The greatest danger posed by a nuclear Iran would be the increased likelihood of a Middle East nuclear war, Dennis Ross said.
“If Iran has nuclear weapons, the potential for nuclear war in the Middle East goes up dramatically,” Ross, whojust retired as the White House’s top Iran policy official, said during his first post-Obama administration address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The danger, Ross said, lies in the complete lack of communication between Israel and Iran, as opposed to open lines between earlier nuclear antagonists, like the United States and the Soviet Union.
“You are not going to have a stable situation where anyone can feel that they are going to wait,” he said. “If there is the slightest indication that Iran is changing its readiness, can Israel wait? ... The potential for miscalculation would be enormous.”
Ross said President Obama was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“The administration prides itself on a certain reality that it does what it says,” he said, referring to Obama’s making good on his promise to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
Regarding Iran, Ross said, when Obama “says all options remain on the table, it doesn’t mean that force is his first choice, but it means that that’s an option that he intends to exercise.”
On Israeli-Palestinian peace, Ross said the psychological gap between the sides remains wide, although substantively they are close.
He said that absent talks, Israel should preserve a “political horizon” that “validates” Palestinians that favor nonviolence, such as the current Palestinian Authority leadership. He suggested allowing the Palestinian police to expand their presence in parts of the West Bank and increasing economic access for Palestinians to all of the West Bank.
Ross has returned to work at the Washington Institute, an influential Washington think tank where he served as a top scholar from 2001 to 2009.