In discussing Iran’s development of a nuclear capability, one must also recognize the deep anti-Semitism of the clerical regime. For example, a recent conference of Holocaust deniers was held in Tehran in December 2006.29 Additionally, Ahmadinejad has publicly declared the Holocaust “the myth of the genocide of the Jews.”30 As demonstrated, the Iranian leadership, including Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Rafsanjani, has a long history of openly belligerent comments and actions directed towards Israel specifically and Jews more generally. In light of this hateful viewpoint, a nuclear Iran is simply not acceptable. Due to the intrinsic and deep antagonism for the Jewish state, the Iranian regime may not view the use of nuclear weapons against Israel as in any way immoral. If this is the true perception of the leadership, a significant obstacle precluding use of nuclear weapons would be overcome. The nuclear taboo, the ethical opprobrium against using nuclear weapons due to their overly destructive and indiscriminate nature, may simply not apply to Iran in relation to Israel.
The world has gone over sixty years without another detonation of a nuclear weapon in warfare. This has been a tremendous track record, partly based on sheer good luck, but also on more intangible effects. MAD has prevented a nuclear exchange out of the fear that such a war would result in one’s own obliteration. As nuclear arsenals grew, each of the two main sides in the Cold War gained second strike capability, rendering a surprise attack moot. Secondly, over time, a view of nuclear weapons as immoral emerged, that of the nuclear taboo, which prevented the use of such weapons when deterrence was inapplicable.
In spite of these two forces, Iran is actively seeking the capacity to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. As argued previously, Iran may not be affected by the prohibitory factors of deterrence and the nuclear taboo due to particular internal characteristics not present in any state previously possessing nuclear weapons. As the regime bases its legitimacy on Shia Islam and is composed of clerics and laymen schooled in the beliefs of the religion, it is important to know just what those beliefs are as they will influence decision-making. Shia Muslims of the Twelver variety practiced in Iran hold an apocalyptic perspective of the end times and of the return of the Mahdi. A time of chaos and destruction is said to precede his reappearance. Considering that Iran’s current leadership believes this period is upon us, a nuclear armed regime is a particularly dodgy prospect for American interests in the region.
Shia Muslims also venerate the example of Hussein, who was killed for his faith. The Iranian regime has shown a willingness to sacrifice its citizens before, deeming them martyrs, and may be willing to do the same again in the case of a nuclear conflict with Israel. The Iranian leadership also holds a decidedly negative view of Israel and its Jewish citizens. Whether Ahmadinejad is calling for its destruction or Rafsanjani is openly contemplating a nuclear strike, the Iranian distaste for Israel is clear. In light of this, the regime may not view the use of nuclear weapons against Israel as immoral, and would be more inclined to actually deploy the aforementioned weapons as a result. With these arguments in mind, it should be obvious that Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons would spell trouble in the Middle East. Iran would be far more likely to actually use nuclear weapons than any other state up to this point in time, and for this reason, the international community should do whatever is necessary to prevent the regime from developing nuclear weapons in the first place.