When you think of a nuclear Iran, you probably think of atomic bombs or nuclear-tipped missiles. But few people think about the implications of an Iranian nuclear umbrella providing a cover for terrorism and subversion.
At Israel's recent Jerusalem Conference, Dr. Dore Gold, former ambassador from Israel to the United Nations, predicted a possible 2012-2014 scenario in which the United States might face an attack from Shiite or Sunni terror groups. Could America respond to such an attack, as it did after 9/11, if it occurs under the threat of a nuclear Iran?
According to Gold, prevention of a nuclear Iran isn't just about the security of Israel, nor does it concern only the free flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.
Prevention of a nuclear Iran has implications in the overall war against radical Islamist terrorism. And, because Iran has shown that it has the ability to provide support and sanctuary for both Shiite and Sunni groups, the effects of a nuclear Iran are huge.
He explained that at the time of 9/11, the U.S. security establishment stated that they would go after terrorist regimes, and they did. It was an important demonstration that made it clear that if a country supported terrorism, there would be a price to pay.
However, what about a future era of nuclear proliferation, when many Arab states try to acquire a nuclear weapon as an act of self-defense in the face of a threatening nuclear Persian Empire?
The West has not adequately examined all the ramifications that a nuclear Iran poses. For example, despite the Shiite-Sunni divide, Iran has been willing to help Hezbollah, a Shiite organization, and Hamas, a Sunni organization, in wars that have been fought against Israel. One of Shiite Iran's key allies today in the Sunni world is the Moslem Brotherhood, which has a large presence in Jordan and Egypt.
When U.S. forces went into Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda split its forces and ran to Pakistan and Iran for cover. Then, al-Qaeda reportedly ordered terrorist attacks from its command center within Iranian territory. Today, some analysts worry that a nuclear Iran will cause a global market increase of nuclear arms supplies, which could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda and other non-state actors.
These examples indicate that Iran is willing to work with both radical Shiite and radical Sunni groups despite the rivalry between the two. Iran's objective is to become the supreme Islamic power in the Middle East, wrenching control away from Arab nations. Iranian leaders may even look to exacerbate the Sunni-Shiite conflict in order to attain regional hegemony.
By threatening rivals and encouraging subversive forces in Arab countries, radical jihadists could increasingly take direction from a nuclear-capable Iran. Leaders in Iran such as the Revolutionary Guards, who have trained their proxies well, could equip these terrorist non-state actors with dirty bombs in the future. The result would be massive global instability.
Achieving nuclear capability would embolden Iran to try to change the balance of power in the Middle East, with a goal of world domination. Just the threat of terrorism, followed by attempted attacks to weaken Western powers, would be a major step towards that goal.
As Western allies evaluate the increasingly long-range ballistic missile threat coming from Iran, it's important that politicians, diplomats, and military leaders consider a wide range of issues concerning nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Foremost is how an Iranian nuclear umbrella, providing cover for terrorist groups, could undermine the ability of nations to defend themselves.
Gold reiterates, "It is the marriage of terrorism and nuclear capability that is the immediate threat that the West will face if it doesn't live up to what it is saying, which is preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.