By Barry Rubin

How far should the U.S. go to keep Iran from gaining nuclear weapons?
If and when Iran gets nuclear weapons it would set off a global nightmare.

Most obviously, Iran could use nuclear arms to attack Israel. It’s easy to say that Iran’s leaders would be cautious, but what if ideology, error, or an extremist faction decides to wipe the Jewish state off the map? Even a 10-percent chance of nuclear holocaust is terrifying.

And if Israel decides its existence is at risk, it would launch a preemptive attack that would also produce a big crisis.

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That’s just for starters.

Once Iran has nuclear weapons, every Arab state, with the exception of Iran’s ally Syria, would also be imperiled. Those countries would beg for U.S. protection. But could they depend on America, under the Barack Obama administration, to go to war – especially a nuclear one – to shield them?

Uncertain of U.S. reliability, these governments would rush to appease Iran.

To survive, the Arab states will do whatever Iran wants – which would come at high cost for America: alliances would weaken and military bases would close down. No Arab state would dare support peace with Israel, either.

But Arab states wouldn’t feel safe with just appeasement. An arms’ race would escalate in which several other countries would try to buy or build nukes of their own. Tension, and chance for nuclear war, whether through accident or miscalculation, would soar. The United States would eventually have to get dragged in.

European allies would also be scared. As reluctant as they are to help America in the Middle East, that paralysis would get worse. As willing as they are to appease Tehran, they’d go far beyond that.

Meanwhile, an emboldened Iran would push to limit oil and gas production and increase prices. Other oil producers would feel compelled to move away from their former, more responsible practices. Consumers’ fears would push up the prices further.

Yet there’s worse. Flush with a feel of victory, Iran and its allies — Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iraqi insurgents — would recruit more members to its cause. These terrorist groups would interpret the retreat of more moderate Arab countries and the West as signs of weakness and use it to fuel more aggression.

Such a terrible scenario is likely even if Iran never actual uses a nuclear weapon on another country.

This new era in the Middle East would bring risks and the probability of war for America that would dwarf all the region’s current troubles and the crises faced by the United States in the whole world.

And that’s why it’s so important to avoid Iran getting nuclear weapons in the first place.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to