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Perspectives On Iran's Nuclear Program: Voices In The Crowd

For this month’s edition of Voices In The Crowd, Platform decided to discuss the recent and ongoing protests in Iran and breaking off of negotiations between the West and Iran over its nuclear program, with respondents from across Europe, to gauge how much they were following the Iranian nuclear issue and to discover their opinions on what should be done about it. Their answers showed dramatic variation in knowledge, suggested solutions and degrees of concern about the issue.

Question 1: Do you think Iran's Nuclear Program and the government are a serious threat to the western world?

Karl from Sweden: I don't think it is a threat to Europe and the United States, but it depends on whether they would use it in a defensive or offensive way. Or if it ends up in the hands of terrorist groups, it would definitely be a threat.

Sagi from Denmark: When I first heard about it, I was kind of worried because I had this image of Iran’s ideology being “suicidal” based on their religious ideas of an afterlife they are entitled to if they attack in the name of Islam. But now I think that with time that is becoming less and less likely to happen. Judging from historical evidence, many nuclear powers who have been threats existed, and only two times have actually applied it. So this is something that nations will treat with great care, so I am not all too worried about that personally. It would worry me more if it was a small extremist group that had their hands on these weapons.

Davin from the UK: Yes, I do think it's a problem. In the same way that North Korea can kind of get away with doing whatever it wants in its own borders. If Iran manages to get the same capabilities, the western world’s leverage would be threatened.

Benjamin from the Netherlands: I believe a country run by people with an ideology that allows them to sacrifice themselves and others for the “greater good” (based upon religion of all things) is capable of doing serious damage when allowed to have weapons of mass destruction.

Julia from Germany: Yes, for sure, Iran can't be trusted in my opinion. I am sure they will try what they can to get more uranium enrichment.

Domagoj from Croatia: Generally, the western world views autocratic governments as a threat to the world order. This is also true in the case of Iran. I would say that this view can vary depending on the usefulness of a particular country, for example, Saudi Arabia is also autocratic, but the West has many interests in it, therefore it does not judge. Iran has proven itself as an outspoken rival and is perceived as a threat, although in varying degrees depending on the countries belonging to the west. Any nuclear program or idea of proliferation is perceived as a threat, but looking contextually at Iran and its behavior, this is highly amplified.

Maria from Spain: Iran’s nuclear program is as much of a threat as any other country’s nuclear program to the world. Any nuclear ability is a threat, but I wouldn’t say Iran is more of a threat than any other country.

Rumjana from Bulgaria: Not really. As long as it is limited to civilian needs. Although it is almost certain that sooner or later a nuclear war will come to be. Perhaps originally limited and using only small bombs, but over time. Over decades and different conflicts, perhaps centuries, the usage of nuclear weapons will be normalized and one time it will be too much. Every test, every article, every movie and TV series presenting the usage of nukes and even the passage of time itself normalizes the topic and makes using the bomb more likely. Beyond that grim realization, the “western world” is having much bigger issues. Iran is not a threat to the world. It isn’t even a threat to its immediate neighbors. Perhaps they can be a real threat solely to Israel, on account of its small territory, and also solely in the case they actually do get nuclear weapons. But beyond that Iran with or without nukes is not a threat to the western world.

Maciek from Poland: Obviously, the Iranian nuclear program is a major concern for all countries who consider themselves to be part of the West. However, I don't think that EU members or even the U.S. are taken into consideration as targets of a potential Iranian nuclear strike. The threat of the program derives from how much its success could change the power dynamic in the Middle East. Aside from being an existential threat to Israel, a nuclear Iran means trouble for Saudi Arabia, its other major rival.

Question 2: Do you believe the EU should rejoin the Iran deal, for either answer, are there any circumstances that would change your stance?

Karl from Sweden: I know some European countries get to sell certain products again in Iran as a result of the deal, so from a European perspective I would say it is smart to rejoin.

Sagi from Denmark: I don’t know.

Davin from the UK: I don’t know.

Benjamin from the Netherlands: I think Iran’s nuclear ambitions won’t be stopped by a deal. As we’ve seen in the past they are not very cooperative. There should be massive sanctions on Iran rather than getting rid of sanctions for a deal that they don’t even cooperate with.

Julia from Germany: The EU never wanted to leave the deal (have they really officially left? I think there are still no EU sanctions against Iran and the EU-countries want to renew the deal), but it is lacking the US for the agreement, and the EU is not really powerful.

