What will likely not happen is that Iran will just one day flip a switch and build a weapon. Ambiguity has long been a part of the country's nuclear strategy. "I don't think there's going to be a day, and then a 'day after,' " says Chubin, author of "Iran's Nuclear Ambitions." "It's going to be blurry as it has been."
There is good reason for its opacity. Once it were to declare that it was a nuclear power, Iran would face all the international wrath and condemnation that would come with it – including for having violated the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which it is a signatory.
"I think it's in their interest to go to the limit, bring their capabilities there, and then – when there are milestones – decide whether to go forward," says Olli Heinonen, the former head of safeguards at the IAEA, now at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. "Once you put it down that you have nuclear weapons, you are in a different situation. But while you have the ambiguity and people really don't know, and you have maybe not broken all the rules of the NPT, then you are much better off because you can then get some international support."
If Iran were to become a nuclear power, the most immediate question would be what it means for Israel, where warnings have reached histrionic heights.