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Abstract

Israel and Iran have come to view each other as direct regional rivals over the past decade, with Iran viewing Israel as being bent on undermining Iran's revolutionary system and Israel viewing Iran as posing grave strategic and ideological challenges to the Jewish state. But the two countries have not always been rivals. Both before and after the 1979 Islamic revolution, shared geopolitical interests led to years of pragmatic policies and, at times, extensive cooperation. But the growing rivalry between them has intensified in recent years, particularly with the rise of principlist (fundamentalist) leaders in Iran and the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. Israeli leaders now view every regional threat through the prism of Iran, even if their strategic community is divided about how to address this challenge and particularly the utility of a military strike option. Iran, which currently views Israel in more ideological and less pragmatic terms, may be emboldened to further challenge Israel if it has a nuclear weapons capability. The United States can help manage this rivalry by focusing on policies aimed at prevention and preparation. This means discouraging an Israeli military strike while bolstering Israeli capabilities in preparation for a future where Iran has managed to acquire nuclear weapons. For Iran, this means dissuading that regime from weaponizing its nuclear program and, if that fails, making preparations to deter it from brandishing or using its weapons.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    A Brief History of Israeli-Iranian Cooperation and Confrontation

  • Chapter Three

    Israeli Perceptions of and Policies Toward Iran

  • Chapter Four

    Iranian Perceptions of and Policies Toward Israel

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusion and Recommendations

The research described in this report was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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