Iran’s long quest for supremacy in the Gulf appears to be reaching a head as a coalition of Western and Arab powers join forces with Israel to stop the Republic at all costs.
The US, Israel and other Arab states have long viewed Iran with suspicion, if not hostility.
Washington never forgave the mullahs for the way they humiliated America in 1979 and Iran was seen as posing a direct challenge to American hegemony in the Gulf.
The Arab states, many with restive Shia minorities of their own, have always feared that Iran could stoke unrest and instability within their borders. Historic Sunni-Shia and Arab-Persian fault lines remain strong.
Iran and Israel are locked in a battle of their own after Iran repeatedly threatened to wipe out the Jewish state and became the chief sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah.
The mullahs developed both a visceral hatred for America and an abiding fear that the US would subvert their revolution and overthrow their regime as they did with the government of Prime Minister Mosaddegh in 1953.
Their fears were not wholly unjustified.
The US, for example, actively supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980 and was even complicit in helping Iraq deploy weapons of mass destruction against Iran.
Iran also saw the American invasion and occupation of neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a US strategy of encirclement. Open talk of regime change by the then Bush Administration further increased their sense of vulnerability.
Teheran hit back by supporting anti-American insurgents in Iraq as well as Afghanistan and building up its conventional forces. It was, however, no match for US Gulf allies who outspent Iran five to one on defence.
As General David Petraeus once boasted, the United Arab Emirates alone could take out the entire Iranian air force in the event of a war.
Given these developments, it wasn’t long before the mullahs concluded that only the possession of nuclear weapons could guarantee their security, protect their revolution and allow them greater room to manoeuvre.
The mullahs have seen how quickly Western powers can exploit unrest to affect regime change when it suits them. Nuclear weapons give them a free pass. Just ask Kim Jong-un.
The acquisition of nuclear weapons has, therefore, become something of an existential necessity for Teheran despite its denials.
If Iran was simply interested in the peaceful use of nuclear power, as it repeatedly claims, there are cheaper and far less controversial ways to acquire it. If it is as innocent as it purports to be, it should come clean, and come clean quickly.
It might be tempting to see Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons as merely a struggle for self-preservation if not for the fact that the regime in Teheran is an oppressive and despotic one that relies on force and fear to sustain itself. Its routine use of torture and other barbaric forms of punishment are well documented. It is also erratic and unpredictable.
The last thing the world needs is for such a regime to enjoy the kind of legitimacy and immunity that nuclear weapons confer.
The key question before the international community is, of course, how best to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Covert operations, widely believed to have been masterminded by Israeli intelligence, to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists and sabotage their nuclear facilities have slowed but not stopped Iran’s nuclear programme.
The Israelis, long accustomed to being the sole and unchallenged nuclear power in the region, along with their allies in the US Congress, have led the charge for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
President Barack Obama and other European leaders are understandably more cautious. None has much of an appetite for war, especially given the pressing economic challenges.
Sanctions are clearly the only viable option and must not be too easily dismissed.
There is no doubt that the latest round of sanctions are beginning to hit home. The Iranian currency has plunged a further 30% in the past few weeks, food prices have soared and industrial output disrupted.
Malaysian companies, for example, have halted shipments of palm oil to Iran because of payment difficulties.
New moves to crimp Iranian oil sales, if effective, would be even more devastating given that oil accounts for 60% of Iran’s GDP.
Iran has also become increasingly isolated. Syria, one of its few remaining friends, is on the brink of regime change from within. The neighbouring Gulf states have moved even closer to Washington than ever before.
Even Malaysia, which previously tended to be both sympathetic and supportive of Iran out of a misguided sense of Islamic solidarity, has quietly abandoned it.
At home, the Iranian regime is riven by a deepening power struggle and faces rising popular discontent as well. While the regime is still well entrenched, they may have overreached themselves by their headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons and might just start to see their own worst nightmares come true.
As the old saying goes, those who sow to the wind, reap a whirlwind.