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A sober and salutary warning on Iran

Let it not be said that the US, Israel and everyone else hasn't been warned not tread more that cautiously about attacking Iran because of its alleged development of a nuclear capability.

"While a nuclear-armed Iran would pose significant new challenges to the United States and Israel, a military attack by either country to prevent Tehran from developing a weapon could well prove counter-productive, according to a major new report released here Wednesday by a think tank close to the administration of President Barack Obama.

And while preventive military action should remain on the table, it should only be considered if Iran "has made a clear move toward weaponization", and there is a "reasonable expectation" that such a strike would set back Iran's programme "significantly", among other conditions, according to the 55-page report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

The report, "Risk and Rivalry: Iran, Israel and the Bomb," also argues that both the U.S. and Israel should avoid taking any steps that limit prospects for a negotiated agreement designed to dissuade Tehran from "weaponising" its nuclear programme.

In particular, they should not insist - as Israel and its backers in the U.S. Congress are doing - that Tehran end all uranium enrichment on its own territory as a condition of any negotiated settlement since such a stance "would most likely result in no deal at all", according to the report, whose lead author, Colin Kahl, served as the Pentagon's top Middle East policy-maker under Obama until January.

Iran, it argues, appears to be pursuing a "nuclear hedging" strategy designed to develop the indigenous technical capability to rapidly produce nuclear weapons if its leadership decides to do so, but, as of now, it would need at least a year – and probably more – to achieve that goal. It is quite possible, according to the report, that the regime will be satisfied with achieving a "'threshold' capability just short of full-fledged weaponization".

If, however, it does develop a weapon, say the report's authors, who also include Melissa Dalton and Matthew Irvine, Tehran is "unlikely" to use it or transfer a nuclear device to terrorists to use against Israel or any other target."

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