The United States, Israel, the Arab States, and a Nuclear Iran

  • Oct 7, 2008

    Iran’s nuclear ambitions and missile programs, and their interactions with its growing capabilities for asymmetric warfare, are becoming steadily more critical security issues for the US, Iran’s neighbors, and the international community. The foreign and domestic policy implications for the US will be a major issue the next administration must address during its first months in office.

    Iran’s actions, and the Iraq War, have already made major changes in the military balance in the Gulf and the Middle East. Iran may still be several years to half a decade away from becoming a meaningful nuclear power, but even a potential Iranian nuclear weapon has already led Iran’s neighbors, the US, and Israel to focus on the nuclear threat it can pose and its long-range missile programs.

    The CSIS has addressed these policy issues in a number of studies and publications. These include Anthony H. Cordesman and Khalid R. Rodhan, Iran’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: the Real and Potential Threat, CSIS, 2006; and Anthony H. Cordesman and Martin Kleiber, Iran’s Military Forces and Warfighting Capabilities, CSIS, w2007.

    The Burke Chair has now prepared a new set of briefs that summarize Iran’s actions, current and potential capabilities, and the possible outcome of a nuclear exchange. This briefing draws on official statements, US intelligence judgments, work by the IAEA, and material provided by a number of other research centers, including the Nuclear Threat Initiative, ISIS, the Federation of American Scientists, Global Security, and the Brooking Institution.

    The briefing is entitled The US, Israel, the Arab States and a Nuclear Iran. The entire brief is available on the web at It can also be accessed by key topic at the web addresses shown below.

    Part I: Iranian Nuclear Programs:


    Iran’s nuclear program is continuing to improve and is becoming steadily more threatening. Because of Iran’s deceptive behavior, policy makers must plan to deal with a possible Iranian force with unknown characteristics, delivery systems, basing, and timelines. Key topics include.

    • Nuclear Uncertainty
    • Technology Base
    • Confusion Over the US NIE
    • DNI’s March 2008 Summary
    • Iran Nuclear Facility Locations
    • Imagery of Nuclear Facilities (imagery of suggesting Iranian deception with use of underground facilities)
    • Data on Iranian progress and amount of fissile material to build a nuclear weapon
    • Information pertaining to Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons plans from AQ Khan network
    • May 26, 2008 IAEA Report Summary
    • September 15, 2008 IAEA Report Summary
    • Statements By Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Response to  September 15, 2008 IAEA Report

    Part II: Iranian Missile Programs and Missile Defense Options:


    Iran’s development of missiles and other potential delivery systems is ongoing and producing steadily more capable systems. Recent missile developments have shown Iran’s may be actively working to equip missiles with nuclear warheads and to improve the range-payload capabilities of its missile program. These developments given new impetus to the development of missile and air defenses by Iran’s neighbors, Europe, and the US,.

    • Iranian Delivery Systems: Ballistic Missiles and Other Threats
      • Range of Delivery Options
      • Locations of Missile Sites
      • Table of the stages of Iranian missile production
      • Timeline of current Iranian missile developments
      • Shahab 3 & EMP Debate
      • Growth in Iranian Missile Range
    • Ballistic Missile Defense: US Progress and Future Options
      • Strengths and Limits of BMD/TMD
      • Options for Missile Defense
      • Build-up of US Missile Defense: July-December 2008
      • Proposed NATO System
      • US Test Developments
      • Director DoD OT&E Assessment on Test Realism
      • US Test Goals

    Part III: Iranian CBRN Options:


    Nuclear weapons are not Iran’s only option. Iran has biological and chemical options.  These weapons are often overlooked in the controversy over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  However, these weapons pose a serious threat regardless of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

    • Graph: CBRN Prompt (48-hour) Killing Effect in an Urban Environment
    • Q50 for Some Types of BW -  Open-Air Deployment
    • New Types of Biological Weapons
    • Non-State Actor CBR(N?)
    • State Actor Covert Bioterrorism,  Suitcase Nuclear
    • WME: “Weapons of Mass Effectiveness”

    Part IV: Military Options for Dealing with Iranian Threat:


    Although there are many possible military scenarios for dealing with Iran, there are major uncertainties regarding Iranian defensive doctrine, location of HVT’s, non-state actors, covert operations, and alliances. The international community can wait for diplomacy for the time being, but it cannot ignored the need to develop effective military option, including defense and deterrence.   

