Nuclear strategy is a “game” that sane and rational decision-makers must play.
In the best of all possible worlds, Iran could still be kept distant from nuclear weapons. In the real world, however, any such operational success is increasingly unlikely. More precisely, the remaining odds of Israel being able to undertake a cost-effective preemption against Iran, an act of “anticipatory self-defense” in the formal language of international law, are incontestably very low.
What next? Almost certainly, Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv will need to make appropriate preparations for long-term co-existence with a new nuclear adversary. As part of any such more-or-less regrettable preparations, Israel will have to continue with its already impressive developments in ballistic missile defense (BMD.) Although Israel’s well-tested Arrow and corollary interceptors could never be adequate for “soft-point” or city defense, these systems could still enhance the Jewish State’s indispensable nuclear deterrent.
By forcing any attacker to constantly recalculate the requirements of “assured destruction,” Israeli BMD could make it unrewarding for any prospective aggressor to strike first. Knowing that its capacity to assuredly destroy Israel’s nuclear retaliatory forces with a first-strike attack could be steadily eroded by incremental deployments of BMD, Iran could decide that such an attack would be more costly than gainful. Of course, any such relatively optimistic conclusion would be premised on the antecedent assumption that Iran’s decisions will always be rational.
But what if such a promising assumption should not actually be warranted? Moreover, irrationality is not the same as madness. Unlike a “crazy” or “mad” adversary, which would have no discernible order of preferences, an irrational Iranian leadership might still maintain a distinct and consistent hierarchy of wants.
Such an Iranian leadership might not be successfully deterred by more traditional threats of military destruction. This is because a canonical Shiite eschatology could authentically welcome certain “end times” confrontations with “unbelievers.” Nonetheless, this leadership might still refrain from any attacks that would expectedly harm its principal and overriding religious values or institutions. Preventing an attack upon the “holy city” of Qom, could be a glaringly good example.
It is also reasonable to expect that even an irrational Iranian leadership would esteem certain of its primary military institutions. This leadership might still be subject to deterrence by various compelling threats to these institutions. A pertinent example would be the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a core power behind the Iranian dictatorship, a principal foe of the Iranian people, and the current leadership’s generally preferred instrument of terror and repression.
It could be productive for Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv to hold at risk the Guard’s physical facilities, its terrorist training camps, its navy of small attack boats, its missile program, the homes of its leaders, and even its space program.
Most civilian targets would be excluded from an Israeli attack; so would those particular military targets that were not identifiably Guard-related. Any such calculated exclusion would not only be in Israel’s best overall strategic interests. It would also be necessary to ensure normal Israeli compliance with the law of war, a commendably …read more