Deliberations over the sanctions against North Korea or Iran bring to memory the League of Nations talk before WWII. Was German refusal to pay reparations a casus belli? The remilitarization of the Rhineland? Extensive military production? No single such issue is a casus belli. Politicians bogged down in details don’t see the grand picture of imminent war. Then nor now.

The West has repeatedly demonstrated its impotence in the face of nuclear proliferation. China got nuclear weapons with impunity. Pakistan got a slap on the wrist of sanctions. North Korea’s rulers bent under the weight of sanctions: the Japanese refused to sell them melons. Sanctions against Iran would hardly include oil, and even so the mullahs can do without the oil for some time—though the rising price of oil will be blamed on the sanctions.

Ahmadinejad needs a rhetorical, not a battlefield, enemy. Iran will use the bomb to gain dominance in the Muslim world. That spells the development of a shiite axis, huge discontent in the Arab world, and an arms race. Arab states will rush to develop nuclear weapons to be on a par with Iran. The Arabs know that Iran won’t attack Israel with nuclear weapons but could well attack them. Central Asian countries will also be concerned because Iran includes them in its sphere of dominance. They have oil money and Russian support against Iran, and will join the arms race, probably nuclear arms.

Iran will give Israel’s enemies such as Syria or Hezbollah a nuclear shield. When the Muslim Brotherhood officially comes to power in Egypt and switches the policy to confrontation with Israel, Iranian nuclear protection will let them build the Egyptian army up in safety. An Arab nuclear umbrella invalidates Israel’s only viable military strategy, preemption. If Iran signs a mutual defense treaty with, say, Lebanon, Israel will be unable to operate against Hezbollah since, technically, every Israeli incursion into Lebanon is an aggression. Lebanon would be able to conduct an undeclared war against Israel, Egypt would mobilize and move its troops into the Sinai, but Israel—concerned with Iranian nuclear protection—could do nothing.

Nuclear containment is a game of nerves. With Iranian nuclear warheads in Lebanon and Palestine, what would Israel do? Escalation, as Kennedy did in the Cuban missile crisis, is unlikely. Israel lost credibility when we did not stop Iran from deploying Zelzal-2 missiles in Beka’a. Iran will move nuclear weapons into Lebanon under a mutual defense treaty, a clearly protective measure. Every reasonable person would agree that Iranian nuclear weapons defend Lebanon, are not intended for aggression. The Israeli government won’t act, as it didn’t act against Egyptian, Libyan, Algerian, Moroccan, Pakistani, and Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran will win the war of nerves. Mutually assured destruction works against tiny Israel.

With sufficiently aggressive leadership, Iran could give any state willing to attack Israel a nuclear umbrella. Iran could threaten nuclear retaliation against Israel if we attack enemy population centers or even anywhere deep in enemy territory. Soviet Union used that approach successfully in 1973. It gave Egypt SAM-5 anti-air missiles to limit Israeli operations to the front zone and moved the missiles with nuclear warheads to prevent Israeli nuclear retaliation. Iran could use the nuclear umbrella to inhibit Israeli preemption, penetrating strikes, and generally any combat on enemy territory. Bereft of the Sinai, Israel lacks territory of her own from which to conduct mobile defense. Iran’s nuclear capability opens the way for the Muslim world to encroach on Israel by conventional means.