What to Do Now About Iran

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue. The author of many major books and articles in the field, he was Chair of Project Daniel (Israel, 2003). John T. Chain (USAF/Ret.) was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC), and Director, Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff. General Chain also served as Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, and Director, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State.


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“Do you know what it means to find yourselves face to face with a madman?” asks playwright Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV. “Madmen, luck folk, construct without logic, or rather with a logic that flies like a feather.”

What is true for individuals can also be true for entire countries. In the always bewildering theatre of modern world politics, a drama so unpredictable that it often bristles with absurdity, calculated decisions based on ordinary logic can quickly crumble before madness. Even more ominously, any country’s particular misfortunes could reach the outer limits of tolerability if enemy madness and nuclear weapons should somehow come together.

Enter (stage left and stage right) Israel and Iran. For the moment, there is no discernible evidence to suggest that the leadership in Tehran is mad or “crazy.” At the same time, irrationality is not the same as madness, and these Iranian leaders might nonetheless fulfill the usual criteria of a non-rational state. In such circumstances, Iran’s decision-makers could choose to value certain preferences more highly than national survival, but their hierarchy or rank-order of preferences could still be both determinable and consistent.

Even if there should be no Israeli or American preemption at the eleventh hour, Israeli security would not inevitably be lost. True, an irrational Iran might not be responsive to ordinary threats of retaliatory destruction, as would a fully rational enemy state, but it could still remain susceptible to certain other pertinent threats. For Israel, therefore, this means a primary and prompt obligation to (1) identify such alternative threats, and (2) fashion them into an appropriate new policy framework of viable deterrence.

In principle, by choosing to forgo anticipatory self-defense against Iran, the legal equivalent of a permissible first-strike, Israel would have to live with protracted uncertainty. Here, after all, “coexistence” with Iran could mean living under a literally unending threat of Iranian nuclear attack. With precisely this devastating prospect in mind, Israel has already been expanding and upgrading its complex network of interrelated active defenses.

Improved Israeli interceptors contain new software to deal effectively with Iran’s Shahab and Sajil missiles. There are related technologies to handle Iran’s Conqueror rocket.

The foundation of Israel’s active defense plan for Iran remains the Arrow anti-ballistic missile program. Iron Dome, a reinforcing system, is intended primarily for intercepting shorter-range rocket attacks. David’s Sling, in still earlier stages of development, is designed for use against medium-range rockets and cruise missiles.

Judging from the most recent tests, everything appears technically sound and promising.

A nagging problem could still lie in accepting too many optimistic assumptions about active defense. No system of ballistic missile defense (BMD) can ever be presumed reliable enough to preclude a fully complementary strategy of deterrence. Always, with BMD, there may be unacceptable levels of “leakage,” obviously an especially risky outcome if the incoming warheads should be biological or nuclear.

Now, Israel must move, visibly and verifiably, to strengthen its ambiguous nuclear deterrent. To be dissuaded from launching an attack, any rational adversary, and possibly an irrational one, would first need to calculate that Israel’s second-strike forces were sufficiently invulnerable to any considered first-strike aggressions. Facing Israel’s Arrow, this adversary would likely require steadily increasing numbers of missiles, in order to achieve an assuredly destructive first-strike capability. Over time, however, this adversary could efficiently undermine the core deterrence benefits of Israel’s active defenses, simply by adding regular increments of offensive missiles.

Israel must continue to develop, test, and implement an interception capability that will match the cumulative enemy threat. It must also take innovative steps to enhance the credibility of its still-ambiguous nuclear deterrent. If Iranian nuclearization should proceed unimpeded, for example, Israel will have to prepare, very promptly, to remove its bomb from the “basement.” Undoubtedly, in these unstable circumstances, a continuing posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity could no longer be judged “cost-effective.”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/fkjuliano Fabio Juliano

    There are many good, decent people in Iran and among Iranian-Americans. However, the cabal of raving maniacs that rules in Tehran is putting all Iranians in danger as they present Israel with a stark choice: destroy us or be destroyed. They are counting on their friend (coreligionist?) in the White House to compel Israel to accept the second choice, which would be a new Holocaust. I pray to God, though, that Israel chooses life for its people and that Ahmadinejad and his mullah bosses will be the ones to perish in a great conflagration.

