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. So you think Obama is indeed planning to attack Iran? Please tell us how he will go about orchestrating the war. And please include what you think the timeline will be.

  2. RE: “We hear it practically everyday, for one reason or another, Iran is a threat that needs to be countered.” ~ Jasmin Ramsey

    NOTE: Bibi: Israel Will Raise ‘David’s Sword’ Against Iran ~ By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 9/28/11 (excerpt)…But the most interesting and frightening element of the interview was his [Netanyahu’s] comments about Iran. Other reporters have been noting that Bibi lately has been waxing apocalyptic and mystical about the possibly oncoming war with Iran. In this interview he says:

    Iran’s nuclear programs are turning it into an existential danger to the State of Israel. The question is not just what Israel is doing to stop it, but what the world is doing. The awareness by the world community that Iran is progressing on a track toward developing a nuclear weapon obligates it to act so that Iran does not get this weapon. With every day that passes, Iran gets closer. The obligation of the international community to act grows as the fear [that Iran progresses toward a bomb] does.
    You must keep in mind: that we aspire toward peace; but at the same time we must wield the sword of David to defend the Jewish State.

    Of course, in Bibi’s skewed world-view, David’s sword was raised only to defend his people, not in aggression against a victim. But we should keep in mind that David’s sword slew an Israelite enemy and led to the killer’s annointment as King of Israel…
    …Bibi (and to a lesser extent, Barak) have a very complicated complex that is little short of messianic and frightening. In the past, I’ve written dismissively about Bibi saying he has no principles and that even his so-called Jewish values appear to be manufactured. Now, I’m not so sure. And I don’t know which is worse, a megalomaniac with no principles or values; or a Jewish megalomaniac with religious-nationalist principles and values. They both scare the living hell out of me…

  3. None of those questions matter. You know that there are dozens of ways we could push thbe boundries and offend. We could drop a few bombs with little immediate blowback.

    Again, I am inclined to agree with your skeptical view, I’m simply saying, we can’t rule it out. Sadly, an October surprise can’t be dismissed. Here’s a question back at you, after refusing to answer yours; do you thing bombing Iran would help O with independent voters?

  4. Ramadan 2012 is just over. So are the Democratic and Republican conventions. Republicans has capitalized on a steady stream of horrific economic news. Unemployment is 15%. The S&P500 is 800. The federal government deficit has reached $2.2 Trillion. Obama is barely alive politically, heading toward 40% in the polls.

    A rocket–not previously known to exist in Hezbollah’s arsenal–strikes the Israeli oil center in Eilat, hitting an oil storage tank, creating a huge blaze, but otherwise not doing much damage.

    Israel retaliates against Iran. Without asking questions about the incident, Obama goes to the UNSC, citing an existential threat to the US and Israel. Russia vetoes the resolution.

    The US, citing its right to defend itself, launches an attack on Iran in mid-September, 6 weeks before the election–enough time for rampant jingoism to carry Obama through, he hopes. (He learned from Papi Bush’s launching a war against Iraq too soon for it to win him the election. Israeli pre-election wars are now the model.)

    Like I said, Obama has already established his creds by using false “humanitarian” pretenses for war in Libya. And, desperate men do desperate things. But the Pentagon needs some serious convincing before it will start a risky war against Iran, so America’s grievance against Iran must be much higher. Perhaps an Iranian retaliation against Israel will be provoked or staged…

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