Jacob Shwergold

School of Law: U.S. Law for International Students | LLM


Cohort 2009


Graduated 2010


Career: Attorney/Founding Partner | Shwergold, Aharonson & Co. | Tel-Aviv, Israel

Scholar Highlights

Can a Nuclear Iran be Managed?

As if the United States did not have enough on its plate already — recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression, fighting two wars, increasingly partisan politics and a great deal of internal discord — it is faced with the emergence of what may be the greatest threat to international peace in our times: the development of nuclear weapons by Iran.

While initially the world seemed fairly determined to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear military capacity, and indeed has imposed sanctions on Iran as recently as 2010, we hear increasingly more arguments against taking actions necessary to thwart the Iranian attempt to develop nuclear weapons, be it economic sanctions or military action. In light of America’s bad experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is natural that some would seek to avoid conflict at all costs, even if this means a nuclear Iran. Natural, but not rational.

Now, it should be stated that the Obama administration was absolutely correct in its attempt to first engage Iran diplomatically before resorting to sanctions. One should always try to resolve conflicts peacefully. It should also be stated in no uncertain terms that military action should be an option of last resort. However, at the same time, it would be foolish to underestimate the danger posed by a nuclear Iran, and all options should be kept on the table.

The arguments for allowing Iran to achieve nuclear capacity simply do not hold water. These arguments are usually based on the assertion that a nuclear Iran is not the end of the world as it can be “contained.” I suspect that we will be hearing the word “containment” more and more in the near future. Unfortunately the international community simply cannot afford to assume that a nuclear Iran can be “contained.”

First, this argument is premised on the assumption that the Iranian leadership is rational. However, the question of rationality is not that of black and white. There are levels of rationality. While I do not believe that Iranian leaders will wake up one day and decide to launch a nuclear attack out of the blue, I would not trust the Iranian leadership to refrain from using nuclear weapons if it were put in an extreme situation. Just imagine a Cuban missile crisis scenario, except this time with Ahmadinajad and the Ayatollahs on the other side instead of Khrushchev and the Politburo.

One should keep in mind that we are dealing with a radical Islamist regime, deeply involved in terrorist activity for decades. A regime that has shown total disregard to human life and dignity, even when dealing with its own people, and that strictly adheres to extreme religious beliefs including belief that the messiah will only reappear after the apocalypse.

Furthermore, in light of Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, there will be the threat of Iran passing on certain nuclear technologies to these organizations. Surely we cannot trust these organizations to use nuclear technology responsibly.

Second, an escalation of tensions between Iran, its neighbors and the West, leading to a crisis situation in which the Iranian leadership may consider the use of nuclear weapons, is a very real possibility. Iran’s involvement in global terrorism; Iranian support of Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad; its rivalry with Sunni Muslim nations; its belligerence towards Israel and its hatred towards the United States, raise a considerable risk of eventual confrontation. In such a confrontation, due to its conventional military inferiority, Iran may consider the use of nuclear weapons.

Third, a nuclear Iran would be emboldened by its newly achieved nuclear capacity. While the proponents of the “containment” policy claim that Iran’s desire to obtain an atomic bomb is defensive, they neglect to mention what it is that Iran seeks to “defend.” Iran would likely view nuclear capacity as an insurance policy for its terrorist activity and be encouraged to intensify its efforts in this regard. Nuclear weapons would shield Iran from any attempt by the West to curtail it from interfering with the internal affairs of countries such as Lebanon and Saudi Arabia or engaging in acts of terrorism. For example, one proponent of the “containment” policy claimed that Iran has proven to be “rational” in the past, when it did not take any action against Israel during the 2006 war in Lebanon at a time when Israel confronted the Hezbollah. However, will this be the case after Iran becomes nuclear? Do we really want to find out?

So far, all sanctions and attempts of engagement have failed. Despite Iran’s clear legal obligations as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it remains intent on obtaining nuclear military capability. If the world has failed thus far in “containing” Iran, not only on the nuclear front, but also vis-à-vis Iran’s support and direction of terrorism, we have every reason to doubt the world’s ability to contain Iran once it has the bomb. A nuclear Iran is a reality which the world simply
cannot live with.

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