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James Burgess

James Burgess

James Burgess studied Business Management at the University of Nottingham. He has worked in property development, chartered surveying, marketing, law, and accounts. He has also…

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Imagination Can be a Dangerous Thing: Why Iran Must be Denied Nuclear Weapons

In this essay I take a look at some scenarios that could arise following the successful development of the Iranian nuclear program, after which I think the reasons why so many countries are attempting to destabilise the Middle Eastern regime will be obvious.

Iran and Israel are hated enemies. Certain mullahs in Tehran believe that it is their sacred duty to destroy Israel and nuclear weapons will make that all the more easier. For many years their desire has been the destruction of their neighbour but war has never fully broken out due to the complete dominance of the Israeli military. Nuclear weapons would void this imbalance, as with just several nuclear payloads detonated at strategic targets around Israel, Iran could cripple their enemy.

But the mullahs are still power hungry men, they understand that any form of outright attack on Israel would bring about the immediate and unsympathetic annihilation of Iran; not exactly the outcome they desire.

OK, so a deliberate attack on Israel seems incredibly unlikely, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of an accidental attack.

The situation between Israel and Iran is at level of paranoia comparable to the Cold War, but as Dennis Ross, who until recently served as President Barack Obama’s Iran point man on the National Security Council, stated “this is not the Cold War. In this situation we don’t have any communications channels. Iran and Israel have zero communications.” Zero communications leaves more room for imagination, and imagination can be a dangerous thing.

Iran and Israel will base decisions on information that is not necessarily complete. And we all know that is how bad decisions are often made.  Worse is that the Iranian government are under pressure due to economic difficulties exaggerated by sanctions imposed by the EU and US. They will be paranoid and edgy, already expecting an attack, and therefore they will read the worst into incomplete intelligence.  Bruce Blair, the co-founder of the nuclear disarmament group Global Zero and an expert on nuclear strategy, suggested that this “cognitive bias” makes it more likely that pre-emptive strikes will be made based on misinterpreted information.

The experts agree that a Middle East in which Iran has nuclear weapons would be dangerously unstable and prone to warp-speed escalation.

Jeffrey Goldburg of Bloomberg gave one possible scenario from which nuclear war could accidentally manifest: “Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese proxy, launches a cross-border attack into Israel, or kills a sizable number of Israeli civilians with conventional rockets. Israel responds by invading southern Lebanon, and promises, as it has in the past, to destroy Hezbollah. Iran, coming to the defence of its proxy, warns Israel to cease hostilities, and leaves open the question of what it will do if Israel refuses to heed its demand.”

There are of course many other scenarios that could lead to a similar conclusion. The problem is that with nuclear war the side who strikes first has a significant advantage as they have the ability to cripple the opposition and avoid retaliation. Any form of military manoeuvre could have the other side wondering if it is harmless, or sign of an imminent threat. Unfortunately as I’ve said, the cost of getting this wrong could be devastating.

Blair told Bloomberg, “A confrontation that brings the two nuclear-armed states to a boiling point would likely lead them to raise the launch- readiness of their forces - mating warheads to delivery vehicles and preparing to fire on short notice … Missiles put on hair-trigger alert also obviously increase the danger of their launch and release on false warning of attack -- false indications that the other side has initiated an attack.”

So to me it seems obvious that Iran must be denied nuclear weapons, but military strikes against their nuclear facilities are not the answer. “The liabilities of pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear program vastly outweigh the benefits,” Blair said. “But certainly Iran’s program must be stopped before it reaches fruition with a nuclear weapons delivery capability.”


The current approach of the steadily debilitating sanctions is beginning to work and combined with an intense cyberwar the overall cost may prove to be enough to dissuade Tehran from continuing with its nuclear enrichment program.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com

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  • the Peak Oil Poet on January 29 2012 said:
    leaving aside the grammar errors....

    "Nuclear weapons would void this imbalance"

    That is why the USA and the USSR plastered each other with nukes during the cold war right? Ditto India and Pakistan since right? I mean you're right - it's inevitable that if Iran has nuclear weapons it will attack Israel - only a fool would think otherwise (or maybe such a fool might think instead that whereas Israel might have been likely to attack Iran they'd be less likely if Iran had something real to fight back with).

    an accidental attack - really, gee, you found the holes in your writing and patched it up with this. Again, like the numerous accidents we've had that have led to the US, USSR, Russia, China, India, etc etc accidentally nuking everyone.

    "The experts agree that a Middle East in which Iran has nuclear weapons would be dangerously unstable and prone to warp-speed escalation"

    yeh, the experts representing those who are so immersed in the Great Game that all they can think in terms of is their own aggression and dishonesty.

    i'll leave the rest of what i really think is warmongering garbage

    James this was a really poorly thought out and seemingly rush post and all i can see is propaganda.

    As a call to arms to those already inclined to control the ME maybe it works but to the rest of the world it smells like you are either ignorant or in the pockets of people most of the world distrusts and detests.

