5 Reasons The Iran ‘Threat’ is a Smokescreen

When it comes to international bogeymen, there are few as salient as Iran. Despite not really doing much of anything in the past 20 years, it’s in the news time and time again. We worry about their nuclear capabilities and their links to terrorism. We are always being told something might happen, yet it never does. This might be, in all reality, because Iran is a better distraction than an enemy. Let’s look at the five reasons why:

1. Iran is Not Actually That Irrational

Iran is constantly portrayed as a group of religious fundamentalists with an aim to destroy Israel and cause chaos in the Middle East. However, if we look at Iran’s history within the region, we will find very little evidence to support that. Sure, they will occasionally talk a big game, and are perfectly comfortable with hate speech, but in terms of actions, they lack a lot of local street cred.

During the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq, led under Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran in hopes to take advantage of post-revolutionary chaos. Since then has Iran taken part in preemptive ground conflicts? How many wars have they started? That’s right, the number is basically zero. In fact, Iran has gone so far as to vow never to launch a military attack against anyone, and offered to work with the United States in relation to Iraq’s current ISIS/Islamic State crisis.

If we look at the US-led Iraq invasion, the wars and uprisings in Syria, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, Iran looks positively stable in comparison.

2. Iran Would Never Bomb Israel

Remember the furor surrounding Iran’s nuclear program? How if they got the bomb they were certain to bomb Jerusalem mere moments after? Now is an excellent time to pull out a map and note Jerusalem’s actual location. I’ll help:

If Iran were to nuke Israel, it would also be blowing up and poisoning a vast number of Palestinians along with them. Widespread fallout would put Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan at risk. Which basically means Iran would be declaring war on some of the key (stable) governments in the region. Second, if religious fundamentalism so part and parcel to the Iranian regime, we must realize the concept of †’ummah.’

Ummah translates to the “Muslim family” that exists around the world. Killing one is like killing “all of humanity.” Taking these two things together we can see that not only would an attack on Israel have devastating political ramifications, but devastating religious consequences as well. Iran, again, with no history of preemptive strikes, has nothing to gain from bombing Israel. Furthermore, if we consider Israel’s ability to literally flatten Tehran in a matter of hours (their armies are far from comparable), it’s unlikely Iran would ever take that chance.

3. They Don’t Hate All the Jews

But what about the Holocaust-denying conference? What about the hate speech directed at the Jewish people? Of course, like many countries on the planet, including those located in the West, Iran absolutely has issues with anti-Semitism. That said, they aren’t exactly as bad as people might assume. In fact, the Jewish community in Iran has existed for thousands of years.

These days, Iran’s Jewish community is formally recognized by the government as a protected minority group. The capital of Iran, Tehran, has 11 synagogues, a number of Hebrew schools, kosher restaurants, Jewish newspapers, libraries and hospitals dedicated to Jewish leaders in history.

Jewish Iranians are also in government, with a number of seats in Parliament dedicated to representing them as a minority group. It might also surprise you to learn that many have spoken out against Israel’s recent actions during the latest Gaza incursion, noting that they see Israel’s actions as political rather than religious.

4. Despite Bluster, They Cooperate Fairly Often

In times of sanctions, Iran often lashes out, threatening to close routes around their shipping channels or kick out UN staff. Yet, they haven’t really followed through very often. Rather, more recent examples show that Iran is absolutely willing to cooperate in international diplomacy.

Recent news shows Iran is willing to take its enriched uranium, and dilute it into levels that are more acceptable to the international standards. The International Atomic Energy Agency even stated that Iranian leaders were following through on commitments. What do they get in return for this international cooperation? The United States will unfreeze 2.8 billion in Iranian currency. That seems fair, right?

Although Iran insists that they were enriching uranium for nuclear power plants and medicinal purposes, at last check their uranium supplies were enough to make one, just one, nuclear warhead. This was trotted out as a ‘crisis’ inside the UN.

While the United States is the only country in the world to ever use a nuclear warhead against civilians, and they are still perfectly allowed to have them because we can totally trust they’ve learned their lesson (we hope), it is perfectly acceptable for them to regulate the production of weapons in a foreign sovereign nation. Right?

Which brings us to one of our most interesting points:

5. A Nuclear Bomb in Iran Might Actually Help Regional Stability

In an article for Foreign Affairs Magazine, Kenneth Waltz makes the case for Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb. Although many shudder to think of what could come of this, Waltz makes a convincing argument that it would actually help bring peace to this embittered area. He notes that historically speaking, “By reducing imbalances in military power, new nuclear states generally produce more regional and international stability, not less.”

With Israel acquiring a nuclear arsenal years ago, Iran might create a counterbalance similar to that of India and Pakistan. Two neighbors with a terribly violent past, who now enjoy new diplomacy thanks to the delicate position they’ve put themselves into. He also addresses concerns about Iran handing off the bomb to terrorist groups.

“Once a country such as Iran acquires a nuclear capability, it will have every reason to maintain full control over its arsenal. After all, building a bomb is costly and dangerous. It would make little sense to transfer the product of that investment to parties that cannot be trusted or managed.”

He also points out:

“There has never been a full-scale war between two nuclear-armed states. Once Iran crosses the nuclear threshold, deterrence will apply, even if the Iranian arsenal is relatively small.”

