Sunday, November 01, 2015

Dust Off Those Old Cold War Deterrence Studies

The administration's plan for Iran's nuclear ambitions is to contain it for 10-15 years and then hope for the best. Assuming Iran actually abides by the agreement for the full period and does not go nuclear until after the agreement expires, can Israel deter Iran from using nuclear weapons against the "one-bomb" state as the Iranians have described it?

Does Iran's anti-Semitism make deterrence impossible?

Now, assume, reasonably, that Iran’s pursuit of a potentially genocidal weapon will not be seriously impeded by parchment barriers such as the recent nuclear agreement. And assume, prudently, that the Iranian regime means what it says about Jews and their “Zionist entity.”

Then apply Snyder’s warning: Ideas have consequences. The idea of anti-Semitism is uniquely durable and remarkably multiform. It can express a mentality that is disconnected, as in Hitler’s case, from calculations of national interest.

Hence an anti-Semitic regime can be impervious to the logic of deterrence. Much, including Israel’s calculation of what military measures are necessary for its safety, depends on the nature of Iran’s anti-Semitism.

Of course, I think it is possible to take a stab at measuring what might deter Iran from striking Israel on the assumption that anti-Semitism does not trump all else:

Iran endured a pounding in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War (the First Gulf War, as I prefer to call it). Iran lost between 300,000 and 500,000 to kill half as many Iraqis. Let's call it 400,000 dead Iranians to kill 200,000 Iraqis. With a wartime population averaging about 40 million, Iran endured the loss of 1% of their population to kill Iraqis.

So, how much more do Iranians hate Jews than fellow Moslems--albeit Arab Moslems? Twice as much? Ten times as much? Consider that Iran waged war on Iraq after they ejected the Iraqis from Iranian territory in 1982 in order to--as they claimed--get to Jerusalem to kill Israelis. So Iran lost 1% of their population just to get at the real enemy--Israel--they really wanted to fight but for that inconvenient Saddam between them. Then add in the 2% of population losses as the price of killing Jews in large numbers that might wreck Israel.

If you conservatively assume Iranians hate Jews only twice as much as they hate Arabs, you'd have to say that Iran would easily be willing to lose 3% of their population--2.1 million people--to nuke a single Israeli city if they believe Israel truly is a "one-nuke country." Maybe Iran is deterred, based on how many Iranians could die in a counter-strike. But maybe not.

In making that calculation I assumed Israel has no more than 100 nuclear warheads and that Israel could probably only afford to use 25 of them on Iran because a crippled Israel would still need to deter the Arab world from invading to take advantage of the strike by Iran (with a thank you to Israel for taking down Iran quickly forgotten).

I further assume that Israel could inflict 2.5 million deaths on Iran in a nuclear counter-strike, or about 3.3% of Iran's population.

So if anti-Semitism doesn't trump all else, and if my assumptions are correct, maybe Iran can be deterred from striking Israel.

Maybe. Is Israel comforted by the notion that maybe they can deter Iran?