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The Anglo-American war on terror has had the unintended consequence of making Iran the dominant power in the Middle East, a London think tank concluded on Wednesday, creating a state of affairs which will prompt hard diplomatic choices for Israel in the coming year.
The report by Chatham House, the Royal Institute for International Affairs, released on Wednesday entitled "Iran, Its Neighbors and Regional Crises" concluded that there was "little doubt" that Iran had been the "chief beneficiary of the war on terror."
Speaking to the BBC's Radio Four, Dr Ali Ansari, one of the authors of the report, argued the current Anglo-American containment strategy had failed. It "needs to take a step back and reassess its entire policy towards Iran and work out, first of all, what does it want and how is it going to achieve it because at the moment everything is rather like putting a sticking plaster on a fairly raw wound, and it is not really actually doing much at all."
The report stated "The United States, with coalition support, has eliminated two of Iran's regional rival governments, [the Taliban and Saddam Hussein], but has failed to replace either with coherent and stable political structures."
Chatham House argued that while the US had the "upper hand in hard power projection", Iran had successfully mastered the art of "soft power," using its "culture, strong historical ties and administrative skills" to gain the political upper hand in the region.
As a result, "The US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region," the report noted.
Iran's hegemony over its neighbors had emboldened its attempts to develop nuclear weapons, and "helps explain why Iran feels able to resist western pressure."
"While the US and Europeans slowly grind the nuclear issue through the mills of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council, Iran continues to prevaricate, feeling confident of victory as conditions turn ever more in its favor," the report stated.
While noting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's millenarian fervor and anti-Israel rhetoric, including his threat to wipe it off the face of the earth, Chatham House argued the likelihood of an Iranian attack was low. The president's religious and strategic views were not universally shared among Iran's elite, it noted.
Ahmadinejad believed Israel and the US were "ungodly and unjust states that will inevitably collapse."
However, the Iranian president "does not believe he needs to do anything to encourage this collapse but, since it is inevitable, there is no need to talk to or engage with these states either."
"Even though Iran is frequently depicted as a manipulator and instigator of violence in the broader Middle East," the report argued, "the Iranian regime is wary of provoking generalized chaos in the region, because it is essentially conservative and seeks to maintain the status quo."
However the "danger" for the region lay in the "risk that Ahmadinejad's confrontational politics" and rhetoric will take root across the regime, succored by perceptions of "Western weakness" and "become even more unshackled in ambition", inadvertently leading to a "provocation too far." Chatham House noted Israel had "genuine concerns" about the Tehran's weapons programs.
"Iran's hostility to Israel could be regarded as toothless, were it not in the midst of a vigorous effort to enrich uranium and develop a missile delivery capability with a range enabling it to reach every part of Israel."
While the "probability" of an Iranian nuclear strike against Israel "should be regarded as low," it could not be completely discounted. Chatham House stated the "greater danger" from Iran lay in the "transfer of knowledge and technology to terrorist groups by rogue elements within the Iranian regime, which might end in a non-conventional terrorist attack. In either case Israel has to weigh the dangers and its response to them."
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