An Israeli nuclear preemption against Iran is highly improbable and effectively inconceivable. In principle, however, there are certain residual circumstances in which such a strike could still be perfectly rational.
These are circumstances wherein (1) Iran had already acquired and deployed nuclear weapons presumed capable of destroying Israel; (2) Iran had been open and forthright about its genocidal intentions toward Israel; (3) Iran was reliably believed ready to begin an actual countdown-to-launch; and (4) Israel believed that non-nuclear preemptions could not possibly achieve levels of damage-limitation consistent with its own physical survival.
Before such an argument on the logical possibility of preemption could be rejected, one would necessarily have to assume that ensuring national self-preservation was somehow not Israel’s highest priority. Such an assumption, of course, would be incorrect on its face.
What’s next for Israel in the recognizably existential matter of a steadily nuclearizing Iran? The answer will necessarily be contingent upon Jerusalem’s antecedent judgments concerning Iranian decision-making on core strategic matters. Whether Israel should choose a last-minute preemption, or opt instead for a policy of long-term nuclear deterrence and corollary active defense, will depend upon what Prime Minister Netanyahu and his senior advisers may expect from enemy leaders in Tehran – rationality; irrationality; or madness.
In July 1945, upon observing the results of the first atomic test in the New Mexico desert, J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted from the Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred book of the Hindus: “I am become death,” recited the erudite American physicist, “the destroyer of worlds.”
Today, more than sixty-seven years after the Manhattan Project, we should be reminded of another portentous Oppenheimer metaphor, the dreadful image of nuclear adversaries as “two scorpions in a bottle.” Unless Israel can still find a way to remain as the only viable nuclear power in the Middle East, it will have to determine, as a residual strategy, the best way to coexist in close quarters with a determinedly hostile “scorpion.”