There is widespread international agreement that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is an alarming prospect. But very little attention is paid to the most obvious reason why: There already is a Middle Eastern nuclear power, Israel, insistent on preserving its monopoly. So the crisis has been foreseeable for decades; it would be automatically triggered by the emergence of a second nuclear power, friendly or unfriendly to the West. Iran is the unfriendliest possible, encouraging a widespread assumption that it alone is responsible for creating the crisis – and settling it. But is it?
It certainly isn’t blameless. First, its nuclear arming would deal a major blow to an already fraying international non-proliferation regime. Second, it would involve a huge deceit. Third, the United States broadly divides actual or potential nuclear powers into responsible and irresponsible ones. Iran would be irresponsible par excellence, being already the worst of “rogue states.” Typically, a rogue state, as well as being domestically oppressive, ideologically repugnant and anti-American, unites an aggressive nature with disproportionate military strength, thereby posing a constant, exceptional threat to an established regional order. What could now more emphatically consign Iran to such company than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with his calls to “wipe Israel off the map?”
Yet, in nuclear terms, Israel is the original sinner in the Middle East. Non-proliferation must be universal; if, in a zone of potential conflict, one party goes nuclear, its adversaries can’t be expected not to either. No matter how long ago it was, by violating that principle, Israel must bear a heavy responsibility for what has since happened.