Why Do We Care Whether Iran Has Nuclear Weapons?

By Kathleen Troia "K.T. "McFarlandNational Security Expert

It's official. Iran has enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. It has a long-range missile capable of delivering that bomb. Now all it needs is the blueprint, which is usually complicated, but not if you're getting help from the Russians or Pakistan's nuclear weapons' dealer Dr. AQ Khan, newly released from house arrest. Unless something derails their program, Iran will have nuclear weapons within two years, and within a year will reach the point of no return - where no amount of carrots or sticks will convince them to give up their program since the benefits to them of being a nuclear power are enormous.

Why do we care whether Iran has nuclear weapons? First, it has said time and again its goal is to destroy Israel. Nukes give them the ability to do so. Second, Iranian nukes will set off an arms race - a nuclear arms race - in the single most unstable part of the world. Third, Iran now becomes the bully on the block in the Persian Gulf - through which a majority of the world's oil transits.

So, what's next? Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said -- a number of times -- that Israel will do "everything necessary" to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. They bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981, and Syria's in 2007. An attack would be fraught with enough logistical and intelligence challenges that it would set Iran's nuclear program back a few years, but probably not destroy it.

If Israel determines the U.S. is unwilling or unable to stop Iran's nuclear program, an Israeli attack would come soon -- before Russia gives Iran the S-300, a sophisticated air defense system that could knock out incoming Israeli bombers.

The Obama administration has yet to unveil its plan for Iran, but so far they've hinted at a combination of sweeter carrots and bigger sticks and more diplomacy. This might work, but it hasn't so far. Meanwhile the clock is ticking. Iran might engage this time, but would it just be playing out the clock?

Some Obama advisers have hinted at expanding America's nuclear umbrella to cover Israel - but our pledge to nuke Iran after they nuke Israel is cold comfort to Israel.

A third, think-outside-the-box option is for us to go to the Russians, who are aiding Iran and their nuclear program, and cut a deal for them to break off from Iran. That would have been unthinkable six months ago, but now the Russian economy is teetering on the brink of collapse. They've had a triple whammy with the global recession, collapse of oil prices, and withdrawal of foreign investment in the wake of their invasion of Georgia last summer.

A U.S. -Russian alliance? A long shot for sure, but at this point we should be trying everything -- and all at the same time -- to stop the Iranian nuclear program. -