The report, released earlier this month, warned that Iran could decide to use
its nuclear weapons arsenal under threat of regime collapse. Rand urged the
U.S. Air Force to conduct exercises and test a new bunker-buster to prepare
for any war with Iran.
"Iran's military doctrines and conventional capabilities provide it with
alternatives to using nuclear weapons in a conflict, and given the
overwhelming superiority of both U.S. conventional and nuclear forces, any
Iranian use of nuclear weapons would hold enormous risks for Iran," the
report said. "Thus, Iran is likely to use nuclear weapons only under a
narrow set of circumstances that would revolve around Iran viewing itself as
vulnerable to U.S. conventional military defeat and threatened as a regime
by U.S. conventional military operations."
The report said GCC states, despite ordering advanced U.S. defense
systems, could come under Iranian missile strikes. Rand identified the most
vulnerable of the Gulf Arab states as Bahrain and Qatar, which contain
significant U.S. forces.
Rand, however, raised the prospect that Iran would target Saudi Arabia,
which does not contain a major U.S. presence. The report said such an attack
would affect the entire region without necessarily prompting U.S.
"In the future, Iran could decide to target Saudi Arabia rather than
U.S. military forces with its nuclear weapons, thereby demonstrating Iranian
capabilities while potentially avoiding a U.S. nuclear response," the report
said. "Such an attack would risk significant backlash from the Arab world,
however, and Iran could not be guaranteed that the United States would not
The report said GCC states would be dissuaded from seeking U.S.
guarantees in fear of a backlash from their people. Rand also said U.S.
military intervention could escalate rather than ease regional tension.
"Requests from the smaller GCC states — Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the
UAE — for such guarantees could come if Iran's nuclear posture reaches an
ambiguous stage; these states would be vulnerable, given their own limited
defense capabilities and the existence of outstanding bilateral issues with
Iran that could provide a pretext for conflict," the report said.
"At the same time, the GCC states will be reluctant to request such
guarantees because they would not want to further undermine their legitimacy
by appearing to be U.S. protectorates," the report added. "In addition,
these states would not want to be seen by Iran as lining up with the West in
a containment strategy that would make them direct rather than indirect
parties to a conflict when they are trying to present themselves as
For its part, Saudi Arabia could reject U.S. defense cooperation and
seek to acquire its own nuclear arsenal. Rand said any Saudi request from
Washington for security guarantees must remain secret.
"Given domestic sensitivity to defense cooperation with the United
States, Saudi Arabia could seek more robust security guarantees than current
U.S. commitments, but it would likely wish for them to remain secret," the
report said. "This accounts for the uncertainty in our evaluation as to
whether Saudi Arabia would seek this reassurance measure even if Iran were
to declare its nuclear posture and acquire ICBMs. Saudi Arabia may also
prefer to pursue its own nuclear deterrent rather than relying on more open