American officials on Wednesday came the closest they have yet to issuing a threat of military force should Iran continue its defiant nuclear weapons program.
“Our president said[Iran’s] not going to have a nuclear weapon,” General Kenneth McKenzie told TIME magazine. “The diplomats are in the lead on this, but Central Command always has a variety of plans that we could execute, if directed.”
Gen. McKenzie is the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM). It’s area of responsibility is the Middle East. In other words, if military action against Iran were to be ordered, it would be CENTCOM that would lead the charge. That this statement was issued by Gen. McKenzie was seen as a direct warning to the ayatollahs.
A US-led group of world powers is scheduled to resume negotiations with Iran in Vienna next week. But with Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), failing this week to reach an agreement with Tehran on renewed international monitoring, hope is diminishing. And time is quickly running out.
“They’re very close this time,” McKenzie said. “I think they like the idea of being able to breakout.”
That’s what Israel is most worried about. Iran doesn’t need to actually produce an atomic weapons in order to disrupt the balance of power in the Middle East with its nuclear program. Becoming a “nuclear threshold state” will be sufficient.
There are a number of nuclear threshold states in the world. Most of them, like Japan, are not a concern to the international community. But a country like Iran would use this status to threaten its neighbors, and provide a strong deterrent against those who oppose its plans of regional hegemony.
Israel, for instance, would find it far more difficult to launch strikes against Iranian forces in Syria or its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon if Tehran was threatening to produce a nuclear bomb in response.
What’s more, the Sunni Arab states would not be able tolerate a nuclear threshold Iran any more than Israel. There is a strong possibility that Iran reaching this status would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
US negotiator Rob Malley tried to reassure Israel and the Sunni Arab states that Washington will be closely monitoring the situation, and will “not sit idly by” should Iran push forward toward a nuclear weapon even as it feigns negotiations in Vienna.
“If they start getting too close, too close for comfort, then of course we will not be prepared to sit idly,” Malley told National Public Radio (NPR) this week. “We will respond accordingly.”