My guess is that Iran will have working nuclear weapons and missiles capable of "delivering" them within the next five or fewer years. (somehow using the verb "deliver" with launching a nuclear weapon cries for the use of quotation marks in my mind.)
My guess, also, is that the US and the West will do nothing more to impede this process, other than issue very strong and very meaningless proclamations and rhetoric.
I also am guessing that Israel would love to stop this but will be pressured by the West not to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities.
As a result, I expect two things from Israel:
- They will (continue to?) have bombers with nuclear warheads in the air and at the ready 24/7, prepared to annihilate Iran, or portions thereof, should Iran send any nuclear weapons to attack Israel. Iran's leaders will assume this. The only question then, is how much their religious fanaticism and hatred of Israel will overcome the presumed deterrent effect of Israel's potential retaliation. [Former students will recognize this as part of my exposition of game theory and the prisoners' dilemma. See this].
- At the same time, with heavy assistance from the US, Israel will continue to work on its missile defense shield. The shield has been at best only partially successful against incoming rockets from Gaza, and it must be perfected to protect Israel from the possibility of incoming nuclear missiles from Iran (or elsewhere?).
What if bombers in the air and a missile shield don't deter Iran?
- In anticipation of this possibility, Israel could launch a pre-emptive strike [a la 1967]. It worked against Iraq later, too. For some reason I expect Israel would be VERY reluctant to do this, but I wouldn't rule it out.
- Alternatively, Israel could have a good enough missile shield system in place that they could intercept the missile over Iran (or Iraq or Syria). Despite fairly compelling evidence to the contrary, Iran (and others surely) would claim that Israel launched the weapon. Sadly this lie would be believed by too many Israelphobes.
My major hope is that the threat of mutual annihilation will deter the outbreak of a nuclear war in the middle east. I'm not entirely optimistic, though. Sometimes information is imperfect, sometimes errors in reasoning are made, and sometimes determination and beliefs affect decisions in unbelievable ways.