Mitchell Reiss, while serving as dean of International Affairs at the College of William & Mary, now president of the prestigious Washington College in Maryland, was invited to participate in a computer-assisted war-games exercise in Washington. The goal was to identify what difference the introduction of nuclear weapons would make if the U.S. were forced to face down hypothetical adversary.
After the war games, Reiss, in an interview with the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette, summed up some of the lessons learned from that futuristic exercise. He pointed out that the presence of nuclear weapons in the hands of an adversary with the means to deliver such weapons out-of-theater changes everything.
"From doctrine to planning to operations to what can realistically be attained from victory," Reiss said at that time. "This holds true regardless of whether the adversary has a ballistic missile force or a global distribution network that can deliver nuclear bombs, or whether the adversary has only one or two bombs under control."
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Reiss, who later became director of policy planning at the State Department under Secretary of State Colin Powell and presidential envoy to the Northern Ireland peace negotiations, emphasized that "the rise of regional nuclear powers will pose a serious challenge for the United States. Specially, how can we reassure our allies in the region that we remain a credible friend if they believe the presence of nuclear weapons reduces the risk we are willing to run for them?"
After years of fruitless negotiations, Iran seems now to be ready to constrain its ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The question, however, remains whether countries in the Middle East, the ones which feel most threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran, would accept as sufficient the safeguards imposed on Iran.
One of the most vocal skeptics of the value of an agreement with Iran is Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He compares such an agreement to the one signed between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler in 1938 in Munich.
Natanyahu, in his book "A Place Among the Nations," wrote that Iran's fanatic regime is no more capable of reversing its "raison d'etre" than the Nazis of Germany or the Communists of the Soviet Union have been able. Thus, Iran's assurances that it is not seeking a nuclear bomb are as worthless as Hitler's signature on the Munich peace accord.
He often quotes Winston Churchill's words to the British House of Commons, a few days after the Munich agreement was signed. Addressing Chamberlain, he said, "You were given the choice between dishonor and war. You chose dishonor, but you will have war."
A corollary to Netanyahu's warning that Iran can't be trusted is his reading of history when democratic Czechoslovakia was abandoned by its Western allies and sacrificed to appease Nazi Germany. According to Israeli news reports, Netanyahu doesn't make a secret of his concern that "under the surface of U.S. pledges to safeguard Israel's security one can hear distant echoes of Chamberlain's blunt words: 'However much we sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbor, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account.'"
Israel's concern about a nuclear-armed Iran is heightened by pronouncements not only by a notorious hatemonger like former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also by such a respected politician as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's 4th president, the representative of the "bazaari," the merchant class, who is considered to be the richest person in Iran.
He was quoted saying on several occasions that Israel is vulnerable to a single nuclear strike. Since it is so small, it would be destroyed by a first strike. "I am not making threats but rather trying to give the Israelis good advice," he said.
Thus, no wonder, experts say that Israel's calculus is simple. If it is impelled to engage in an armed conflict with Iran, it is in a much better posture to face off an Iran without nuclear weapons than one armed with nukes.
In fact, the same experts say the reason the international community imposed the harsh economic sanctions on Iran, compelling it to compromise, was the credible threat of an Israeli air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
To avoid this possibility, the best safeguard would be cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, just as in the case of stripping Syria of its chemical-weapons stockpile, to aid Iran in the development of peaceful nuclear technology, but prevent it from becoming a nuclear-armed power.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.