The tumult in Iran since the June 12 presidential election is, without a doubt, the most significant sequence of events in the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution itself. No other occurrence — not the Iran-Iraq war, not the 1989 turmoil that sidelined Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, until then the designated successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and led to revamping the constitution, not the rise of reformist politics in the late 1990s — has shaken the system so deeply.
Every country in the Arab world, it seems, wants a nuclear reactor. In May 2008, a consortium of seven nations, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, announced they had agreed on a plan to boost nuclear power generation in the region. The proclamation is only the latest of several that have followed a March 2006 appeal from Secretary General of the Arab League and former Egyptian Foreign Minister ‘Amr Musa “to quickly and powerfully enter the world of using nuclear power.” 
The White House is pressing ahead with its stated goal of persuading the UN Security Council to pass far-reaching sanctions to punish Iran for refusing to suspend its nuclear research program. Sanctions are what President George W. Bush is referring to when he pledges to nervous US allies that he intends to “continue to work together to solve this problem diplomatically.” The non-diplomatic solution in this framing of the “problem,” presumably, would be airstrikes on nuclear facilities in the Islamic Republic.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underwent its most recent five-year review in May 2005. There were numerous proposals on the table for strengthening the global non-proliferation regime. None were adopted. Perhaps even more puzzlingly, in an age when the White House repeatedly invokes the specter of suitcase-size nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, the United States did not send a high-level delegate.
Once again, President George W. Bush is hinting at preventive war—this time, ostensibly, to stop the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Given the catastrophe that followed Bush’s last “non-proliferation war” in Iraq, and the deceit employed to sell it, one would expect the public to rebel against the recent rumors of airstrikes on Iran.
When Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” in October 2005, the world appeared to be light years away from the end of history. It seemed that ideologues had once more taken the reins of power and rejoined a battle in which there could be no parley or negotiated truce—only the victory of one idea over the other.
“All options are on the table,” says President George W. Bush when asked about press reports that the Pentagon is drawing up plans to bomb Iran to derail the nuclear research program there. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shoots back: "The Iranian nation will respond to any blow with double the intensity." Even if Bush’s saber rattling is merely a psychological ploy, and even if the Iranians are also just blowing smoke, the danger is that the cycle of threat and counter-threat could spin out of control.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is in hot water with Washington and European capitals because of its apparent pursuit of a nuclear bomb. Dangling carrots of increased trade, the Europeans are trying to persuade Iran to renounce atomic ambitions. Skeptical of these methods but bogged down in Iraq, the Bush administration has grumbled on the sidelines.
Even as the US military launched a long-rumored offensive in the Iraqi city of Falluja in early November 2004, the subject of anxious speculation in Washington was not Iraq, but Iran. President George W. Bush’s victory at the polls on November 2 returned to office the executive who located Iran upon an “axis of evil” in the 2002 State of the Union address and called the Islamic Republic a “totalitarian state” during his campaign for a second term in the White House. The neo-conservatives who were so influential in promoting the invasion of Iraq have long harbored the desire to foment “regime change” in Tehran as well as in Baghdad.
The 12-year standoff between Saddam Hussein’s former regime and the US displayed a circular logic: the Iraqi refusal to “come clean” about possibly non-existent weaponry simultaneously fed, and fed off of, Washington’s belligerence toward Iraq. With most eyes on the denouement of that malign symbiosis, something similar is developing between Washington and Iran over the apparent nuclear ambitions of the Islamic Republic.
Since 1990, US military policy has been governed by one overarching premise that US and international security is primarily threatened by the “rogue states” of the Third World. These states — assumed to include Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria — are said to threaten US interests because of their large and relatively modern militaries, their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and their hostile stance toward the United States and its allies. To counter this threat, current American strategy requires the maintenance of sufficient military strength to conduct (and prevail in) two Desert Storm-like operations simultaneously.
The United States and France are developing strategies for using nuclear weapons in developing countries, ostensibly to counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological). The Middle East in particular has become a testing ground for nuclear war games.  This worrisome trend is more likely to provoke a Middle East arms race than to stop proliferation.
The year is 2002. Saddam Hussein has been assassinated, and Shi‘i forces in Basra have declared their independence from Baghdad. Iran, the dominant regional power, invades Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to gain regional hegemony, control the price of oil, finance its military buildup “and ameliorate its social problem.” Tehran threatens to use nuclear weapons if the United States intervenes to defend its Gulf allies.
Not all international travelers are tourists. The August deployment of thousands of US troops to participate in war games in Jordan and Kuwait will not show up in the statistics of this fast-growing global industry, though shore leaves may boost some bar and brothel receipts in Haifa and Bahrain. But vacationers contemplating trips to the region may take pause from this blustering reminder that the Middle East is the region US military planners see as the most likely site of future military action involving US forces.
“The Middle East has entered the nuclear age,” said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens in October 1991, as he surveyed the region’s strategic environment in the aftermath of the Gulf war and just days before the opening session in Madrid of the Arab-Israeli peace talks.  Arens may merely have been reflecting on a reality that needs to be addressed. Or he may have been staking out a preemptive position in advance of demands for arms controls and territorial concessions, by seeking to make the Israeli nuclear monopoly an explicit component of the regional strategic equation. Between the two interpretations lies the key to the impact of non-conventional weapons proliferation on Middle East stability.
To what extent can agreements on nuclear disarmament between the superpowers contribute to the reduction of tensions in regional conflicts, particularly in the Middle East?
The Middle East, the Persian Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean are of particular strategic concern to Moscow because of their proximity to the Soviet Union. In addition, the Soviets view the Middle East in the second half of the 20th century as akin to the Balkans at the turn of the century: they consider the area to be the most likely source of a world war. Since 1979, moreover, the Soviets have confronted the concrete possibility of a major military conflict with the United States in the area north of the Persian Gulf. This prospect has brought the dangers of political turbulence in the Middle East into sharper focus, and altered Soviet perceptions of the immediate strategic significance of various countries in the Middle East.
Richard Smyth, indicted in May 1985 for illegally exporting nuclear trigger devices to Israel, is now a fugitive. In August 1985, two days before he was scheduled to appear in court, Smyth and his wife sailed his boat to Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California, and disappeared, forfeiting his $100,000 bail. Some US intelligence agents believe Smyth was murdered. Other reports now place him in Israel. “There was no way Israel could afford an appearance by Smyth in court,” said one US operative.