Any analysis of current security trends in Iran must attempt to answer two key questions. The first is just how serious a threat Iran poses to its neighbors and the West. The second is how best to deal with these threats. These are not easy questions to answer. Iran's military capabilities can be viewed in very different ways, as can the nature of Iran's regime. There is little consensus over the political changes taking place within Iran and no consensus over the political and economic policies that should be pursued in dealing with Iran.
There are also important limits to analysis. No analysis can resolve all the uncertainties surrounding Iran's relations with its neighbors, support of terrorism and extremism, its political structure and internal stability, and its military build-up. No analysis based on unclassified information can describe all of the data on Iran's conventional military forces, efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and war fighting capabilities.
Analysis can, however, provide many important insights into Iran's strategic future. It can look beyond political rhetoric and examine the details of Iran's present and possible military capabilities and the role Iran can and cannot play in the Gulf. Analysis may not be able to resolve the uncertainties regarding Iran's future intentions, but it can provide a picture of the possible paths different types of regimes might follow and indicate the extent to which the West and the Gulf states may be able to influence Iranian behavior.
Such analysis is particularly important at a time when the US and many of its allies have very different views of the kind of threats Iran poses to the region, especially when these differences are matched by differences between regional experts and military analysts. The irony is that it is the US that is virtually isolated in its policy of trying to isolate Iran, and it is particularly important to understand how the Clinton Administration