Before visiting Israel President Obama said in an interview with Israeli TV Iran was about a year away from having the Bomb, and “all options were on the table” for preventing it from acquiring it. Visiting Jordan later in his trip Obama took a more conciliatory tone, saying the issue is best resolved through diplomacy and the United States will continue to apply pressure on Iran “in a non-military way.” But if what Obama says is true, that Iran is a year away from having a bomb, it would represent a failure of diplomacy and would contradict the CIA position held as recently as 2012 that Iran had “halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003. So what would it mean for Iran to have the Bomb? What would happen after a successful bomb test?
The first awareness of a successful Iranian underground nuclear test would come from seismic sensors detecting an earthquake having a magnitude of 4.0-5.0 centered in a sparsely populated region of Iran. Such man-made earthquakes have a distinctive seismic signature compared to naturally occurring quakes and can be detected within minutes of a test. Occasionally an underground test, such as one conducted by North Korea in 2006, releases cesium 137 into the air which can be picked up by detectors downwind in China, India and Pakistan, but it is likely the seismic signature of a blast would be enough to announce to the world that Iran had joined the nuclear club.
Press reports would appear suggesting a nuclear detonation in Iran, but in the initial hours after the blast most nations would be quiet about it, preferring to review their own intelligence before making statements, and the media in the USA and Europe will double and triple-check their sources before setting the headlines. Not so the Iranian press. A nuclear Iran has been perhaps the only thing opposition groups and the theocratic regime agree on, and Iranian media outlets will be trumpeting the news throughout the nation and the regime will be passing out sweets in the streets of Teheran in celebration. Therefore it is likely we would learn about a successful nuclear blast from the Iranian press via American and European media reports before official confirmation came from western governments.
When those official confirmations arrive expect them to be funereal in tone, of the type “The (your nationality here) people condemn the Iranian regime for its unlawful nuclear weapons test that threatens the stability of the region as well as the regime itself.” There would likely be near panic in some quarters, jubilation in others with commentators and reporters expecting the imminent obliteration of Israel. But Israel will not be in immediate danger. Building a bomb for a test and a bomb that can be put onto a missile or airplane are two separate engineering challenges, and because of that they are most likely occurring concurrently and with assistance from North Korea and some assistance from Russia.
There will be a sense in the West that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was worthless, and the sanctions Iran has put up with for over 15 years have completely failed. Promises made by the Obama administration to Israel and other states in the Middle East that containment of a nuclear armed is not an option as Vice-President Joe Biden said to a meeting with the Jewish group AIPAC, “Let me make clear what that commitment is: It is to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, period. End of discussion. Not contain. Prevent,” would be repeated by some right wing or conservative media outlets while others more supportive of the administration would spike such “we told you so” stories.
There would likely be a window of at least a year or two beyond the bomb test before Iran could target a weapon on Israel, and during that time nothing on the surface will seem to have changed much. In fact because of that calm, voices preaching containment and appeasement would begin to appear, saying “How are the Iranians different from the Soviets?” “The Iranians got the bomb, but they won’t use it.” “If containment worked for the Soviets why can’t it work for the Iranians?” Ron Paul said as much in the 2012 Presidential debates. Leaks would come out of the Israeli and US intelligence agencies of possible military action being launched against Iran to keep it from “weaponizing the bomb,” with the intent of undermining the rationale for the attacks in favor of non-intervention. Iranians would return to the negotiating table, promising to halt their nuclear program in exchange for this that or the other thing. North Korea plowed, graded, paved and painted lines on this road so expect the Iranian regime to ride it in comfort. As the sting from the surprise of the test wears off, liberals, anti-war type and other useful idiots of the Islamic regime will play a more active role and attempt to protect the regime. “The USA is the only state ever to use the Bomb,” expect them to say, “So why should we trust it more than Iran?”
And they’ll have a point, but for the wrong reasons. US credibility will be at a low not seen since the Iranian Hostage Crisis at this point. States such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia have already begun dusting off their own test programs, and a successful test by Iran would accelerate this research. Of the two nations Saudi Arabia being the wealthier would probably simply buy a nuclear weapons program from Pakistan with assistance from France and other European nations, and perhaps share it with Turkey. But it would still take the better part of a decade for the Saudis to join the Nuclear Club. It would also push these nations closer to Russia who would be seen as an honest broker in the region, even when it is honestly supplying the Iranians whom the Sunni regimes in the Middle East detest. At least the Russians could be trusted while the Americans make threats and do nothing.
The time between a nuclear test and the successful weaponization of the Bomb will be the last window of opportunity for the Israelis and Americans to gather what remains of their spines and attack Iran. Failure at this point would lead to the fulfillment of promises made consistently over the history of the current Iranian regime: Israel will be destroyed. And while Israel will not go down without a fight, taking hundreds of thousands of Persians with them, it will not be said that the Iranians didn’t warn us; but it will be said that we were foolish not to believe them.