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In the best of all possible worlds, a nuclear Iran could still be prevented with cost-effective preemptions. In the “next best” possible world, however, all would not necessarily be lost. Exploiting an Iranian enemy’s overriding and religiously mandated search for power over death, Washington and Jerusalem might still create the conditions needed for protracted containment. These conditions would rely upon credible deterrent threats to religious preferences in the Iranian leadership’s “irrational” hierarchy of values.

It follows from all this that policy makers in Washington and Jerusalem must undertake authoritative assessments of Iranian leadership elites from the primary standpoint of distinguishing rationality, irrationality, and madness. In those very rare circumstances where these elites were judged to be genuinely “crazy” or “mad” and not merely “irrational,” all deterrence bets would be off the table. In such circumstances, the only remaining bases for security against Iran would lie in some still residually viable forms of preemption, and/or in massive new efforts at active anti-missile defense.

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If faced with any such circumstances, all will have been changed, changed utterly. Then, for Tehran, a “terrible beauty” would be born.

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.

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