So what might hard-liners - bloodied by rebellion, betrayed by apostates they despise, and fearing retribution for their crimes - do? Would they conceive of some final direct use of these dreadful weapons against us as some final “victory” over their enemies? Would they fear bringing retribution down on the revolutionaries supplanting them?
Of course, to many this would appear to be irrational and vicious in the extreme. But would it appear so to elements within the regime who consider the revolutionaries supplanting the Islamic state as unholy murderers? For by the time the former regime would face these decisions - after several months of vicious rebellion – it would likely consider the revolutionaries as anti-Islamic apostates (who, under Islamic law would merit death) and killers of the hard-liners’ friends and family.
Alternatively, might hard-liners on the run trade some weapons to other countries or terror groups for cash or sanctuary to save themselves and carry on the struggle in future and less direct ways? Might they stash other weapons away as future bargaining chips to prevent reprisals; weapons that would emerge among our enemies months or years later?
On the other hand, and as is now feared in Syria, the regime might simply lose control of these weapons. Terror groups or thieves might then sell them to other terrorist parties.
The very risk of these possibilities will present us not only with great dangers but also a great policy conundrum in addressing Iranian civil strife. Allowing the Ayatollahs to obtain nuclear arms will predictably empower their bloody suppression of Iranian democrats by steeply raising the risks of Western intervention. Will we side with anti-regime forces in their struggle against Iranian tyranny, knowing that Iran might exact an awful revenge? Or will we find ourselves held hostage to the fear of the loss of control or use of nuclear weapons? Will the regime itself try to hold us hostage? Will we then find ourselves in the position of having to conspire with the regime - tacitly or otherwise - to suppress its rebellion or to “manage” a transition in which the desires of the Iranian public are frustrated?
Worst of all, suppose we suffered a nuclear terror attack unleashed by the deposed Ayatollahs? Would we retaliate with nuclear strikes against the democratic rebels and innocent Iranians whom we had encouraged to take power? If you hesitate to say yes, then how can we be confident that we will deter such attacks upon us?
The strategy of mutual assured destruction of innocents under which we waged the Cold War was a necessary moral abomination. Are we so eager to embrace it again?
How the problem of Syrian WMD will ultimately be addressed and resolved remains to be seen. But it is clear that the only way to avoid much worse dilemmas is to prevent the existence of an Iranian nuclear arsenal.