Courtesy of WikiLeaks, something to chew on as the latest Iran talks collapse and, per J.E. Dyer’s prediction, we prepare to let Tehran drag the process into 2011. Egypt — perennially a bullet and a disgruntled general away from being the most dangerous country in the region — is not going to cope well with Iranian nuclearization:
President Hosni Mubarak warned U.S. officials that Egypt might develop nuclear arms if Iran obtained atomic weapons, cables made public by Wikileaks showed. A U.S. ambassador described Egypt, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid since making peace with Israel in 1979, as a “stubborn and recalcitrant ally” in a February 2009 cable. … A May 2008 cable quoted Mubarak, whose country does not have diplomatic ties with Iran, telling a group of U.S. officials that “we are all terrified” about a possible nuclear Iran.
Now, of course, the reason weapons are pursued doesn’t really determine how they eventually get used. That’s where arms races really get fun.
Egypt could very well point to Iran as a pretext for going nuclear, and realists could very well insist that parity between Shiite, Sunni, and Jewish rivals enhances regional stability. It’s questionable whether that stays true in the context of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and a nervous Israeli air force — or even during an inevitably troubled Mubarak succession, to be conducted against the backdrop of an uneasy cold peace — but at least there’s a theory as to why Egyptian nuclearization might not throw the region into chaos. And who knows: maybe the transition to Gamal Mubarak will be smooth. It could happen.
But none of that accounts for how Egypt will throw its newfound nuclear weight around regionally. There’s little doubt that Cairo would take to bullying neighbors over how the Nile is divvied up, for instance. Regional hegemons will be regional hegemons, after all, and the Egyptians really want that water. The way weaker states might respond, up to and including asymmetrical warfare, doesn’t bode particularly well for peace.
And none of it accounts for what will be happening to already persecuted Jews and Christians inside Egypt. Muslim radicals will run roughshod over religious minorities, correctly guessing that no one will pressure the fragile Egyptian regime to stop them. The fragile Egyptian regime will in turn conclude that it’s better to have wannabe jihadists beating up on religious minorities than on the government. Christians are already getting burned alive in the streets, and the Obama White House has already been loath to lean on Mubarak over it. Wait until Cairo gets nukes and every iota of pressure elicits a “Well, would you prefer the Muslim Brotherhood” response.