiment called “Nuclear Winter.”

Nuclear Winter was the theory that if the US and the then USSR ever got into a nuclear exchange, the fall out wouldn’t exactly fall, but rather would stay suspended in the stratosphere for years and years. That would block-out the sun, leading to worldwide crop failures. Worldwide crop failures would lead to famine, disease, wars over dwindling resources, a collapse of living standards – you get the picture.

When the fall-out eventually did fall (everything that goes up, must come down), it would bring along with it all those wonderful heavy metals that reside deep in the periodic table. Things like Cobalt 60, Strontium 90, Cesium 135, plus the many wonderful derivatives of Uranium that the Iranians are playing with now, would poison the soil for generations (something like fifty generations) to come.

Is such a confrontation inevitable?
After all, the US and the USSR had a nuclear standoff for nearly fifty years. The contest between those two superpowers survived numerous crises without either resorting to the sue of nuclear weapons, albeit there were events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1973 Yom Kippur War when the two sides drew dangerously close to using the weapon of last resort. However, that is just the point that most people involved in the discussion are missing: both sides looked at nukes as a weapon of last resort. The same cannot be said of Iran.

Israel, it is widely acknowledged, has somewhere around 200 nuclear weapons of at least a Hiroshima-scale. It also has the means to deliver these via F-15 or Jericho III ballistic missiles. Israel has never acknowledged its alleged nuclear arsenal, but then again, it has never denied it. Rather, they have let its indeterminate nature serve as a form of deterrence. This deterrent would be tested if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons.

The US, USSR, Israel and other acknowledged nuclear powers, China, France, Great Britain, India and Pakistan have all realized that nuclear war is not a zero-sum game; if the weapons were to be used, everyone would lose. All of these countries accept the current world system. They understand the consequences of their actions and are willing to accept constraints. Iran is not the same.

The regime has been isolated almost from its inception. This is due in large part to the stance that they have taken in the Middle East and in the World. Its government is a set of overlapping institutions dominated by sometimes competing religious oligarchs. The best of them only want to maintain their grip on power in Iran AND the surrounding region. The worst of them – led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – have adopted a messianic stance. While the former might be willing to consider game theory before deploying nuclear options, the latter group doesn’t even acknowledge it.

Game Theory
“What is game theory?” Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is used in the social sciences (most notably economics, political science and international relations). Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behavior in strategic situations, in which an individual’s (or a state’s) success in making choices depends on the choices of others. The term from game theory that you are most likely to be familiar with is “zero-sum game.”

A zero-sum game is one in which one of the players ends up with all the marbles. Someone like Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t believe in or care about the potential impact of nuclear winter. In a nuclear exchange with Israel, they believe they will win. Israel will be destroyed, Iran will suffer “only” a million or two million casualties. Its prestige in the region will be greatly enhanced. Syria, Sudan, Hezbollah and Hamas will enter into an even tighter orbit around Teheran, the nominally democratic regime in Lebanon will fall, Iraq and the Gulf States will have no choice but to acknowledge Iranian hegemony. Game over.

In their minds, even potentially being able to create such a situation works to Iran’s advantage.

What are the options?
There are, unfortunately, no easy options. The limited sanctions imposed to-date have had no effect on the Iranian regime. They have made day-to-day life marginally more difficult for its citizens, but authoritarian regimes seldom take into account the desires of their citizens until it is too late (consider Nicolae Ceauscu and Romania, if you have any doubts about that). Additional sanctions might work, if they were implemented immediately and forcefully.

These would have to include an embargo on Iran, preventing it from importing refined gasoline and diesel oil. Ironically, it has to import more than 50% of its needs because its refining capacity is insufficient and outmoded. Likewise, a complete embargo of all oil drilling and refining equipment. A complete ban on technology products, including all types of computers, components and software is necessary. Likewise, the embargo would have to include imports of weapons and weapon technology.

On the export side, the world would have to do without Iranian crude oil and natural gas. The economy is basically a two-trick pony. It exports petroleum products and terrorism. Deny it the revenues that the former provides, and the latter will soon stop.

These actions would most likely have to be backed up with a naval blockade of the Gulf of Iran, and land blockades of trade routes through Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. All of these are Muslim countries, and need to realize that they have as much to lose from a nuclear confrontation between Israel and Iran as the participants themselves. Countries like China and Russia, who have made a small fortune supplying the Iranians with weapons and nuclear technology, would have accept a loss of revenue and a complete reversal of their recent foreign policy.

I will leave the military option to a future column.

March 29, 2009 - Posted by | Middle East | , ,

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