What are the particular dangers issuing from Iran? For the moment, those who would still downplay the Iranian threat to Israel sometimes argue that Teheran’s unconventional capabilities remain problematic, and/or that its willingness to attack Israel – jihadist ideologies/motivations notwithstanding – is still tolerably low. Yet over the next one to two years, that country’s further development of nuclear weapons will likely become irreversible, creating conditions whereby a first-strike against Israel might be construed as rational. Whether correct or incorrect in its calculations, any Iranian leadership that believes it can strike Israel with impunity, near-impunity or at least without incurring what it defines as unacceptable costs, could be strongly motivated to undertake such a strike. Such motivation would be heightened to the extent that Iran remained uncertain about Israel’s own preemption plans. Here, Iranian capabilities would affect, and possibly even determine, Iranian intentions.
The Iranian threat to Israel might, on the other hand, originate from a different direction. In this scenario, Iran’s intentions toward the Jewish state, irremediably hostile and perhaps even genocidal, could animate Tehran’s accelerated development of nuclear military capabilities. Representing genuinely far-reaching hatreds rather than mere bluster and propagandistic bravado, Iranian diatribes against Israel would ensure the continuing production/deployment of increasingly destructive forces, weapons and postures that could plausibly threaten Israel’s physical survival.
We have described circumstances where Iranian intentions could affect, and possibly even determine, Iranian capabilities. Such circumstances plainly warrant careful strategic attention in Jerusalem.
What if Iran’s intentions toward Israel were not irremediably hostile or genocidal? What if its public bombast were not an expression of genuinely belligerent motivations, but a position designed entirely for intranational and/or international political consumption? The short and most obvious answer to these questions is that such shallow and contrived intentions would not impact Iranian capabilities vis-à-vis Israel. Yet, upon reflection, it is altogether likely that even inauthentic expressions of intent could, over time, become authentic, that repeated again and again, such expressions could become self-fulfilling.
(Continued Next Week)
Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of political science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.