Following a transitional period of very high tension but with mutual political skill that keeps the extremists on each side at bay, Israel and Iran succeed in avoiding war. Nuclear parity, achieved either through denuclearization of the Mideast or Iran’s achieving sufficient nuclear capability to deter Israel ends up lowering tensions as it becomes evident to all that parity means standoff. To the extent that Iran remains isolated, it remains dissatisfied, but its progress in real power terms means that it comes to accept the trade-offs. Iran and Israel play in separate sandpiles, and Iran’s ties to China, Russian, and Asia generally become the focus of its attentions. Israel takes the wind out of the sails of Iranian aspirations to dominate the eastern shore of the Mediterranean by removing itself from Lebanese domestic affairs, returning the Golan Heights, and allowing a genuinely independent Palestinian state.
The gradual evolution of “Nuclear Standoff” into “Mideast Bipolarity,” as the two sides learn to respect each other and cooperate—i.e., as they learn to accord each other the same status that they accord other states—is a possible long-term outcome. “Nuclear Standoff” could also evolve into a highly unstable nuclear confrontation like the Pakistani-Indian situation in 2002 or the Cuban Missile Crisis. In brief, “Nuclear Standoff” seems likely to be a transitional scenario. The direction it evolves will be highly dependent not only on how bilateral ties are managed but on the broader international context.
The importance of the international context is why emphasis in the milestones that could be anticipated if “Nuclear Standoff” became reality include steps by the U.S. to adhere to the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Agreement on principle of no first strike
U.S. promotes campaing to reduce the number of nuclear states
U.S. cuts some domestic nuclear programs to “move toward a non-nuclear world”
Israel joins NPT and eliminates its nukes
Israel and Iran agree to accept same rules on nukes
Future posts in this series on Iranian-Israeli confrontation will lay out the scenarios in which the relative power of the two sides remains highly unequal.