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Iran’s Imminent Nuclear Threat Leaves Gulf with Only One Rational Option

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According to Dennis Ross, an advisor and special assistant to former US President Obama, the Iranian nuclear programme has advanced significantly since 2015. As a result, Ross asserted, the threat or use of force and armaments is now the only strategy capable of preventing Tehran from crossing the threshold of producing nuclear weapons.

At present, Tehran has two bombs’ worth of uranium enriched at a rate of 60%; in other words, the Iranian regime is fully capable of producing nuclear weapons, and is still continuing to install and operate advanced centrifuges that can enrich uranium much faster than the first generation of ‘IR-I’-type centrifuges. This situation has very clearly laid bare the transgressions of Iran’s nuclear programme, which are as obvious as the regime’s complete lack of any commitment to compliance with the ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’(JCPOA) and as the significant advancement of its nuclear project. From this perspective, it must be recognised that the West’s ‘maximum pressure’ economic policy towards Iran over the past few years has totally and comprehensively failed.

Iran’s disregard for the incentives offered by the international community regarding its uranium enrichment programme, especially under President Biden, has left the door of confrontation wide open, posing a grave and extremely serious threats to all the region’s countries, including Israel and the six Gulf Cooperation Council member states. The central point and key issue of this challenge is the security of the Arab Gulf, which lies at the heart of this political-security-military confrontation.

If the Gulf Arab countries find themselves in the arena of conflict against their will, whether in connection with Iran acquiring nuclear weapons or with the West launching a military strike against Iran, the consequences would be disastrous for regional security, especially that of the Arab Gulf. This threat can clearly be seen in menacing statements by the Iranian regime, such as the announcement in recent months by the head of Iran’s Strategic Council for Foreign Policies, Kamal Kharazi, who stated that “targeting our [Iran’s] security from neighbouring countries will be met with a response to these countries and a direct response to Israel.”

In this ongoing conflict, using rational choice theory assists us in analysing the different approaches adopted towards regional security, especially that of the Gulf, helping us to understand the best goals, constants, and means of confronting the Iranian nuclear programme.

Based on rational theory, the Gulf states will rely on choosing the best available means, procedures, standards, and options to achieve their goals within the framework of the various determinants used in deciding how best to maintain regional security. In addition, relying on instrumental rationality, it is likely that the Arab Gulf states will search for ways to maintain security and regional peace using the most economic methods without adversely affecting the achievement of the goal. Therefore, I see neither of the two options currently proposed – of allowing Iran to manufacture the nuclear bomb or of launching a military attack on Iran – as fulfilling the purpose required, namely preserving the security of the region, especially the Arab Gulf.

In the case of a military strike against Iran, the Arab countries, especially those allied with the United States, will find themselves unwilling witnesses on the battlefield; similarly, the Americans do not want to get involved in a new war in the Middle East. This is, therefore, the worst-case scenario for everyone. Nor do I view reliance on a ‘diplomatic solution’ even one seen as “the only acceptable solution, even if it cannot be achieved at this stage,” as a guarantee of resolving these conflicts that have existed for years.

The key factor influencing the Arab Gulf states’ rational theory approach is the existence of grave fears and doubts on the Arab states’  part regarding the Biden administration’s ability to negotiate and stop Iran’s nuclear programme in a way that would definitively restrict Iran’s path towards nuclear weapons. On this basis, the Arab states will choose to manufacture or buy nuclear weapons as the best way to preserve regional balance and the security of the Arab Gulf.

It seems that the Gulf countries are certainly more realistic than the US officials in the Biden administration, who believe that adopting a carrot-and-stick approach will work in quelling Iranian intransigence; the proposal from these officials that “Washington will lift the bulk of the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration if Iran rejoins the agreement,” does not satisfy the required purpose due to the time element and the proximity of Iran’s nuclear weapons production capabilities. Iran is also fully aware of these possibilities, and it is acting shrewdly to buy itself more time to increase its weapons-manufacturing capabilities in order to ensure that the world will be left facing a  fait accompli once its nuclear arsenal becomes an undeniable reality.

The United States of America itself faces three scenarios. First, Washington fears an imminent Iranian nuclear bomb, and therefore US diplomacy will fail if negotiations fail. After that, there is no choice for the US but to rely on military force, which is not the rational or best option for a US Democrat administration. On the other hand, if the negotiations succeed, there will be another crisis, as the United States of America does not want to give Iran any more concessions. The resulting American hesitation has given Tehran more time, especially during Democrat administrations, with Iran reacting by accelerating its nuclear programme through increasing the rate of uranium enrichment and stopping cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Gulf countries’ reliance on policies guided by rational choice theory has been evident, as seen in the Saudi minister’s recent response to a  journalist’s question on the sidelines of the Global Policy Conference in Abu Dhabi about Iran obtaining the nuclear bomb: “We are in a very dangerous situation in the region… You can expect that the countries of the region will definitely study how to ensure their security.” This underlines that the rational alternative for the Arab Gulf is not the military option, but rather the “wise and expected method,” according to this theory, namely “the manufacture or purchase of nuclear weapons,” which would maintain the regional balance without harming the security of the region.

While the Arab Gulf consistently views the use of force and armaments as a last resort, the United States must exhaust all diplomatic and economic options, continue to pursue a strict non-proliferation policy, and strive to build an international consensus on the need to contain the Iranian nuclear programme. The United States must also work with its allies in the region to ensure that Iran does not acquire or develop any weapons of mass destruction. If these measures fail, then the use of force may not be the best and most rational option. Rather, there is another option, when necessary and available to the countries of the region that will help to maintain regional and Gulf security.

By Mostafa Hetteh, a researcher at Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies(DIRS). Hetteh tweets under @mostafahetteh  

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