Bruce Riedel on the alleged threat posed by Iran to Israel and the U.S.

We hear it practically everyday, for one reason or another, Iran is a threat that needs to be countered. Nowhere does this kind of rhetoric thrive more clearly or consistently than among Israel advocates who operate as political analysts.

In a 2010 article that compares the present to the years leading up to WWII, neoconservative pundit William Kristol claims the alleged Iranian threat is shared by Israel and the U.S.:

The Iranian regime and its pursuit of nuclear weapons constitute the dominant threat to the security of Israel and to the national security interests of the United States in the Middle East.

Not true, according to a report in the Daily Beast by Bruce Riedel, a counterterrorism expert and CIA veteran who advised three U.S. presidents. While stating that “Iran is a dangerous country,” Riedel explains why it is “not an existential threat to either Israel or America.” Iran’s attempts to appear militarily powerful are “intended to hide the real balance of power in the region, which overwhelmingly favors Israel,” writes Riedel, adding that the imbalance will continue even if Iran acquires nuclear capability. Israel isn’t only protected by clear military superiority which includes an undeclared nuclear arsenal of at least “100 nuclear weapons,” it also has extensive material and financial backing from the most powerful country in the world.

Israel will continue to enjoy the support of the world’s only superpower for the foreseeable future. Assistance from the United States includes roughly $3 billion in aid every year. That is the longest-running financial-assistance program in American history, dating back to the 1973 war. It is never challenged or cut by Congress and permits Israeli planners to do multiyear planning for defense acquisitions with great certitude about what they can afford to acquire.

U.S. assistance is also far more than just financial aid. The Pentagon and Israel engage in constant exchanges of technical cooperation on virtually all elements of the modern battlefield. Missile defense has been at the center of this exchange for more than 20 years now. The United States and Israel also have a robust and dynamic intelligence relationship that helps ensure Israel’s qualitative edge.

Riedel’s report is a qualified wake up call for those who argue that the Islamic Republic poses a serious military threat to Israel or the U.S. It also indirectly explains why Israel advocates are actually threatened by Iran. Riedel discusses the “balance of power in the region” which has been in Israel’s favor for decades. Well-known analysts like Kristol who consistently argue against pursuing diplomacy with Iran are protecting Israel’s interests by working to maintain that imbalance. They don’t want Israel’s “special relationship” with the U.S to be hampered in any way by players who could compete for the same benefits, and Iran, unlike Israel, has much to the offer the U.S. geopolitically in return.

But Riedel isn’t arguing for diplomacy here. He’s debunking the hyped up threat of Iran and related damaging discourse that often appears unexamined in mainstream media reports.

For arguments about diplomacy, follow Paul Pillar who writes regularly about it in the National Interest. He recently argued that diplomacy shouldn’t be considered a “reward” but a “tool” which can be used to “advance the interests of the state” which wields it. He concludes by pointing out another reason why certain analysts are opposed to using talk as a form of diplomacy with Iran:

Of course, if one wants an incident to spin out of control because one is hankering for a war, that would be a reason not to talk. We know that George W. Bush thought along those lines when he talked with Tony Blair about how the United States might provoke an incident that could be the excuse for launching what became the Iraq War.

More food for thought.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. How can Israel, a country that refuses to be bound by NPT demand others abide that very treaty? The principle tenet of that treaty being that nuke powers will not threaten use of nukes against non-nuke states. So, what does “all options remain on the table” mean? What does the transfer of those bunker busters mean, in light of the continuing threats from the US and Israel?
    NPT is dead and we voided it. Why then do we keep appealing to that treaty when our principle proxy refuses it? I guess part of the answer lies in Iran’s (at least nominal) adherence to the treaty. Iran needs to reject the treaty till it’s most bellicose rival accepts it. This should put pressure on Israel and would provide a consistent thrust for a nuke free ME.

  2. The Iranian “threat” has been hyped just as the Soviet threat was grossly exaggerated for decades.

    The “Iranian nuke” treat is only the latest in the series of pretenses for demonizing Iran ever since the Ayatollahs kicked out the Shah along with American /Israeli influence.

  3. What’s the point of the Riedel’s last thought quoted here? This is not 2003, and Barack Obama is not George W. Bush.

  4. Obama is not George Bush? What’s the difference in foreign policy?

    Obama already fabricated a potential Qadhafi massacre as a pretense for waging war on Libya. That shows that he is most certainly NOT above using false pretenses, creating an “incident,” or having a proxy create an incident to go to war with Iran.

    The difference between Iran and Libya is that Iran is capable of inflicting damage on Persian Gulf oil infrastructure, jeopardizing passage through the Strait of Hormuz, and otherwise causing problems for Western economies at a time when they are extremely fragile.

    It would take an idiot to attack Iran now and risk Western economies. But desperate men do desperate things, and Obama is likely to get increasingly desperate as the odds of his reelection dwindle. The question is whether Obama is stupid enough to attack. Even Bush wasn’t that stupid…

  5. John, I usually agree with jon that attacking Iran is untenable. However, you posit a scenario that is more plausible. I don’t think it would happen, but some limited attack could. Even limited engagements can spin beyond our expectations. Obama is a politician and thus we can’t rule out the most base craven-ness.

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