Sensible letter to the Economist from Sir Richard Dalton, a former Ambassador to Iran:
SIR – Do you really think Iran could become a regional hegemon (“Can Iran be stopped?”, June 22nd)? In one respect or another, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia, Turkey and Egypt are all as strong or stronger. Iran cannot even dominate the Gulf. The six Arab countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), led by Saudi Arabia, tend to exaggerate Iranian influence, including in Bahrain and Yemen.
Only from southern Lebanon does Iran have the ability to project serious power. For sure, it has a strong influence in Iraq, some in Gaza, and a tightening alliance with Syria, but this merely allows Iran to maintain the position it has enjoyed for many years. This still doesn’t amount to “regional hegemony”.
You also did not mention that Iran has a policy of converting its 20% enriched uranium into oxide, ready for research-reactor fuel-making. This puts the material beyond use for bombs (short of a time-consuming, detectable and technically demanding process to turn it back into gas, which can be discounted in the medium term). That is why the United States and Israel seem relaxed about waiting for the autumn before a new round of negotiations.
The idea that everyone would bow down before Iran if it got nuclear-weapons capability is fanciful. Actions lead to reactions, and one of the reactions to deployed weapons (if there were no immediate war) would be sanctions in perpetuity and possibly an American nuclear umbrella over the West’s friends in the region. In such circumstances, what power would Iran acquire as a result of having nukes, other than deterrence?
Finally, it should be noted that Iran’s economy has been floundering, its armed forces out of date. It has minimal stocks of modern air and land weapons and has lost influence in Arab countries as a combined result of sanctions, the turmoil caused by repression after its disputed election in 2009, and the Arab spring. Since the shah’s day, the balance of power has tilted heavily against Iran, especially as the armies of the GCC have become far stronger. Some experts think the air force of the United Arab Emirates alone could take out the entire Iranian one.
Iran’s influence has fluctuated. It is rising in Iraq. Its help is desperately needed by Bashar Assad in Syria. But elsewhere, the “rise of Persia” is a myth.
Sir Richard Dalton
British ambassador to Iran, 2003-06