    • SAM000

      Thank you Fabio, from your MOUTH to GOD ear.

    • Kufar Dawg

      Really? Then why don't they do something to STOP the persecution of Jews, Bahais and Zoroastrians in Iranistan? Hell why don't they even PROTEST the fact such persecution exists? Why don't they protest president Assminijihad's REPEATED calls for the destruction of Israel? I call shenanigans.

  • alanweberman

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/103278843/Ahmadinejad-A

    FULL TEXT OF THE IRANIAN HITLER'S RANT AUGUST 2012

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      Arm the opposition in Persia. They hate satans ayatollahs more than they ever hated the Shah.

      The ayatollahs, ahm-mad-bout-jihad, the iranian guards must all be arrested and executed.

      Then peace will bloom throughout the land.

  • dartson

    I do not get the point of this article. How do you deter an irrational enemy? If an enemy is irrational and does not care about his physical survival, he cannot be deterred by a second strike and a MAD scenario. How do you deter a mad mulla who expects to meet 72 virgins in an Islamic paradise? Also, no active defense system guarantees an absolute protection from a nuclear strike. The best defense is an offence and some abstract academic discussions are not going to change this simple fact.

    • SAM000

      My GOD;
      You have answered 1000 question, if and only if,the writer and Obama and the whole BUNCH of stupid politicians who continue the negotiations with the Mullahs had one tenth of your rational reasoning, the problem of WAR was resolved long time ago.

      THANK YOU MAN
      Thank you good sense.

      • dartson

        Thank you for your comment, SAM000. As a matter of fact, I live in Israel and our leftist liberal press publishes dozens of articles with the same kind of reasoning on a daily basis. I just did not expect to find such an article on the FPM, but I guess times are changing :).

        • SAM000

          Dartson;
          Please read my other post below about the Jews and Israel, and your comment will be precious.

          In Iran we have a dictone about the Jews, we say always THE JEWS ARE NOT DUMB.

          • Kufar Dawg

            Which is why the Jewish population of Iranistan is declining annually.

          • SAM000

            You are right Kufar;
            nobody is safe from this Islamic genocidal regime of the Mullahs.
            Bahaiis is more dangerous, they are executed for apostasy, all the minorities are in daily danger.
            But the Jews population have fled Iran because of the regime's permanent threat of Israel, even if they decline any relationship with Israel.
            I have many executed non Jews friends who were accused to be ZIONIST and Great Satan SPY.
            Maybe you have heard that the Resistant s are executed under the labels of , Drugs dealer or Enemy of GOD or SPY for Zionism and USA.
            That's why we should change this regime and return to dust the Islamism in Iran and Lebanon.
            You know that the Hezbollah of Lebanon is the Parasite of this genocidal regime.
            And many important IRGC members are in Lebanon to lead the Hezbollah.
            The Hezbollah Missiles systems are operated with the IRGC Engineers.
            IRGC was always our privileged TARGET.
            The Iranians are the VICTIMS.
            The enemy is the Islamic Regime.
            But this Islamic Regime was like a worm, the west leaded by USA transformed it to a MONSTER.
            and now, OBAMA feeds regularly this Monster.
            Insult this Criminal Regime with his worldwide accomplices as much as you can, and consider the people in your side, but discharging your hate against the victims will serve the Mullahs.

  • ★FALCON★

    What to do about Iran?

    1. Nothing. Let them build a bomb and drop it on Israel. And then be vaporized and sent to a smoldering incinerated death.

    2. Vaporized and sent to a smoldering incinerated death.

    Option two leaves Israel unharmed and that's going to be the outcome no matter what. Also Israel has not threatened anyone. Not one neighbor and are certainly not provoking anything with Iran.

    Iran has stated over and over that they want the stinking corpse of Israel annihilated – and this will usher in the 13th Madhi – the Anti-Christ.

  • Andy

    Bla bla bla bla bla. There has been too much talk about it here and in Israel. DO IT! Hit them with all you've got.