  • Juan on January 29 2012 said:
    ...the overall cost may prove to be enough to dissuade Tehran from continuing with its nuclear enrichment program.

    who is kidding who? Iran will stop at nothing, no cost is too high, they will continue until successful or stopped, insane is as insane does.
  • Philip Andrews on January 30 2012 said:
    Dear Mr Burgess
    I think this is an 'unfortunate' article. In my opinion it seems to draw many erroneous conclusions about Iran.

    Iran is historically the dominant power in the Middle East from at least 3000 years ago. Through many ups and downs during that period she has reemerged especially since 1979 as the dominant influence in the area.

    Iranian works through influence, through proxy, and through the power of her oil resources. The religious and security establishment work their influence in very intelligent and a discreet ways that the West has yet to emulate. The Iranians tend to be as much influenced by ancient Zoroastrianism as by Shi'ite Islam. They are among the world's great geopolitical chess players, much like the Russians and the Chinese.

    Iran doesn't need nuclear weapons to use against anyone. If Iran wants to repossess Palestine for Islam she will not want to repossess a Palestine that has been made useless to everyone through nuclear war. This would be both illogical and counter-productive. Instead she will use the nuclear card as a gambit, to leverage concessions from her opponents and even from her associates.

    Every Arab and Muslim leader wants to see Israel removed from the Middle East. It is the one common point of reference for Middle Eastern leaders who would otherwise be constantly at each other's throats. Iran is perhaps unique in voicing this sentiment and in hosting events that question Zionist mythology.

    However it is well-known that in Egypt there is a level of anti-Semitic sentiment that is reflected in Egyptian movies and TV shows. They have shown TV series concerning for instance the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They even have this on YouTube. Egyptians have recently elected a majority Islamist government to the Parliament. The two phenomena are not unrelated.

    Iran is not alone in her desire to remove Israel, but in common with the rest of the Middle East does not want to do this through a nuclear exchange. She prefers the gradual 'death by 1000 cuts' way of doing things. Once Iran has Egypt under her influence through the Muslim brotherhood in government, and Gaza through Hamas, the western half of the vice will be complete. Once the Syrian situation is resolved in Iran's favour (whether Assad is in power or is replaced by a Muslim government: Iran will work with anyone within the Islamic world), Iran will have Israel in a complete geopolitical vice which will not require nuclear weapons, simply time to become effective.

    One successful strike (one non-nuclear or tactical nuclear strike, from Lebanon perhaps, on the pumping station at Lake Kinneret in the Galilee would put Israel out of action permanently due to lack of water)

    Israel has nuclear weapons and has had them for years, as has Pakistan and yet no one is sanctioning them for destabilising the Middle East. Iran has a much more powerful WMD than any nuclear weapon. She has the ability to play with the Straits of Hormuz to infinite degrees and variations to the West's and the rest of the world's equally infinite discomfiture.

    Any strike by the West against Iran for whatever reason would at present have a less than 50% chance of success. Iranians have recently demonstrated their ability to control airborne electronics and they have reasonably sophisticated Russian supplied anti-aircraft systems that would cause any strike to be of questionable value vis-a-vis the risks involved.

    Altogether it would be far more intelligent for the West to negotiate with Iran through back channels (which I believe is already happening, contrary to your information apparently) in order to reach an accommodation with this historic power, than to attempt any other course of action.

    I apologise for the length of this response but I felt that the points you made in your article demanded some sort of comeback.
  • Mel Tisdale on January 31 2012 said:
    Having seen the way Israel treats the Palestinians, if any nation should not be allowed nuclear weapons, it is Israel. They currently act like the child in the school playground who is mates with the school bully, America. They think they can do whatever they like because they have protection.

    If Israel really wants Iran to cease any development of nuclear weapons, it must get rid of its own nuclear weapons, sign the NPT and allow inspectors in to monitor that they are adhering to it.
  • Vipin on January 31 2012 said:
    A nuclear Iran means change in regional equations. The dominance of a nuclear-Israel in ME will be on stake and so does their annihilation of the Arabs in Palestine. Whether the Iranians use it for deterrence or for an offensive preemptive strike is a topic to speculate. But no doubt that a nuclear-Iran will be a questionable authority in ME.
    One thing I agree with James is that the mention of a 'no-information channel' between the West and Iran. The larger part of media, which cannot claim to be unbiased, has always been successful in projecting Iran as a war mongering Arab nation waiting to get hands on WMDs. I dont have enough facts and knowledge to contradict them as I too know only what they project. But I do believe nations possessing nuclear warheads do not have any right to force other nations from developing their own.
    Self-reliance and self-defense is any nation's prerogative. If the West and Israel has nothing to worry about their vested interests in ME or any part of the world for that matter, Iran possessing a nuclear war head is no matter of concern for any. After all, these all are business tactics, arent they? The Jews has enormous control on the finances of US if I am right. That is their piece of bargain they have been building over the years. America cant risk not supporting Israel. Thinking in the same terms, why would Iran want to be at the mercy of any?
    There is no angle of religion or Zionism or Antisemitism or terrorism to this 'crisis'. Everything has a business interest at the base, everything else are icings on top of the cake.
    [This is my personal opinion and I do not favor or oppose any nation in particular]

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