Reliable Security Information

Living in the Margin Error--US Policy on Iran

Iran could well wind up being the top foreign policy and national security news story of 2010. Internal opposition has forced the government to strengthen its authoritarian grip and empowered hard liners in the regime to an even greater extent. Meanwhile, the US administration's "engagement" strategy has failed. The White House has embarked on a new stratagem, trying to build consensus for sanctions in the UN Security Counsel. That effort will fail as well. Meanwhile, between recent media allegations, the uncertainty of intelligence assessments on Iran's weapons program, and the secrecy in which the mullahs have shrouded around their plans for the future, we are now inside the margin of error for estimates as to when Iran will demonstrate it has a nuclear weapon and a missile with which to put it on a target.

Two recent reports by Heritage Foundation scholars offer key insights on the significant challenges faced by US policies towards Iran. The first paper by Middle East expert Jim Phillips examines the implications for the United States if Israel opts to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Phillips argues, "The United States would almost certainly be drawn into an Israeli-Iranian conflict. The Obama Adminis­tration must start planning now to counter and mini­mize the destabilizing consequences of an expected Iranian backlash." To mitigate the threats posed by Iran to U.S. national security and to protect U.S. interests, the United States must:

Recognize Israel's right to take action in self-defense against Iran's growing threat;
Prepare for a violent Iranian response to an Israeli preventive strike, including preparations for a possible U.S. war with Iran;
Deploy missile defenses to defend Israel and other U.S. allies from Iranian missile attacks; Enhance deterrence against Iranian attacks by making it clear to Iran's leadership that such attacks will make a bad situation worse for Iran;
Work with allies to take precautions to miti­gate the impact of a possible Iranian-instigated oil crisis; Block arms sales to Iran; and Veto any U.N. Security Council resolution that does not acknowledge Iran's provocations and continued defiance of U.N. Security Council res­olutions on the nuclear issue.

Phillips' most recent paper is companion to an earlier research paper that examines the implications for US policy in the wake of an Iranian nuclear test. A video of a discussion on the issue is also available.

A second important research paper by Heritage scholar Ariel Cohen examines Russian policy towards Iran. He concludes, Russia's interests in Iran fundamentally diverge from those of the United States. Russia considers Iran a partner and de facto ally in its plans to reshape the power balance in the Middle East and dilute U.S. influence in the region. The U.S. should expect only token assistance from Russia in countering the Iranian nuclear threat. Instead, the U.S. needs to develop a broader policy that convincingly argues that Iran will lose--even if it obtains nuclear weapons and that clearly demonstrates to the Russians that the risks of betting on Iran outweigh the potential rewards.

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