    • Vermont Yid

      I AGREE! I don't know what's wrong with the Israeli government, but clearly, something is wrong with their thinking. The first time Iran threatened Israel with annihilation, I believed them. But not the Israeli government, oh no, not them. They'll have to see dead Jews stacked up like firewood again before they get off their dumb assez and take out Iran. In the Talmud it says, if a man means to kill you, strike first. What more is there to say?

  • SAM000

    What to do about IRAN?

    ANSWER;
    Stop Obama backing the Mullahs, We the Iranian people will stop the Nuclear threat the next day, and remove the Mullahs in 2 months.

    We have declared to all the nations that we are against a Nuclear Iran, Civil or Military, we don't want Nuclear.

    • Stern

      I wish there was something more we could to persuade Western leaders to listen to you! Thank you for letting us know how you feel.

      • SAM000

        Dear Stern;

        the Question is: Why the Mullahs want to acquire Nuclear Bomb?

        The answer is, to stay on power, like the Coreen regime.
        Nuclear BOMB for a dictatorship is an insurance certificate to stay on power for ever.
        Now, you would ask, who is threatening the Mullahs regime?
        1 – Israel?
        Never, Israel never searched and never provoked the Mullahs.
        Israel has no border, and no interest or no territorial interest and no claim with IRAN.
        One more thing, the Israelis are strongly against a war with Iran, Iran or Persia is a holly land for the Jews, The Persian King Cyrus the great liberated the Jews of Babylon 545 years before J.C.
        King Cyrus is cited in Torah as the Liberator Prophet, Iran is the SECOND HOMELAND for the JEWS.
        and we the Iranians are proud of our Jews Compatriots.
        2 – USA?
        USA, right or left has an engagement to protect the Mullahs Regime;
        Do you remember the US Embassy hostage crisis of Iran?
        That Hostage taking during Carter office ended by Alger PACT on February 1982 between IRAN/USA.
        The pact was signed by Reagan administration.
        in That Pact USA was engaged to protect Iran against the Iranian Resistance for 20 years.
        The USA presidents continued that pact till now,
        OBAMA, renewed that pact by helping the REGIME to smash the popular uprising of 2009 and dismantelling the Resistance ARMY.
        Now, from that day all the Resistance members, disarmed by USA ARMY are under extermination threat, USA plus UN are helping the Mullahs to terminate his problem with the RESISTANCE for ever.

        So, the Mullahs regime is not threatened from outside,
        The Enemy of the Mullahs Regime is the Iranian people with it's anti-Mullahs RESISTANCE.
        outside can not remove this regime, because outside is not the ENEMY of the Mullahs.
        The Mullahs are scared from the People.
        33 years ago, our first meeting in the Capital gathered 500,000 people.

        Khomeini the Supreme Ayatollah said, "THE ENEMY is not an exterior one, the ENEMY is from inside, it is even more dangerous than the GREAT SATAN".

        When the Mullahs got the power in Iran, they started a war with Iraq, the whole world, from the Russians, Chinese, Syria, UN, all the ARAB COUNTRIES, all the Muslim countries, and EUROPE and USA started the BONES-office with Iran to terminate this devastating war which has destabilized the whole Middle east.
        The answer of Khomeini was, "we will continue the war till that the whole IRAN becomes a RUIN".
        Khomeini was always saying that "THE WAR WITH IRAQ IS A GIFT OF ALLAH".

        But, Khomeini accepted the peace with his enemy when the Resistance attacked and smashed the most important part of the regular army of IRAN.
        There Khomeini said " I had to drink the POISON CUP and accept the CEASE FIRE with IRAQ".
        Because after that great attack, the capital and the Government Siege was the target of the Resistance.

        I will write the second part later.
        But the SOLUTION of this blocked situation is the Iranian People leaded with their RESISTANCE ORGANIZATION.

    • Kufar Dawg

      I find your pie in the sky prediction that the Iranian people will "remove the mullahs in 2 months" specious. Iranistan is a islamofascist theocracy. The "Iranian people" won't EVER have the opportunity to vote out their theocratic tyranny. It's been three decades since the installation of the Islamic "republic" in Iranistan, why hasn't anyone done anything up to now? Your tactic is really nothing more than what the mad mullahs and asinine ayatollahs want, which is do nothing, it'll all sort itself out.

