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Yitzhak Benhorin, 6th Aug 2007

'Bush Administration's decision to launch war in Iraq helped al-Qaeda recover, brought Iran five years closer to nuclear bomb,' Bruce Riedel says in exclusive interview with Ynet.

"If al-Qaeda and Iran are the big winners of the war in Iraq, Israel is the strategic loser," former CIA official Bruce Riedel said in an exclusive interview with Ynet.

"In one sense, Israel may be better off in that Iraq, one of the strongest and most powerful Arab nations, may not exist. But the manner in which this has happened is not to Israel's advantage," Riedel said.

"To see the United States bogged down in a costly war, to see its credibility undermined in the region, and then to see it having to find a way out of that quagmire - is not in Israel's national interest.

According to Riedel, an intelligence expert and former advisor to NATO, Jordan and Kuwait are "probably the most vulnerable to the ripple effect of the civil war in Iraq".

"King Abdullah has expressed his concern that Jordan will have to face a Shiite Iraq on its border. Perhaps if not a Shiite-Iraq, then chaos and instability on its border and al-Qaeda on its border, and that's not in Israel's strategic interest either," he said.

Riedel continued to say that "if Hamas now sees that in the region as a whole the forces of jihadism are rising, whether they are Shiite jihadism or Sunni jihadism, that's not in the Israeli national interest either".

'Window is closing'

The former National Security Council official said there were several "opportunity costs" related to the Bush Administration's decision to go to war in Iraq.

"One cost is that the al-Qaeda movement is recovering; they were on their death bed and they recovered. The second opportunity cost relates to Iran. The Iranians got five years to develop their nuclear weapons. And they're five years closer. Whether they are two years away, or eight years away, I don't know, but they're five years closer because we decided to go to Iraq," he said.

"It will be much more difficult to convince the American people of the wisdom of another military adventure in the Middle East after Iraq. Yes, a lot of American politicians are now saying 'we will not let Iran have nuclear weapons', but it is very hard for me to believe that this Congress would authorize a military operation against Iran in the near future barring a clear provocation by the Iranians."

A military attempt to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons may be successful in the short run, Riedel said, but would "almost certainly lead to an Iranian decision to make an all out effort to get nuclear arms after that".

"(Former prime minister) Yitzhak Rabin famously told us 12 years ago that there would be a brief moment of opportunity for Israel to make peace with its near partners before the Iranians recover from the Iran- Iraq war and become amore serious enemy," Riedel said. "I'm afraid he was right, and the window is closing."