Iran is posing a threat to the Middle East as a whole, with concerns that it is not respecting its borders and neighbors and becoming an "existential threat" to the region, according to experts.
"The other big issue was Iran and a conversation around Iran's basically reaching breakout, enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon," Jane Harman, former congresswoman and president emerita at the Wilson Center, said during a discussion at the Aspen Security Forum. "It has not yet produced one, so I understand it hasn't shown even the intention at the moment to produce one."
"But Iran is an existential threat to Israel and the whole region is coming around to view it that way," she added.
Iran has not taken central focus at the forum, but concerns regarding Tehran’s nuclear and regional ambitions have surfaced during numerous discussions. Recent reports indicate that Iran is possibly weeks away from obtaining a nuclear weapon after developing enough enriched uranium.
British spy chief Richard Moore claimed that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – known informally as the Iran Nuclear Deal – remains the "best means still available" to limit Iran but said he’s "skeptical" that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would actually agree to it.
"I’m not convinced we're going to get there," Moore said at the forum. "It could be a bit academic having that discussion, because I don't think the supreme leader of Iran wants to cut a deal, so the Iranians won't want to end the talks either, so they could run on for a bit."
Moore argued that even if the deal did come to pass, there would still be "plenty of work" to do because Iran continues to work at "destabilizing activity around our region."
"What they’re doing in Iraq, in Syria, even down in Yemen through sponsoring the Houthis," he said. "They’re still assassinating or attempting to entrap dissidents overseas as well, so plenty to do."
A consistent point raised at the forum focused on the need to continue developing partnerships between western countries and Iran’s neighboring countries in order to enhance their security, and stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Benny Gantz, Israel's defense minister, told the audience that Iran is a threat to the region as a whole. When asked if Israel would be prepared to go it alone to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb, he said, yes, it would be.
"There is another country, in our case, Iran, that is calling for its destruction and building the means to do so and I think that for international reasons the world should stop it, I think that for regional reasons the region should be united around it, and I think that we as Israeli government, as leaders of the Jewish country, have an historical responsibility to make sure that that doesn't happen."
Abdulla Al Khalifa, undersecretary for political affairs of Bahrain speaking after Gantz, was asked by the moderator if he would support preemptive military action against Iran to stop it from going nuclear, and whether Bahrain would participate in such an action?
"We have been following all these developments very carefully. Obviously, dealing with the matter diplomatically would be a priority, we have seen how the Iranian regime is ignoring the current efforts in respecting what it should abide by. But we do believe with the continuous ignorance and the continuous developing of the nuclear program in Iran, would cause the region and it … effects, obviously, its neighbors in a very dramatic manner."
Asked by the moderator if he could take his answer as "an ambiguous maybe," and if it was fair? Khalifa responded by saying "fair enough."
CIA Director William Burns, speaking Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum, noted that under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), "which the last administration pulled out of several years ago, that breakout time to produce that amount of fissile material was a little more than a year." He said today that "same breakout time can be measured not in a year-plus, but in weeks."
Burns also commented on Russia and Iran's relationship and stressed that if the two nations must rely on each other, it would be a marriage of convenience – and not a trusting one at that.
"I must admit, that watching the images of President Putin and Iran's supreme leader meeting yesterday … the reality is that Russians and Iranians need each other right now – both heavily sanctioned countries, both looking to break out of political isolation as well," Burns said. "But if they need each other, they don't really trust each other in the sense that their energy rivals and historical competitors."