      • SAM000

        Kufar;
        You are talking about a people who has offered more than 120,000 Martyrs to remove the Mullahs.
        We are the People who pay the price of his freedom.

        American people are not our enemy, BUT, USA is backing the Mullahs against the Iranian Resistance.
        The west is talking only about the Mullahs nuclear threat. The west has no other problem with Iran.
        Our AGENDA is different, we don't want the Mullahs regime, so, The Mullahs and the west have a common interest which is the STABILITY and continuation of the Mullahs REGIME.

        Kufar;
        each hour we are giving the MARTYR;
        USA wants to negotiate with the Mullahs, the Mullahs accept to negotiate with USA if USA barrages the RESISTANCE, and this situation lasts from 33 years ago till now.

        Please read my previous post, IRANIAN RESISTANCE IS LISTED TERRORIST by USA STATE DEPT. on behest of the MULLAHS REGIME.

        This a shameful GESTURE of USA against a people who wants to have a democratic secular regime without nuclear.
        Here USA acts as the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, OBAMA is the enemy of the Americans too.
        OBAMA takes the hand of the Mullahs any time that they are in crisis.
        You have forgotten what Obama did at 2009? when Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs were on the threshold of Falling?

        • Drakken

          Get rid of islam and the mullahs and we westerners might believe you, untill then, in God you trust, all muslims are suspect. Make no doubt, there will be war.

          • Kufar Dawg

            Exactly, nothing has happened of substance in the Islamic "republic" of Iranistan to make me believe the mullahs are about to be thrown out of power. They haven't stopped persecuting Jews, Christians, Bahais and Zoroastrians. They haven't stopped their nuclear program. The genocidal rants by their nation's leader go on. To defeat Nazism, "good" Germans had to die. I'm not going to stand by while the muslo-nazis take out Israel.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      The words of Obamas teachers in the madrassa in Indonesia ring in his head.

      Obama didn't remember Rev. Wrights rants, but you can be sure he remembers the words of his Imams.

      • Kufar Dawg

        The zero might have been living in Indonesia while the Indonesia islamonazis committed their genocide of kufars/infidels in E. Timor. A genocide that consisted mostly of Catholics and was only stopped by the direct military intervention of AUS — G-d bless 'em for that.

  • RiverFred

    I just hope Israel uses nuclear tipped missiles, not only will they penetrate their deep facilities but they will no longer be able to go into those areas for 50 years. Each time they attempt to build a new facility, blast them.
    A big concern is nuclear suit case bombs that I am sure Iran will use worldwide, a good reason to totally destroy them and their fairy tale religious followers.

  • jacob

    If Israel decides to go to war against the Iranian theocracy, it should focus its attack on the main backers
    of this infamous regime, the so called Revolutionary Guard and try to obliterate as much of it as possible,
    in order to allow the people to uprise against the govmt. as they've tried repeatedly but have been unable
    against the Guard….
    As to the suspicion that a regime replacing the theocracy might be worst, I don't believe there can be
    anything worse for anybody than what they have right now….
    Furthermore, it is IMPERATIVE for Israel to deal with the Hizbullah threat and radically eliminate it…
    Whether the Useless Nations and the White House Muslim lover like it or not, the only solution for
    the Lebanon problem is to turn over its government to the CHRISTIANS.
    Then and only THEN will Lebanon return to what it was before allowing in the Palis running from
    King HUSSEIN Black September vengeance
    The amount of rockets they claim to have and which actually amounts perhaps to one third of what
    they claim to have, is no joke by any streak of the imagination as people as far as HAIFA can attest
    to, from what they experienced at the 2006 war…..

  • Bert

    Israel cannot continue to play endless deterrence without becoming more vulnerable to growing Iranian power.
    Israel must force the issue by taking the initiative. It is better that Israel become far more feared than Iran. Europe and the west must be made to know that Israel has plans to destroy Middle East oil fields which will collapse western economies that are already fragile. The west is thinking in terms of helpless Jews during the Holocaust and also of an Israel that fights only a limited war. They must now be made to imagine an Israel that is enraged by western treachery and bent on full revenge. They must be made to consider that more treachery against Israel could cause Israel to become unstable and their immense nuclear arsenal could be unleashed.

