"Absolutely nothing will happen," says Martin Van Creveld, an Israeli historian and author of some 20 books on military strategy. "Israel has what it takes to deter Iran, and the Iranians know it."
Mr. Van Creveld is implying that Israel's own nuclear arsenal of an estimated 200 warheads would prevent any Iranian first strike. Israel has the only such arsenal in the Middle East, and – unlike Iran's program – it has never been subject to UN inspection or safeguards.
"Say they build one bomb – it's not good enough. They need how many – 2, 3, 5, 10, 20? And that will take them a long time, so it's all nonsense," says Van Creveld. Iran is "not going to commit suicide by dropping the bomb – or even threatening to drop the bomb – on us."
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."