The Opportunity of Containing Iran

I’m not alone in thinking that we need a Plan B, a containment strategy for Iran in case it builds nuclear weapons despite our best efforts. The Center for a New American Security has released a new report (Kahl, et al., 2013). The authors go into some depth, but I think they could be a little bolder. A nuclear-armed Iran is a threat to its neighbors that is great enough to realign Middle Eastern politics.

Remember that a nuclear-armed USSR provided the threat that realigned European politics during the decades of that containment. Europe went from “everyone against Germany and Italy” to “everyone including Germany and Italy against the Soviet Union.”

Realigning the Middle East will be more complicated. Like Kahl, et al., I recommend encouraging the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations to become a more cohesive military alliance, and to encourage Israel to provide some missile defense technology to them. Unlike them, I recommend that Israel make itself more acceptable as an ally by moving forward with a three-state solution toward Palestinian autonomy. Israel and Fatah would begin making concrete moves toward statehood for the West Bank, while Gaza would be left to wait for its government, Hamas, to either amend its charter to recognize Israel’s right to exist, or for some other party to become the government of Gaza. One goal would be to weaken Hamas’ popular support and its ties with Iran. The other, more ambitious goal, would be to encourage the GCC to reach out to Israel to provide both missile defense and nuclear muscle to a total encirclement of Iran that would include the GCC as well as Turkey (a NATO member) and all the other nations bordering Iran. If successful, these moves would make Iran’s strategic position much worse with nuclear weapons than without them. The Middle East would go from “everybody against Israel” to “everybody and, by the way, Israel, against Iran.”

The Islamic Republic of Iran should realize that such game-changing diplomacy is within the reach of its adversaries. It’s own nuclear arsenal will make it possible.


Kahl, Colin H., Raj Pattani and Jabob Stokes. 2013. If All Else Fails: The Challenges of Containing a Nuclear-Armed Iran. Center for a New American Security,, accessed 5/24/2013.


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