  • flowerknife_us

    If Israel stated that its response would be upon every Muslim Capitol, Others may feel compelled to deal more directly with the Issue. Under such "rational" reasoning, the cost of the destruction of Israel may be a price to high to pay. reeking of guilt by association such action is, Islam claims to be a greater whole Despite the rift in Islam they still share in the goal of Israels destruction. Both working in their own special way of achieving that goal. Making both deserving of the same response.

    Israel need not allow either side to claim the spoils Scott free.

  • Kufar Dawg

    It reads great if you're an islamofascist or one of their useful tools though.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      Happy Eternal Nakba jackass zeller!

  • Bartimaeus

    The best hope for Israel is the overthrow of the present Iranian regime. Obama’s biggest and most costly mistake was to show no support for the opposition in Iran. Things might look a lot different now if the president had given his full support and not let the opposition movement fade away. To be optimistic, it might still be possible if Romney were elected and moved quickly to reverse the impact of Obama’s policy toward Iran

    • SAM000

      Yes, Iranian people with their resistance is the best solution.
      we don't need your money.
      We don't need your Army.
      We don't need even USA's support.
      What we need and what we want is:
      STOP OBAMA SUPPORTING THE MULLAHS AGAINST OUR RESISTANCE.
      we will remove the regime in 2 months.

  • http://twitter.com/zionadvocate @zionadvocate

    "Now, Israel must move, visibly and verifiably, to strengthen its ambiguous nuclear deterrent. "

    I agree with this.
    Israel could test a nuclear weapon, preferably in Iran in some unpopulated area. (shot across the bow).
    At the same time drop millions of pieces of paper with a simple note "Nuclear Fallout" over Tehran, Mecca, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo.
    I think that will make the point. Here we need to get rid of our ambiguous president.

  • Paul M. Neville

    The fact that Israel posseses an effective second strike capibility is not relevant if Iran's first strike effectively destroys Israel.

  • Nakba1948

    Israel's best option for itself and all involved? Do nothing. There's no conclusive evidence suggesting that Iran is producing nuclear weapons or that it would use any such weapons, were they real, to "wipe Israel off the map"; I dare you Ziocon chickenhawks to prove otherwise. Israel should stop starting and threatening illegal wars and fomenting regional instability. It should furthermore end the occupation of Palestine. This is the only way that the Zionist entity will continue to exist, even though it will forever be illegitimate. At the very least, it will be protecting its own population by ceasing its oppression of and threats against.other regional populations.

    • http://twitter.com/zionadvocate @zionadvocate

      Exactly what an islamofascist says. Since your goal is the destruction of Israel and the Jews I don't think your opinion has much sway here. Nobody wants to harm the Iranians or the Palestinians. We only wish to live in peace. To do that we must use deterants and remove threats. With Israel's military capability they could take out the whole middle east. The fact that they have not is proof enough they are no danger to anyone but those that seek her destruction.

      • Nakba1948

        "Since your goal is the destruction of Israel and the Jews I don't think your opinion has much sway here."

        Incorrect. I have no problem with Jews; I do have a problem with anyone occupying my family's ancestral land. They were kicked out by the Zionists in 1948. That's my gripe–nothing more, nothing less.

        "Nobody wants to harm the Iranians or the Palestinians."

        Really? Look at the post below from "Vermont Yid." He's but one of many who has expressed a desire to kill Arabs and Muslims. I, by contrast, don't wish to see the death of any Israelis or Jews.

        "The fact that they have not is proof enough they are no danger to anyone but those that seek her destruction."

        I don't accept that argument. The same could be said of North Korea, which similarly has a nuclear arsenal; you don't think it's appropriate for them to have nukes, do you? Israel has flexed its non-nuclear military capabilities on multiple occasions and killed thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese, and others in the process. They are indeed a danger to MANY.

