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May 5, 2015 / 16 Iyar, 5775
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For Israel, What Next In The Matter Of Iran? (2 of 3)


Iran’s vice president and the chief of its nuclear-energy agency Fereydoon Abbasi

Iran’s vice president and the chief of its nuclear-energy agency Fereydoon Abbasi
Photo Credit: IRNA

Finally, as a newly nuclear Iran could sometime decide to share some of its fissile materials and technologies with assorted terrorist groups, Israel’s leaders will also have to deal with the prospect of irrational nuclear enemies at the sub-state level. This perilous prospect is more likely than that of encountering irrationality at the national or state level. At the same time, at least in principle, the harms suffered from any such instances of nuclear terror would probably be on a tangibly lower order of magnitude.

Soon, if it has already decided against preemption, Israel will need to select appropriately refined and workable options for dealing with two separate, but interpenetrating, levels of danger. Should Iranian leaders be judged to meet the usual tests of rationality in world politics, Israel will then have to focus on reducing its longstanding nuclear ambiguity, or, on taking its bomb out of the “basement.” It will also need to operationalize an adequate retaliatory force that is recognizably hardened, multiplied, and dispersed.

Recognizability is critical, because the only reality that will be real in its deterrence consequences is perceived reality. In the language of philosophy, we would call this a “phenomenological” as opposed to a “behavioral” or “positivist” perspective.

Now, this visibly second-strike nuclear force should be made ready to inflict “assured destruction” against certain precisely identifiable enemy cities. In military parlance, therefore, Israel will need to convince Iran that its strategic targeting doctrine is “counter value,” not “counterforce.” It may also have to communicate to Iran certain partial and very general information about the sea basing of selected Israeli second-strike forces.

Ironically, an Iranian perception of Israeli nuclear weapons as uniformly too large, or too powerful, could conceivably weaken Israel’s nuclear deterrence posture. For example, Iranian perceptions of exclusively mega-destructive Israeli nuclear weapons could effectively undermine the credibility of Israel’s nuclear deterrent. Though counter-intuitive, Israel’s credibility in certain confrontational circumstances could actually vary inversely with the perceived destructiveness of its nuclear arms.

(Continued Next Week)

About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.


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