    • Dealing with Nuclear Uncertainty
    • Possible “Wars”
    • Strike on Iran?
    • Israeli Prevention, Preemption of Iran
    • US Prevention, Preemption of Iran
    • The Restrike Issue
    • Iranian Post-Strike/ Parallel Iranian Options
    • Key Mid-Term Force Posture  Decisions
    • Arms Race; “War of Intimidation”

    Part V: Iranian Capabilities to Respond to Preventive Attack:


    Iran’s response to a preventative attack could involve asymmetric tactics throughout the region with the IRGC as well as the use of non-state actors. Iran could respond by attacking oil sources and transit routes, such as pipelines, the Strait of Hormuz, etc. The history of oil shocks coupled with the effectiveness of asymmetric strategy and tactics make these types of attacks very likely in the event of a preventive strike on Iran. Making this type of attack more likely is the fact that the balance of forces in the region is unfavorably to a conventional military counter attack by Iran.

    • Near-Term Iranian Response: Air and Missile Defense Capabilities
      • Iran’s Current Air/Missile Defenses
      • TOR-M Short Range Air Defense
      • S-300 (SA-10), S-400 (SA-12)
    • Near-Term Iranian Response: Conventional Capabilities and Options
      • Land Force Threats
      • Comparative Military Manpower (Gulf States)
      • Comparative Total Armor Strength (Gulf States)
      • Comparative Total Gulf Tank Strength (Gulf States)
      • Comparative Artillery Strength (Gulf States)
      • Comparative Self-Propelled Rapid Maneuver Artillery Strength (Gulf States)
      • Keeping a Decisive US Qualitative Edge in US Forces and Arms Transfers to the Gulf
      • Air/Missile Threats
      • Comparative Gulf Total & High Quality Combat Air Strength
      • Naval Threats
      • Comparative Major Naval Combat Ships (Gulf States)
      • Key Ships for Asymmetric Warfare (Gulf States)
      • Anti-Ship Missile Ships (Gulf States)
      • Amphibious Ships & Landing Craft (Gulf States)
    • Near-Term Iranian Response: Asymmetric Capabilities and Options
      • Most Likely Foreign Threats Are Not Formal Conflicts
      • Planning for Asymmetric Warfare
      • Tangible Examples
      • The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
      • MENA Oil  Infrastructure
      • Vulnerability of Gulf Oil Fields
      • Hormuz: Breaking the Bottle at the Neck
      • “Closing the Gulf”
      • Abu Musa, Tumbs, Hormuz: Factoids
      • History of Oil Shocks
      • Rising Output From Gulf Oil Producers
      • US EIA Estimate of Future Oil Prices
      • World Energy Use
      • Net Import Share of U.S. Liquid Fuels Consumption
      • Growth of Total Asia Oil Demand
      • Growth of Chinese and US Oil Demand
      • Meeting the Critical Infrastructure Security Challenge

    Part VI: The Warfighting Implications of An Iranian Nuclear Force


    The data for the future nuclear balance in the region involves massive uncertainties regarding  force strength, doctrine, and employability. The only certainty is that it is one thing to rattle sabers, and another to go to nuclear war. The consequences of such an exchange would be catastrophic. In the end, the only way to win is not to play.

    • Key Actors in 2010-2020
      • Iran’s Hypothetical Forces
      • Israel’s Hypothetical Forces
      • US Hypothetical Forces
      • Syrian Hypothetical Forces
      • Gulf Hypothetical Forces
      • Non-State Hypothetical Forces
      • An 2015-2020 Israeli-Iranian Nuclear Exchange
      • Introductory Cautions
      • Targeting and Existential Strikes
      • Counterforce, Countervalue, Counterpopulation
      • Near Use to Warning Shot: Crisis “Management”
      • Iranian-Israeli Exchange
      • Israeli vs. Iranian Direct Lethality
      • Fall  Out
      • Israel’s Key Cities
      • Israel: High Value Target Areas
      • Iran High Value Population Centers
      • Tehran
    • Arab and Gulf Cases
      • Other Exchange and Deterrence Issues are Critical
      • Syrian “Wild Card”-Israeli Exchange
      • Syria: High Value Population Centers
      • Egypt: High Value Population Centers
      • Iran Nuclear, US Conventional
      • WME: “Weapons of Mass Effectiveness”
      • The Gulf Target Base
      • Iran Nuclear, US Nuclear
      • GCC Options
      • The “War Game” Paradox: The Only Way to Win is Not to Play

    Part VII: The Problem of International Response and Arab Attitudes


    The US does not yet have popular international support for any action against Iran, but it faces a special problem with Arab attitudes. A number of polls by the Pew Trust, Gallup, ABC, BBC, ARD, and other sources have shown the level of anger and distrust the US must deal with. Recent work by Brookings provides an overview of the views of Arab nations regarding US involvement in Middle East Region in various capacities and the Iranian Nuclear Program)

    This report will be regularly updated and corrections and additions would be most welcome. Please address corrections and additions to

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Anthony H. Cordesman