Perhaps it is unfair to suggest that today’s Iranian leadership is fashioned from different cloth than the Soviets; after all, we are often reminded that the doctrine of mutually assured destruction worked with the Soviet Union for half a century. But even the most ardent hawks have serious doubts about U.S. resolve to “totally obliterate” Iran in the event of a nuclear attack on, say, Israel — despite Hillary Clinton’s threat, as a presidential candidate, to do just that. Rather, most see the usual hemming and hawing about “certainty,” “provocations” and “escalation” as the far more likely rhetoric should such an event occur. And if we in Washington see it that way, why would the Iranians think differently?
This is so many different types of crazy, so let’s focus just on the most obvious problem. For one thing, this assumes that a first strike by Iran against Israel would annihilate Israel’s entire nuclear arsenal, which most estimates suggest numbers between 70 and 400 warheads. This is fantastical, to say the least. Israel possesses enough nuclear submarines and underground missile silos–both of which could withstand even a nuclear attack that wiped out the entire country–that a second strike against Iran would be possible even in the event of such a catastrophe. Even if one grants Pletka’s absurd hypothesis that the US would just sit around and do nothing in the event of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel, surely survivors in Israel and in embassies abroad would respond by ordering a second strike on Iran. The logic of mutually assured destruction, then, applies even in this extreme case. Unless Iran wants to suffer large-scale nuclear attacks from Israel, it cannot attempt a first strike. These facts are mighty inconvenient for fans of a US preemptive strike like Pletka, but for people who actually take the costs of proliferation seriously, they’re pretty important.