Iran's emergence as a nuclear weapons state, however, if it occurs, will not be merely an addition to the roster of nuclear powers -- it will be a terrifying game-changer. Pictured: A cruise missile is paraded in front of senior military officers in Iran, on April 15, 2015. (Image source: Tasnim/Wikimedia Commons)
Iran has crossed a new threshold in nuclear enrichment. This means that the nine nations in the world's nuclear weapons club soon might be forced to acknowledge a new member. Iran's emergence as a nuclear weapons state, however, if it occurs, will not be merely an addition to the roster of nuclear powers -- it will be a terrifying game-changer.
Iran has already reached uranium enrichment levels of around 4.5 percent, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the semi-official Fars news agency. Mr. Kamalvandi warned that enrichment could reach 20 percent in the future. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have confirmed Kamalvandi's assertions.
Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, in an apparent attempt to increase pressure on ongoing diplomatic negotiations, said that Iran would exceed some other unspecified limit in 60 days.
Diplomatic efforts notwithstanding, the free world must realize that the threat posed by a nuclear Iran would be different from any other nation obtaining such weapons.
Take, for example, North Korea. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) could deter its government from attacking the United States because neither its leader, Kim Jung-Un, nor its military personnel, are presumably ready to die in a guaranteed counterstrike by the US or other world powers.
Similarly, Pakistan's military leaders, despite continuing tensions with their nuclear-armed neighbor, India, have expressed no willingness to die as an outcome of initiating a nuclear strike.
The same reluctance seems true for the other seven nuclear powers -- even America. All are governed by people who do not follow suicidal ideologies. For nearly 75 years, the time-tested threat of MAD has effectively prevented the use of nuclear weapons.
Not so in the Islamic regime in Tehran. While many mullahs would doubtless prefer to stay alive to continue ruling the country, there may well be others, true believers, who might not hesitate to use such weapons against others, even if it meant their own trip to oblivion. Embedded in Iran's religious ideology is the wish for an apocalyptic "end of days," to usher back the messianic Twelfth Imam, or Mahdi, after which there will supposedly be justice on Earth. Of course, some of the current leading mullahs may not necessarily choose this suicidal direction. We cannot, however, guarantee what generation of mullahs might become infatuated with the ideology of jihad and martyrdom. In such a case, Mutually Assured Destruction will not deter them, but be, instead, an inducement; and we will then face a very frightening reality.
It is hard to forget that, during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the Iranian mullahs embarked on a variety of indoctrination campaigns to energize the faithful and encourage them to join the front lines. To entice Iranians to volunteer -- and in some instances, to volunteer their children -- the mullahs promised eternal peace and pleasure in the afterlife. "Plastic keys, ostensibly good for opening the door to heaven, and to erotic and culinary delights, were ... given to these young men, who walked to their deaths," wrote Stanford University's Abbas Milani in a 2007 essay for Boston Review.
In addition, most of the existing nuclear powers operate under systems of government and military control designed to prevent a single dangerous or demented individual from starting a nuclear holocaust. If a military dictator, for example decided to use a nuclear weapon against the US, his leaders might reject this notion: such an act would mean their annihilation. The Shia theocracy in Iran, however, harbors no such restraints. Not a single person in the Iranian power structure can legitimately reject or refuse, or even question, an order from the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
At the very least, Iran, once it had both nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them, would not even have to use them: the threat to do so would be sufficient to blackmail other countries into doing whatever it asked. If it wanted to control the oilfields of Saudi Arabia or its holy cities, Mecca and Medina, how could Saudi Arabia resist? What is Iran now doing in Yemen, at the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula, if not that? What about the tempting oil fields of Abu Dhabi or Kuwait?
Since its revolution in 1979, Iran, often through its proxies such as Hezbollah, has dedicated its resources to expansion and terrorism -- not only in Yemen, but also in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and by funding Hamas in the Gaza Strip -- to create a geographical arc from Iran to the Mediterranean. Iran has also for years been expanding into South America, particularly Venezuela.
In addition, if the Iranian theocracy develops nuclear weapons, their affiliates -- Hezbollah in Lebanon and Ansar Allah (the Houthi rebels) in Yemen -- almost certainly will as well. Such a proliferation would doubtless trigger a nuclear weapons race among the Arab and Muslim states, and international terrorist organizations.
In developing nuclear weapons, time can only work for the benefit of Iran. Therefore, we must place even more pressure on the mullahs to end their threat sooner than later. US President Donald Trump has shown refreshing foresight: Iran, with this regime, must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid, the author of Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why It Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat It, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.