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Opinion

Hey America, Iran still isn't threat No. 1

Even after the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate a Saudi ambassador on US soil, Iran is not the threat to the US that most Americans – and political leaders – think it is. The mythical Iranian Goliath is still largely a fallacy.

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In any case, such a plot would seemingly go against Tehran’s most basic political interests. The last thing the Iranians would want is to empower the US-Saudi relationship. Several pundits have pointed out how the alleged plot also runs counter to Iran’s past behavior. Former Middle East CIA case officer Robert Baer even said, "this is totally uncharacteristic of them.”

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More broadly, any threat from Iran can be broken down into three categories – direct (military /economic), strategic (challenging broader US interests), or ideological.

Iran’s military capability never bounced back after the Iran-Iraq War, and Iran only ranks 61st internationally in military expenditures. As for being an economic threat, Iran is ranked 104th internationally in terms of GDP per capita and most certainly will not be giving the US (ranked 11th) a run for its money anytime soon.

It’s fair to say that Iran won’t launch a conventional military attack on the US or have the weight to throw any economic punches at America, but Washington’s strategic interests have fared a bit more precariously.

Iran's nuclear program is a strategic, not a direct, threat. Despite Mr. Ahmadinejad's annual performance at the UN General Assembly, the leadership in Tehran is rational and would be highly unlikely to actually deploy nuclear weapons. Doing so would ensure the obliteration of Iran, and the leadership in Tehran is eccentric, not suicidal. In September, Ahmadinejad offered to stop uranium enrichment at 20 percent enrichment (90 percent is considered weapons grade) if Iran were guaranteed fuel for a medical research reactor.

Yes, Iran has almost hit the nuclear capable mark, at which point it would possess the technical expertise and materials to move quickly to create a weapon. But if Iran manages to cross that threshold, it will be in the company of the estimated 40 states already in the nuclear capable club. Were the Iranians to gain capability and then to arm, Washington would need to prepare for some muscle flexing – not Armageddon.

The United States is also concerned that a nuclear capable Iran would be emboldened to further support Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist organizations in the region. But Israel’s superior conventional military (ranked 6th internationally in military expenditures), nuclear weapons capability, and unwavering support from the United States would counterbalance any extremes on this front. Further, both Hamas and Hezbollah hold elected positions. They may get military support from Iran, but Iran doesn’t have the power to unilaterally dictate terms.

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