Iran is building "the bomb". Iran will be the fifth power in the region to possess the bomb, and is certainly the first of what will soon be a rapid escalation of regional states with the wealth and wherewithal to acquire the bomb. In addition, this proliferation of bomb owning states is a function of economics, and as such, is inevitable, its containment improbable by any rational measure. Finally, the "bomb" itself is nothing more than a bargaining chip amongst established bomb owning states to advance their own self interests, those self interests all hinging around... oil.
Pakistan has a mitt full of bombs, and is one of the most unstable nation states in the world. They have the bomb because their hated rival India has their own mitt full of bombs. Israel has a whack of over 200 bombs, none of which are regulated in any way by anybody. It's a secret. Americans have the bomb. America has thousands of bombs, is the only nation to have ever used the bomb, and currently has a collection of the best of them scattered in and around their vassal state, Iraq. There are lots of bombs in the Middle East, their plurality irrelevant where the simple act of just firing a single one can and will do the job of melting down the western world.
All the bombs that do exist in the Middle East - or anywhere else there is land, sea, or space above - are in the possession of well advanced technological states with the enormous amounts of wealth needed to design, build, and maintain a weapon of unimaginable cost. Except Pakistan and North Korea, who simply stole their way in through the back door, and are the most poorly dressed members at the party. As it is the nature of our global economic system that wealth is power, and growth means wealth, the onward march of progress will bring more and more emerging nations into a position where they too can have the bomb.
We have the first Muslim bomb in Pakistan, the first Jewish bomb in Israel, and soon the first Persian bomb. We need an Arab bomb now one would guess to complete the set. Turkey will need the bomb, and will soon be able to afford one. That would be an unbroken chain of bomb wielding states stretching from the Straights of Taiwan to the Suez Canal, covering every major religion, culture, and form of politics. A veritable bomb "beltway" if you will. Poor Africa, no bomb for you.
So, there are lots of bombs in the most unstable region of the world, and there are destined to be more. Iran will be one of them. Given the bigger picture, why does that matter? Iran has the bomb - so what? In fact, Iran without a bomb makes the place just a smidgen less stable than Iran with the bomb, and a smidgen in the nuclear age is a lot.
If nations feel compelled to carve gargantuan amounts of productivity out of their people for bombs, it is because of the lessons learned as worthless peons in the golden age of the cold war. Money talks, and money is best represented by the bomb. Like feathered plumage, a radiating display of nuclear quills signals to everybody that there will be consequences to their most impolite actions. Far from being an offensive doomsday machine, the lesson of the cold war is that the bomb is a superb defensive weapon. Fraught with the fear and danger of unknown futures, a parked nuclear warhead is a menacing threat. Once fired, it is useless, spent on well understood, mutual, and arithmetically assured destruction.
To be effective, that parked nuke must have a threat of equal veracity to threaten it. Every nuke needs an enemy. The failure to provide a compensating catastrophic consequence for the use of a bomb makes it perfectly rational to use one. Want to add stability to the world? Give Iran the bomb. Just give them a bunch. That takes not just those, but all regional bombs off the table, turning a parcel of offensive weapons into a bushel of defensive ones.
It's called "Game Theory", and is an essential component to every bomb owner's manuals. A perfectly rational series of mathematical equations that have ruled the atomic age since physicists played poker. A systems analysis of the range of decisions a bomb owner must make to maximize his position without breaking 21. Game Theory predicts that nuclear superiority rests on what the other guy is thinking about you. It insists that both parties must have a credible threat, each threat with consequences that each player feels is not in his long term interests. Mutually assured destruction rests on the balance and parity of each side's threat. Without that parity, imbalance makes the use of a nuke almost certain in circumstances where parity would otherwise prevail.
This was, and is an American doctrine. However it has come to develop into the basic architecture of deterrence in the nuclear age. When Americans struggle to insist that a nuclear Iran is bad for everybody, they understand perfectly the irrationality of the condemnation. Americans warn that an Iran with the bomb would use it on Israel, and is the sole reason Iran is pursuing one at all. Israel argues it must stop Iran as it is an "existential" threat to their existence, and thus, an Iranian bomb the very end of that existence. Both know otherwise of course. Both know Iran will get the bomb and when they do, they will not fire the one or two they have at Israel and the United States. That action has virtually no offsetting effect on their enemies to ever come close to the punishment they would suffer in return for the decision. They won't make that call, which explains why they have not invaded another country for six hundred years and have a civilization that stretches back thousands. They are not a stupid people.
So what's all the fuss about?
Iran has Oil. Iran is the world's fourth largest crude exporter, a card carrying charter member of OPEC that pumps in excess of two and a half million barrels a day of clean, inexpensive black goo. Iran's reserves of clean crude are the third largest in the world. Iran also controls the Straits of Hormuz, through which forty percent of the western world's oil flows, and is a long fly ball from Saudi Arabia's biggest oil export hub at Ras Tanura. Iran is wealthy enough to build a bomb because Iran has oil. Iran is a threat to the west's oil supply, as well as the Arab players who are traditional enemies of the Persians. Iran is also across the street from Iraq and thus, in America's back yard. Israel is in Iran's front yard, the home of five thousand years of history between Persians and Jews.
Iran sits atop a veritable sea of the world's most precious strategic commodity, and is surrounded by well intentioned western interests aligned with its enemies, all of whom possess the bomb. So Iran wants a bomb. No kidding.
Iran sells 16% of its oil exports to China, about 411 million barrels a day and rising, and is China's second largest source of crude after Saudi Arabia. China needs oil in quantities never before imagined to fuel its growth, and is scouring the world for wall flowers untouched by political ideology. China is buying up Africa under the noses of the squabbling cold war warriors, and has no dog in the ancient races of the Middle East. It needs oil and that's all, and it has invested over $100 billion dollars in Iran to prove it.
China considers Iran a new friend in a formerly insular world. And a friend in need is a friend indeed. China has its own regional threats, and one of them is India, another of those traditional enemy types that drive western sensibilities nuts. A China friendly, oil soaked Iran is a wonderful way to influence India from another direction. China, of course, has the bomb.