Sanctions, the common way we try to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state, aren’t actually helpful. The sanctions that we raise against Iran don’t actually hurt those in power. The government, which has plenty of money, gets along just fine. So there’s very little reason to think that sanctions would dissuade them from bomb making.

Rather, it’s the average citizen that sanctions tend to cripple. Meaning that if we’re trying to win a war of †’hearts and minds’ in the Middle East, this is the worst possible way to go about it.

Iran definitely has its issues. Human rights violations and the suppression of free speech are all problems inside the country. However, those are for the citizens of Iran to work out, not some foreign do-gooder force. If we are to really engage the reality of Iran, we will see that while they have plenty of memorable quotes, they aren’t exactly a “dangerous” force within the region. If we would take the time to engage them, rather than trying to control them, we might end up with a Middle East that looks remarkably more stable than it does today.


Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y3 years ago

.....'minority' cont'd:

.......nuclear proliferation is a nightmare that has to be stopped. It is not about 'fairness', or if we or Russia or anyone else should have the bomb - it's about human survival. The more nukes that are out there in the hands of small or unstable states, the greater the probability of a nuclear firestorm. That's simple mathematics.

The Foreign Service community well knows that the Iranians are more complex than their stereotypes in the news, and have helped the U.S. on a number of issues, including against Al Qaeda. But to advocate for them or anyone else, even a friend and ally, building more nuclear weapons is not just irresponsible public policy, it's nuts.

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y3 years ago

Walz' and others' argument that more nuclear weapons = stability is extremely naïve. It presupposes a balance of power like that between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the cold war, with a nuclear China thrown into the mix. Yes that turned out to be 'stable', but as one who grew up in that era let me remind you of how frightful that balance of terror was. We came close to obliterating mankind several times, most notably during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was historical coincidence that the U.S. happened to be a democracy, and that after they acquired their arsenals the 2 Communist giants happened to be collective oligarchies where luckily no single individual was as dominant as Stalin or Mao had been. That meant that in the nuclear 'big 3', it was unlikely that a crazy ruler or general could start WWIII and so all 3 countries had the means and motivation to avoid catastrophe.

To think smaller states like N.Korea, Pakistan or Iran would follow this 'stable' model of mutually assured destruction is foolish. They have each had their share of crazily ideological rulers who believed more in their totalitarian ideals than the worth of human lives; this led to instability in their regions which was only mitigated by extreme pressure from the U.N. Security Council and the 'big 3.'

Walz is in the minority and there are a plethora of articles in the Foreign Affairs and U.S. Foreign Service magazines arguing just the opposite: Nuclear proliferation is a nightmare th

Paul B.
Paul B3 years ago

As a supporter of terrorism in the Middle East, a supporter of Syria (Assad), Hamas, Hezbollah, and others, Iran stands out as an instigator of unrest. When they continually embrace the notion of total destruction of another country, a race of people, that is not a peaceful sign.
I agree that Iran has NOT shown direct actions against Israel, doesn't mean that the insane leaders won't keep their promise, ONCE they have the capability. You don't "show your hand" until you have all your cards. They are still actively pursuing "filling their hand" with the tools necessary to act, and that is troubling.
And not to forget, nuclear weapon proliferation is bad in general, especially with a country that currently supports terrorism. I agree it would be nice if we could eliminate them all, but that is very improbable.
It is hard to trust Iran, as they have shown their willingness to act against the common global good, as kidnapping, terrorism, threats, etc are not good basis for trust.
But given that Obama has little intent to stop their nuclear development, despite his rhetoric otherwise, we can only hope this article is more reality than smoke and mirrors. We can hope.

Hooman Pennypacker

The theory that any Israeli leader would even contemplate using nuclear weapons against any state/nation anywhere is not even worth discussion.

Et al, there is a reason Iran hasn't been attacked despite having thousands of Israeli's blood on its hands, and no doubt thousands more. It's a game they play and are apparently quite good at. Folks in Tehran are enjoying their summer where most don't even know what a 'shelter' is.. and Israeli's get used to the age old drill of heading underground, a tradition which will continue to pass down generation to generation.

Less bombs, more talk , and compromise (serious compromise)

Hooman Pennypacker

destroying Tehran with missiles from ground bases in Israel, or with Israel's Navy, which you've forgotten about,

Sandra, thankyou. No I have not forgotten anything. Completely delusional to think the second greatest military is seriously struggling against a third world militia whose tenacity and ingenuity has stunned everyone right up to ex-commando Netanyahu. Hamas militants killed 9 soldiers on -Israeli Soil- just yesterday. You are merely spouting buzzwords and phrases you hear on the media. The US military was bled dry in Iraq where it experienced one third of its casualties in Anbar fighting militants inferior to Hamas/Hezbollah and is now begging for Iranian help.

As for Israels missile inventory you claim I have forgotten, are decades old and seldom tested. Do you remember what happened to the Israeli ship by an Iranian cruise missile in 2006? (a quite inferior one at that) How many sailors died trying to put out that fire?

Maria Teresa Schollhorn

Thanks for the article.

Magdalena J.
Past Member 3 years ago


Janet B.
Janet B3 years ago