A nuclear Iran would be destabilizing, but it would not threaten the existence of the US or Israel, he says – a view echoed by a number of senior Israeli security officials. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan called an Israeli strike against Iran "the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
Riedel, of the Brookings Institution, envisions a kind of "mutual assured destruction" stability, too. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, "there is no evidence to suggest the Islamic Republic of Iran is suicidal or seeking to end itself in a mass moment of Armageddon," he says. "In fact, to the contrary, the underlying motif of this revolution from Day 1 has been the survival of the revolution, to keep a revolution alive in Iran."
In Israel, even talking about living with a nuclear-armed Iran has long been taboo because it might appear to concede that what the US, Israel, and Europe have declared "unacceptable" is, in fact, acceptable. Yet that was the scenario of a simulation last October by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), an Israeli think tank affiliated with Tel Aviv University, that gave insights into what might happen across the region if Iran became a nuclear state.
The surprising result, the day after a hypothetical Iranian nuclear test, was not war. Instead, all the main players – from Washington to Moscow to Tel Aviv – adjusted rather easily to the new reality, with few dramatic changes in behavior.