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Op-Ed: If You Like North Korea, You'll Love Iran (Part I)

Even if it is already too late to implement lawful strategies of anticipatory self-defense, there are still efforts that should be undertaken soon. It is best not to learn the core lessons of N. Korea when it is already too late for them to help.
Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 3:59 PM


FINAL STRATEGIC CALCULATIONS FOR ISRAEL AND THE UNITED STATES

The ongoing crisis with North Korea has substantially grave implications for rapidly growing nuclear dangers from Iran. In essence, the accelerating strategic threat from North Korea is the result of our waiting too long to do anything of consequence to stop Pyongyang's menacing nuclearization. To be sure, in the matter of North Korea, it is already too late to think seriously about preemption, or what international law would properly term "anticipatory self-defense."

Now, Iran is coming up fast. With regard to acquiring a fully-capable nuclear posture, Tehran is not yet "there." Nonetheless, its verifiable capacity to quickly "go nuclear" is quite plausibly a fait accompli. Here, too, a cost-effective defensive first strike by Israel and/or the United States is no longer reasonable to expect.

There are, perhaps, some limited residual grounds for optimism. Iran’s president does continue to rule over an unpopular regime, and regime change, either by election, or by other internal transformations, is not entirely out of the question. But, for now, Mr. Ahmadinejad, while already lacking any sole direct control or final authority over the country’s military forces, IRGC or WMD (such control and authority remain reserved for the “Supreme Leader,” who is himself more or less responsive to certain clerical cliques), still retains a major influence over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Should this personal influence diminish in any way, there would be no compelling reason to believe that the Supreme leader and his attendant mullahs would necessarily undergo any corollary reduction of extant nuclear intentions or capabilities.

Of course, nothing has been said publicly to signify any tangible change in the regime’s immutable hostility to Israel. As this hostility remains openly exterminatory, the term “genocidal” may be used here without any exaggeration; not as hyperbole, not as polemic, but rather, in the entirely literal and jurisprudential sense. This identifies the formal legal meaning defined at the authoritative international treaty known as the 1948 Genocide Convention (more formally, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide), which entered into force on January 12, 1951.

What have we learned from North Korea? Where should Israel go from here? What about the United States?

Any future Israeli vulnerabilities to an Iranian nuclear attack, nuclear war, and/or nuclear terrorism, would have distinctly palpable strategic reverberations in Washington.

Although generally unrecognized, there are pertinent connections and possible synergies between the creation of "Palestine," and the nuclear threat from Iran. President Barack Obama’s undimmed insistence that Israel undertake further territorial surrenders in compliance with a presumed Two-State Solution could actually enlarge Iran's ultimate nuclear threat to the Jewish State.

In matters concerning Israel and Iran, therefore, Palestine could become a very potent, even if thus far ignored, "intervening variable." Already, by virtue of U.N. General Assembly action late last year, Palestine has the elevated status of a "nonmember observer state."

To properly understand Israel’s overall security future, and also the associated and sometimes interpenetrating strategic future of the United States, there can be no substitute for careful scholarly investigation. This means dispassionate analyses that begin with detached assessments of all enemy capabilities and intentions. These generic components of adversarial threat, capabilities and intentions, are never entirely separate. Often, in fact, they are not only interpenetrating and interdependent, but also interactive.

More precisely, in such strategic calculations: (1) capabilities affect intentions, and vice-versa; and (2) the combined effects of capabilities and intentions may be synergistic, producing distinctly consequential policy outcomes that are more-or-less accelerated, and/or are more than the simple sum of these effects.

Understood in the considerably more specific terms of Iran's now near-imminent nuclear threat to Israel, these interactive relationships between capabilities and intentions warrant close investigation.

Those who might now still downplay the genocidal Iranian threat to Israel must argue either that (a) Tehran's nuclear capabilities remain problematic, and/or that (b) Tehran’s effective willingness to attack Israel remains low. In turn, some of this more optimistic argument would likely be based on the country’s alleged political instability; some, on the other hand, on assumptions of a continuing Iranian leadership rationality. In essence, these latter assumptions would suggest that Iran, at least for the foreseeable future, will remain adequately subject to the pertinent and convincing retaliatory threats of Israeli nuclear deterrence.

Yet, over the next twelve months, Iran's rapid progress toward nuclear weapons will almost certainly become not only genocide-threatening, but also structurally irreversible. This irreversibility could then create conditions whereby a massive first-strike attack against Israel might at some point be regarded in Tehran as perfectly desirable, if not also technically “rational.” Although any such calculation of cost-effectiveness would not necessarily be based upon antecedent religious assumptions, these apocalyptic foundations would more than likely still represent a vital part of Iran’s decisional stance.

Depending upon what will happen in North Korea, this stance may or may not be unprecedented.

Even if it could be correctly assumed that Iran's leaders would always resist any decisions that could carry a considerable risk of massive retaliation, a questionable assumption, to be sure, this would say nothing about the accuracy of information used in making such rational calculations. Rationality, inter alia, always refers only to the intention of maximizing specified values. It says nothing about whether or not the information used is actually correct or incorrect.

Perfectly rational Iranian leaders could thus make errors in calculation that would lead their state to commence a major war against Israel. Significantly, this is the very same prospect that we already face in North Korea, especially if Kim Jong Un's bluster ultimately turns out to be a carefully-concocted exercise in pretended irrationality

LOUIS RENÉ BERES, Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971). He has lectured and published widely on Israeli security issues. Born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945, he was Chair of Project Daniel, and is the author of ten books, and several hundred journal articles and monographs in the field. Some of his published writings on strategy have appeared in Parameters: The Official Journal of the US Army War College; International Security (Harvard); Special Warfare (JFK Special Warfare Center, U.S., Army); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; Strategic Review; Israel Affairs; The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; World Politics (Princeton); Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Armed Forces and Society; Comparative Strategy; Journal of Counter Terrorism and Security International; NATIV (Israel); The Hudson Review; Policy Studies Review; The Jerusalem Journal of International Relations; Political Science Quarterly; International Journal; Philosophy and Social Criticism; The Journal of Value Inquiry; Cambridge Review of International Affairs (Cambridge University); Dissent; The Review of Politics; The American Political Science Review; Policy Sciences; and Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. Professor Beres has also published articles on pertinent strategic matters in several dozen law journals and reviews, and in various monographs published by the Ariel Center For Policy Research (Israel); The Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies (University of Notre Dame); The World Order Models Project (World Policy Institute, New York and Princeton); The Monograph Series in World Affairs (University of Denver); and The Graduate Institute of International Studies (Programme For Strategic and International Security Studies, Geneva, Switzerland)