US, Gulf and Israeli Perspectives of the Threat from Iran

Iran has emerged as a major national security challenge to the US, its neighbors, and Israel. This is not simply a matter of proliferation. It involves a wide range of potential threats, including asymmetric warfare. Moreover, Iran competes at a strategic level using non-state actors like the Hezbollah and Hamas, its ties to states like Syria and Venezuela, and support of extremist movement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most critical focus of this competition is in the Gulf area. This is the area where Iran can already exert a major military threat, and where the flow of petroleum exports is critical to the entire global economy. The Gulf, however, cannot be separated from Iran’s ceaseless effort to export Arab-Israel tensions and conflicts, and use Israel as an excuse for its military build-up.

The end result is that four major sets of actors are now involved in the Gulf area in dealing with Iran: The US, the Southern Gulf or “GCC” states, Iraq, and Israel. Each perceives the threat differently, and each poses a different set of threats to Iran. These perceptions also cannot be separated from the fact that Europe, other oil importers, Turkey, other Arab states, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia also interact and compete with Iran.

The Burke Chair at CSIS is developing a series of briefs that address these issues, based on the work of Anthony Cordesman and Abdullah Toukan. They present the data affecting key issues in graphic and map form, as well as survey key trends and technical issues. The first of these briefs is now available on the CSIS web site. This two-part report is entitled US, Gulf, and Israeli Perspectives on the Threat from Iran, and is available at:
Part 1: http://csis.org/files/publication/110121_Iran-US-IsraeliPersp_1.pdf  
Part 2: http://csis.org/files/publication/110121_Iran-US-IsraeliPersp_2.pdf

This brief examines the critical role enemy exports play in determining the strategic impact of Iran’s competition with regional states, the US, and Israel. It compares the different perspectives they have of the Iranian threat, and examines the full range of the Iranian military build-up, including conventional forces, asymmetric forces, missiles, and nuclear programs. It also addresses the balance of military capabilities, the challenges in different security strategies for countering Iran, and how Iran’s forces might evolve in the future.

This set of briefs will be followed by a risk analysis of the impact of Iran’s nuclear and missile programs on the situation in the Gulf. It will also examine the options for deterring and containing Iranian competition, as well as the cost-benefits of preventive military action. Future studies will model possible conflict scenarios between Israel and Iran; and the US and Iran in detail.

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Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy

Abdullah Toukan