        • Omar

          The Jews lived in what is now Israel for over 3000 years, definitely much longer than when the Arabs started moving into the area (about 600 AD). Israel's enemies don't seek peace with the Jewish state, but rather its destruction. Israel is a tolerant, democratic state which respects the rights and liberties of all people regardless of characteristics for the most part. Israel's enemies are despotic regimes which abuse the rights of their own people. Look at Sudan, whose government is worse than South Africa during the apartheid era. The regime in Sudan has killed so many innocent civilians, including many black civilians living in Darfur. Yet, there's no call for boycotts from the UN. Now that's a double standards.

    • SAM000

      Did you found this answer before or after your night with the Mullahs?

    • Vermont Yid

      There must be some Iranians who do not want to destroy Israel. The problem is figuring out which ones they are. The best solution? KILL THEM ALL AND LET G-D SORT THEM OUT.

    • Omar

      "Palestine" was never a country. It was only a vague geographic entity. Anyone who lives in what was the British Palestine mandate (Israel, Gaza, West Bank, Jordan) is a Palestinian. The Israelis and Jordanians are Palestinians, regardless of race and/or religion. The so-called "Free Palestine" movement is a jihadist, Islamofascist effort to destroy the democratic state of Israel, the killing of innocent civilians, and the establishment of an Islamist totalitarian empire. Israel is a democratic state that supports peace among civilians and neighbor countries, while Hamas is a fascist movement based on hate, war and destruction.

  • crypticguise

    Once again, an intellectual argument with too many words and no clarity. What must Israel do TODAY? Why wait for Iran to gain a "capability". How many Israelis will die if Israel strikes now? The estimates are 500 to 1000 in the aftermath which will be a strike by Hizbollah.

    That would be an equivalent of approximately 40,000 if it was the United States under threat. However, the USA would not wait. I say bomb Iran now. If Hizbollah does attack. Destroy Iran's Refineries. These IslamoNazis are sociopathic murderers. Should the Nazis have been confronted in 1938? What if they had gotten the bomb first?

    Destroy the Iranian capabilities NOW. And then again, and again and again… ad infinitum. Kill the Mullahs.

  • Obama Fodder

    These authors are a couple of Neville Chamberlains trying to appease the Hitlers.

  • Ghostwriter

    As usual,Nakba1948 is living in the Land of Oz. A-Jad and his pals have made their intentions quite clear. They want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. And,we're next on the list. Wake up and face reality. The Iranian mullahs want to destroy everyone and everything that is not like them. You may continue to live in your dream world,but the rest of us don't have that luxury.

  • Mike

    Nakba, you don't have to worry about Israel, it's the GOD of Israel that should scare you to death because he's going to knock the living allah/satan right out of you and all your islam buddies that come against his land Israel. Any questions?

  • Omar

    If the Shah were still in power, there would be much more stability in the Middle East.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    There is one statement that is needed from Netanyahu and that is a simple one for anyone
    to understand, let it be known he will appear before the Israeli Nation and count from ten
    backwards………..10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1……….goodbye Iran………and do not wait until it is
    to late, yesterday would have been good…………………….William

  • Omar

    The Mullahs in Iran are the Fourth Reich. The world needs to stop the regime in Tehran from causing more mayhem and destruction.

  • joel

    This pathetic screed was written by a wanabe Neville Chamberlain! If only this appeasing coward had licked the jackboot one more time,maybe…

  • SCREW SOCIALISM

    I hope Dhimmi Carter(WORST US PRESIDENT EVER) is in Tehran to personally observe the end of the Islamic Republic he helped create.

  • SAM000

    Carter, Dual Clinton, Obama are the same,

    Now Clinton makes the Broker at Dubai for the Mullahs Car Gas oil and other Mullahs Business.

  • ras

    Israel will not succeed with deterrence because no-one will believe that they would actually retaliate in a manner truly causing devastation in Iran – the Iranians will be willing to bet their lives on it (not least because life in Iran is not that super anyway).
    Israel absolutely must react now. There is no way of dealing with this without enraging the mainstream media, so do it now when the cost of human life is minimum. Seeing Israel struggle desperate and alone increases Romney's chances and then we can hit Iran again with heavier bombs and finish the job.