The War Over Containing Iran

Andrew Krepinevich, Shahram Chubin, Karim Sadjadpour, Eric S. Edelman, Dima Adamsky, Diane De Gramont, Evan Braden Montgomery
Content Type
Journal Article
Foreign Affairs
Issue Number
Publication Date
March/April 2011
Council on Foreign Relations
How would the Israeli defense establishment respond if Iran went nuclear? Is Washington focusing too much on military containment at the expense of political containment? And is a grand bargain with Tehran possible?
Cold War, War
Political Geography
Iran, Washington, Israel
THE MORNING AFTER IN ISRAEL Dima Adamsky "The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran" (January/ February 2011) correctly notes that "the early stages of an Iranian-Israeli nuclear competition would be unstable," prompting the question of just how Israeli military strategists would react if and when Iran goes nuclear. The insecurity generated by a nuclear Iran might dwarf previous peaks of existential fear in Israel. A nuclear Iran would likely undermine the foundations of Israeli self-confidence by crossing two "redlines" in the Israeli strategic psyche. First, the arsenal of a single country would pose an existential threat, conjuring memories of Nazi Germany. Focusing on Iran's ultimate destructive capability rather than its intentions, Israeli strategists might therefore view a nuclear Iran apocalyptically. Second, many Israelis might come to believe that the end of Israel's nuclear monopoly has terminated the country's ultimate insurance policy, fundamentally undermining Israel's general deterrence posture. These concerns, as Eric Edelman, Andrew Krepinevich, and Evan Montgomery assert, might lead Israeli strategists to reexamine nuclear policies and adjust their current deterrence models. MAD MULLAHS? Three schools of thought might emerge within the Israeli defense establishment the day after Iran crosses the nuclear threshold. The first school would likely see a nuclear Iran as a cold-mindedly pragmatic country, which represents the ultimate strategic challenge. The second school would likely perceive a nuclear Iran as a reckless, irrational regime, which constitutes a fully materialized existential threat. The third -- and smallest -- school would likely see an opportunity for reconciliation through mutual disarmament. The proponents of the first school -- those who subscribe to the Cold War notion of mutual assured destruction (MAD) -- would reconcile themselves to the new strategic environment. For political and operational reasons, the MAD school would consider military action against Iran ineffective and impossible after Iran's nuclearization.