Anyone here who watched The Dark Knight, or saw the trailers, remembers the scene of a beaten, broken Joker, facing off against the protagonist, begging Batman to kill him. Iran’s ruling elite are that joker, and Israel and the US are the ones who have to ignore the provocation to attack. Why? There is no way to win if we attack; any attack we lose, whereas if we restrain ourselves, we stand a good chance of winning.
Iran is not a burgeoning powerhouse, regardless of what we may perceive in our paranoia. Their revolution is in its second generation, and it shows. The regime continues to exist through violence, as there is clearly a deep divide between the young people of Iran and their leaders – Ahmadinejad’s re-election was evidence of that. They are struggling from painful sanctions, their closest regional allies are facing a protracted civil conflict, and their unemployment rate rivals that of Portugal. Having a nuclear weapon will not solve these problems; indeed, moving to actually build a weapon will hurt their international standing even further, and since such a weapon will be practically unusable, it won’t help them out much on the strategic front, either.
And so, their only hope? A US or Israeli attack on their nuclear installations. All the sudden, Iran is famous not for supporting Assad but opposing Netanyahu; the violence they inflict on their own citizens will be eclipsed by the violence visited onto them by the outside world. Overnight their domestic and international political fortunes will be reversed. And since the US lacks both the will and ability to occupy Iran, the ruling regime can be almost assured that it will not only survive the onslaught, but emerge with a renewed strength, zeal, and legitimacy in the eyes of their own people and their neighbors, while quite the opposite would take place with the US and Israel.
But what if we wait ‘too long’, what will happen? Probably very little. After Pakistan got nuclear weapons, after North Korea got nuclear weapons…little changed in terms of balance. True, nukes would be a substantial deterrent to an American attack on Iran, but that isn’t advisable anyway. Iran couldn’t reasonably use these weapons without consigning themselves to oblivion. Their insistence that their program is peaceful will be exploded, their diplomatic position will be weakened, their economic woes multiplied, and their people no easier to placate (again, look at Pakistan). In the end, an Israeli or American attack on Iran will be far more useful to the ruling regime in Iran than a nuclear weapon. We need to see that they don’t get one.