The obvious answer to this is, Yes of course it does. Were I advising the Iranian regime I’d probably be pretty keen on developing a nuclear capability too. At the very least I should certainly want Iran’s opponents to think Iran has serious nuclear ambitions. And yet, I’d also appreciate that if Iran’s opponents really believe Iran is close to acquiring a nuclear weapon then the game enters a new and complicated phase that is dangerous for Iran too. So I might actually want Iran’s opponents to be unsure or confused and prefer it if the question of Iran’s nuclear desires remained ambiguous. That way, I might argue, Iran could enjoy some of the benefits of being a would-be nuclear power without taking on the risks of being so.
All this, of course, is entirely speculative. Nevertheless, like James Fallows, I was struck by this recent, woefully under-reported* exchange at a recent Senate hearing** in Washington between Senator Olympia Snowe (RINO-Maine) and James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence:
Senator Snowe: I gather we agree with the fact that Iran has not made the decision to weaponize at this point. Director Clapper, do you agree on that?
General Clapper: Yes, but they are certainly moving on that path, but we don’t believe they’ve actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon.
This seems quite important! Furthermore, Clapper issued a "Worldwide Threat Assessment" warning that:
We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons….
We judge Iran’s nuclear decision making is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran. Iranian leaders undoubtedly consider Iran’s security, prestige, and influence, as well as the international political and security environment, when making decisions about its nuclear program.
In other words, the Unknowns have the better of the Knowns in almost all things Persian. This is not an argument for minimising the Iranian threat (especially to Israel) or for not taking the regime at its word. It is merely a suggestion that, if American spy chiefs are to be taken at their word, we remain ignorant of what is happening in Iran and what Iranian ambitions may be. Since military action appears to be in vogue again, this is something it might be useful to remember.
That doesn’t mean it is foolish to prepare for the worst-case scenarion (it might be sensible to do so), merely that we might also be sensibly cautious about sliding into a confrontation that few people really desire and even fewer can predict with any kind of useful accuracy.
*As best I can tell, there is no record of it on either the Telegraph or BBC websites, for instance.
**Available in PDF here.Tags: CIA, Iran, Israel, Washington