Iran lives in a dangerous neighborhood occupied already by four other nuclear powers—Russia, Pakistan, India and Israel. It's also been labeled as part of the "axis of evil" by the leader of what its mullahs call the "Great Satan," the United States of America, a nation that has already invaded two of Iran's neighbors, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Looking at the situation from Iran's point of view, these are all seemingly good reasons to acquire nuclear weapons of its own.
But the five oldest nuclear powers are determined to stop the spread of nuclear weapons for the very simple reason that the more countries that have them, the more likely they will be used. And the Middle East, the most dangerous region on earth, is not a place for nuclear weapons, even though Israel most certainly has them.
Recently Iran has made it clear that it will not be pressured into giving up its nuclear program. The issue has become one of national pride in Iran, making it increasingly difficult for Tehran to back down. Iranians feel that if the Americans, British and French can have their own nuclear weapons, why can't they?
At the same time, America and its coalition partners in Iraq, burned by mistakes made over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in neighboring Iraq, seem content for the immediate future to let the Europeans slowly apply more pressure on Iran.
An Iranian threat emerges
In the 1980s Western attention was on the Soviet threat and events in Eastern Europe. Immediately after the collapse of communism, Iraq invaded Kuwait and attention was diverted to the Middle East, with Saddam Hussein's Iraq clearly seen as the major threat to the Western world, at least by Washington.
But now Saddam is gone. Whatever happens in Iraq, the country is going to take years to recover from sanctions, Saddam's long dictatorship and the war that began last year with the U.S.-led invasion of the country. Neighboring Afghanistan has similarly suffered and will take years or even decades to get back to where it was prior to the 1973 revolution that overthrew the monarchy there.
While a great deal of attention has been given to these two countries, both occupied at the present time by coalition forces, Iran, the more populous nation between them, has taken advantage of the situation to further its own nuclear program. It's currently thought to be on pace to have several weapons within a few years.
This is potentially a far greater threat to the peace of the world than Iraq ever was. Perhaps realizing this, U.S. President George W. Bush put Iran ideologically alongside Iraq and North Korea, collectively describing them as the "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address for their desire to acquire—and apparent willingness to use—WMDs.
Ironically, this characterization and subsequent events have given the Iranian leadership renewed zeal to acquire nuclear weapons to deter Washington from invading them as happened to their neighbors.
Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer asked in a July 23 piece: "Did we invade the wrong country? One of the lessons being drawn from the Sept. 11th report is that Iran was the real threat. It had links to al Qaeda, allowed some of the Sept. 11th hijackers to transit and is today harboring al Qaeda leaders."
The Iranian revolution—birthplace of modern Islamic fundamentalism
More than a quarter of a century has passed since the Iranian revolution overthrew the pro-Western monarchy there. The forces of Islamic fundamentalism suddenly emerged in the Persian Gulf nation and changed the course of history.
In the following decade Americans assisted fundamentalist forces who pushed the Soviets out of Afghanistan. In the same decade, the United States quietly assisted Saddam Hussein as he fought the Iranians in one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts of recent history.
At the time, the Iranians, who had taken over the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 hostages for 444 days, were considered the greater threat to American interests. In the '90s, with Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and threat to Saudi Arabia, Iraq assumed that role.
Then came Sept. 11.
The world woke up to the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism, but it was not the same brand as that which overthrew the shah. In Iran it was Shia Islam that toppled the Peacock Throne. The 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., brought to everyone's attention the even more militant and aggressive Wahhabi Islam, a branch of Sunni Islam centered in Saudi Arabia.
At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Iraq was under the secular rule of the Baath Party, which kept fundamentalism at bay. Ironically, the downfall of Saddam has enabled al-Qaeda to operate more freely in Iraq and has given Shia fundamentalists an opportunity to seek their own power.
Iraq has more Shiites than Sunni Muslims, though the ruling elite has always been Sunni. A Shia victory in Iraq could play into Iran's hands. A weaker Iraq is already allowing Iran to build up its defenses while the world's attention has been diverted. Also, Iranian fighters and arms have been discovered in Iraq, contributing to the chaos there.
Additionally, Iran's leadership knows that public opinion in the United States would be unlikely to support another war in the Middle East, even assuming an overstretched America had the military capability to take on another conflict.
Iranian threat to Israel
An Iran armed with nuclear weapons shifts the Middle East power equation in several crucial ways. First, a nuclear-armed Iran would be an unlikely target for the United States and its allies.
It would also affect Israel's military superiority in the Middle East. Iran could use its nuclear weapons against Israel. At a recent military parade in Tehran, ballistic missiles and launch vehicles were festooned with banners emblazoned with "crush America" and "wipe Israel off the map."
Even if Iran resisted the temptation to do this, its mere possession of nuclear weapons would limit Israel's options in dealing with other threats.
Iran is the primary sponsor of Hezbollah (the "Party of God"), long the most successful and perhaps most dangerous terrorist organization in the world. Before 9/11, Hezbollah killed more Americans than any other terrorist group.
Syria also actively supports Hezbollah and provides a base for its activities, most of which are directed against Israel. A nuclear-armed Iran would make retaliatory Israeli attacks on Syria less likely, thereby encouraging terrorists based there to commit more acts of violence against the Jewish state.
Lest we forget, more than 20 years ago Syria and Iran helped Hezbollah drive the Americans out of Lebanon, killing 241 American soldiers in a suicide car-bomb attack on an American military barracks.
Will Washington act?
As Charles Krauthammer stated in his column, "time is of the essence" when it comes to dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.
Washington has encouraged European involvement on this issue. Sensitive to criticism of unilateralism over the war in Iraq, the Bush administration has left Iran to Europe. But the three European countries involved have made no progress in persuading Iran to change course.
Adding to the pressure, Iran defiantly launched an updated missile Oct. 20 capable of reaching over 1,200 miles (almost 2,000 kilometers), enough to easily hit Israel and also American targets throughout the region and in neighboring Iraq.
Krauthammer again: "The fact is that the war critics have nothing to offer on the single most urgent issue of our time—rogue states in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction . . . Two years ago there were five countries supporting terrorism and pursuing these weapons—two junior-leaguers, Libya and Syria, and the axis-of-evil varsity: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. The Bush Administration has eliminated two: Iraq, by direct military means, and Libya, by example and intimidation.
"Syria is weak and deterred by Israel. North Korea, having gone nuclear, is untouchable. That leaves Iran. What to do? There are only two things that will stop the Iranian nuclear program: revolution from below or an attack on its nuclear facilities.
"The country should be ripe for revolution. The regime is detested. But the mullahs are very good at police-state tactics. The long-awaited revolution is not happening.
"Which makes the question of preemptive attack all the more urgent. Iran will go nuclear during the next presidential term. Some Americans wishfully think that the Israelis will do the dirty work for us, as in 1981, when they destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor. But for Israel, attacking Iran is a far more difficult proposition. It is farther away. Moreover, detection and antiaircraft technology are far more advanced than they were 20 years ago.
". . . If nothing is done, a fanatical terrorist regime openly dedicated to the destruction of the "Great Satan' will have both nuclear weapons and the terrorists and missiles to deliver them. All that stands between us and that is either revolution or preemptive strike."
The Bible shows us that the Middle East will be at the center of prophesied end-time events that directly lead into the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God. For a deeper understanding of this important region from a biblical perspective, send for our free booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy. GN