Israel and Iran: The question of rationality

Iran is not a "crazy," or wholly unpredictable, state. Although it is conceivable that Iran's political and clerical leaders could sometime welcome the Shi'ite apocalypse more highly than avoiding military destruction, they could also remain subject to alternative deterrent threats. Faced with such circumstances, Israel could plan on basing stable and long-term deterrence of an already-nuclear Iran upon various unorthodox threats of reprisal or punishment. Israel's only other fully rational option could be a prompt and still-purposeful preemption.

Today, a nuclear Iran appears almost a fait accompli. For Israel, soon to be deprived of any cost-effective preemption options, this means forging a strategy to coexist or "live with" a nuclear Iran. Such an essential strategy of nuclear deterrence would call for reduced ambiguity about certain of its strategic forces; enhanced and partially disclosed nuclear targeting options; substantial and partially disclosed programs for active defenses; recognizable steps to ensure the survivability of its nuclear retaliatory forces; and, to bring all of these elements together in a coherent mission plan, a comprehensive strategic doctrine.

Additionally, because of the prospect of Iranian irrationality, Israel's military planners will have to identify suitable ways of ensuring that even a nuclear "suicide state" could be deterred. Such a perilous threat may be very small, but, with Iran's particular Shi'ite eschatology, it might not be negligible. And while the probability of having to face such an irrational enemy state would probably be very low, the disutility or expected harm of any single deterrence failure could be very high....

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.