Domagoj from Croatia: In the case of the EU, it perceives Iran as a lesser threat now, primarily because of Russia. Therefore, an agreement that might stop the program in exchange for lifting the sanctions is on the table for the EU if it would imply lessening Iran’s support for Russia and possible economic benefits. Meanwhile, recent protests in Iran have shown the true character of Iran’s suppression of the rights of its own citizens which should force the EU to think twice about re-joining a possible deal.

Maria from Spain: I don’t know.

Rumjana from Bulgaria: I am not that familiar with the specifics of the Iran deal.

Maciek from Poland: Ideally, reaching some sort of agreement with Iran would be the best way out of this situation. I believe that even the 2015 JCPOA would have been a step in the right direction, if only all parties could be trusted to honor its provisions. We know that they violated the agreement's terms on numerous occasions, and there is nothing that would suggest that they'll stick to the commitment this time. So while I support reaching a deal, I just don't see it working out in the current climate. One thing that would radically change my perspective would be regime change in Iran. Having followed the most recent protests since their outbreak, it is rather obvious that the majority of the Iranian population doesn't like the direction in which their country is going. I'm not saying that a regime change is coming soon, but it's certainly more of a possibility than it was a couple of months ago.

Question 3: If efforts to re-enter a deal fail, do you think Israel would be justified in attacking the nuclear sites, or should they let them get the bomb and rely on mutual deterrence?

Karl from Sweden: I think Israel has the right to defend itself in any situation. It really depends on the kind of deal that is made, for example if Iran is not allowed to have nuclear weapons for the next 10 years it would still be a threat in the near future.

Sagi from Denmark: Great powers like these will at some point get their hands on nuclear and even all kinds of biological weapons. Existential threatening weapons are eventually going to be in the hands of people that we don't want them to have. Resisting that process may create tensions that will ultimately make these weapons more likely to be used. So we probably shouldn't try to force other countries not to have certain weapons, it is inevitable.

Davin from the UK: I don't know.

Benjamin from the Netherlands: Since Iran has threatened the destruction of Israel many times in the past and consistently uses proxy attacks to keep Israel under pressure I think it’s fair to say they are a real threat to Israel. Especially once they get nuclear weapons. I believe it is in Israel’s best interest to defend their country to take out such nuclear research and development sites. Mutual deterrence is a ridiculous proposition because the religious extremists that run Iran are the same kind of people that blow themselves up in Europe expecting to go to heaven. It’s been proven many times in the past through their actions that they hate Israel more than they love their own people.

Julia from Germany: It doesn't sound so good to me to attack Iranian nuclear sites in a "preventive" act. But on the other hand it is always the same struggle: Israel is too small to wait until others attack, and the threat is very close… But in the nuclear case… maybe it is a really German view on the topic, but I would prefer mutual deterrence, see if Iran is really able to get the bomb and if they do, trust in allies like US. (Maybe I would see it differently when I had Iran close to my doorstep like Israel, I'm not sure).

Domagoj from Croatia: In my opinion, any attack on another country is a bad thing to occur. This would imply that all measures have failed before. The question of Iran and Israel is a bit different since Iran openly calls for Israel’s destruction. This might be a bare threat like North Korea, but still is a genuine threat and the possible possession of nuclear weapons by Iran might tip the balance of power even in the Middle East. It would likely push other nations to try and create their own. A preemptive attack by Israel might be a plausible solution, but the explanation for it must be blatantly clear, at least so that Israel might shield itself from many repercussions that will inevitably lead from this, as it could mean open war with Iran or many worse scenarios.

Maria from Spain: I don't know.

Rumjana from Bulgaria: I don’t believe anyone should attack any other, just because they can. An argument can be made that Israel having nuclear weapons can be perceived as to why other countries such as Iran want to acquire nukes.

Maciek from Poland: No. While I understand Israel's concerns, I don't believe that such strikes would benefit anyone, including Israel. Attacking Iran's nuclear sites would further destabilize the region and could serve to legitimize Iran's hostile approach towards the Jewish state. I also don't think the choice is so binary. Israel's position in the Middle East is not the same as it was some years ago. As it continues to normalize relations with Middle Eastern partners, the Iranian narrative weakens.
Let's not forget that Iran is also a major security concern for Saudi Arabia, another major player in the region, known to cooperate with Israel in the area of regional security. In my opinion, cultivating ties with other states in the region is also a way of deterring Iran. The more common interests there are between Israel and various Arab states, the riskier it gets for Iran to attempt direct confrontation -- even if they do get the bomb, using it would mean facing the wrath of other regional powers. Even right now, with a deteriorating economy and major social unrest, Iran is dropping demands in negotiations for a new nuclear deal, revealing how much its position has worsened in a relatively short time frame.

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