Why A Decapitation Strike By Israel Is More Likely Than One On Iranian Nuclear Facilities

It really was hilarious watching Bibi standing up in front of the UN General Assembly with a clip art picture of a Acme bomb. Hilariously sad, because it underscored the ridiculousness of the whole charade the west puts on regarding their ability to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Look, there are no absolutes here, but I spent a lot of time in school studying nuclear proliferation and containment strategies. Here’s what all of the political science says (note, these are not my “beliefs” or “feelings”, political scientists do studies and look at data, understand the difference):

  • Save for a full ground invasion, it is nearly impossible to stop a country which continues to push for a nuclear weapon from acquiring that weapon eventually. (the Israeli strike on the Iraqi Osirak reactor is not proof of the contrary as Iraq was never fully engaged in building a weapon, those were early stages)
  • It is possible to convince a state which has acquired a nuclear weapon to give them up after the fact.
  • Nuclear weapons are for having, not for using, all of the data says that unstable or belligerent states become more stable post acquisition, they fight fewer wars and fewer proxy wars
  • Post the proliferation of nuclear weapons the world has seen a sharp drop in overall conflict deaths, it is unclear weather this is correlation without causation, but there are reasons to believe that the threat of nuclear war diminishes agressive military behavior.

So you can go on about how the Iranian mullahs and or Ahmadinejad want nothing more than to wipe Israel off the map, but all of the data says that while you might be right about their desire (personally I disagree), the fact is the odds are extremely small. And this is exactly why you can vote in a referendum on whether to legalize weed, but foreign policy is certainly not made by democratic vote. Luckily, most of the time, our foreign policy is made based on a pretty good accounting for reality, though as we saw in Afghanistan, in times of severe shock we do make large avoidable mistakes.

This episode dealing with Iran is a direct replay of of Pakistan acquiring their nuclear weapon. If you don’t know your nuclear proliferation history (I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t), it behooves you to spend a few minutes to read up on just how similar these two episodes are. Basically, in Pakistan you had a fundamentalist Muslim government saying bad things about our ally (India) threatening to invade them, the normal wipe Israel off the map talk, the normal evil America talk, and in the U.S. you had the same exact domestic fear that a Muslim state with a bomb would of course try and use it against us. The west spoke real tough about how they were never going to let Pakistan acquire a weapon, that we would bomb them, invade them, do everything we could to stop them, and then, as if we had never said anything, we just went silent when they crossed the goal line. Guess what, they are still a failed, unstable state, but far more stable than they were, and there are no longer millions of troops lined up on the Indian border ready to start World War III. They are no doubt a pain in the ass, they give nuclear secrets to plenty of other countries, they kill our troops in Afghanistan, they are a general nuisance, but that region has been a far more stable place since they got a bomb.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should just be giving out nukes like candy on Halloween, the point here is that the fear of nuclear proliferation is irrational based upon the data, and that anyone relying on a strategy of denial is deluding themselves. Luckily neither the U.S. or Israeli is in that position.

Given that we are seeing a direct replay in Iran in almost every way, it’s not hard to see how this is going to shake out. The U.S. and Israel need to publicly state that they will do everything they can to prevent Iran from acquiring a bomb, because not doing so would further signal that the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty was dead in the water. Don’t get me wrong, it is dead in the water, but things would develop faster if we publicly said it. Iran will quietly cross the threshold for being able to put together a weapon, and then either stop just short of putting it together, or do it and not tell anyone. Personally I believe they will stop just short as they know the actual nuke does nothing for them, they can’t deliver it. So the optimal strategy is to do exactly what Saddam Hussein did, fake that you’ve got it and hope that acts as the same deterrent as actually having it. In Saddam’s case it was chemical weapons, almost as effective, but it backfired on him due to H.W. being a cowboy and going in without any real evidence that they actually existed. Saddam was counting on H.W. needing some evidence (which didn’t exist) in order to do so.

Regardless, we will eventually acquire intelligence or be directly told that they are at the goal line in order to effect the deterrent force which will allow the mullahs to stay in power. Remember, nukes are for having, not for using, especially if you are Iran and only have one or two. You acquire a nuke and no one is invading, you use the nuke and you’re gonna get nuked 10 times, you’re done. Again, you might think the mullahs are crazy, but everything about the game they’ve played here so far says they know their history and are executing this perfectly to protect their revolution, not go to heaven after bombing Israel.

So let’s finally get to a potential Israeli strike, which I have said for the past 4+ years will not happen. In fact I’ve said to sell that contract all day on InTrade, you would have made a good deal of money each 6 months.

There won’t be an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities for one simple reason, everyone including the Israelis and the Iranians know it won’t matter. The sites are too spread out, too deep, even with excellent intelligence the Israelis do not possess enough firepower to get the job done. The only way for the Israelis to get it done is nuclear, and that isn’t happening.

The other reason it won’t be happening is that the U.S. has said no way about leading the strike, getting directly involved in the strike, or getting involved in a broader war due to a strike. The only hope the Israelis have to really get this done right is to convince the U.S. that one way or another they are going to get dragged into a broader war, and that they might as well just do it right from the get go. I highly doubt though that Obama is going to let Bibi push him around like that. Obama may have no spine for domestic politics, but he’s shown a whole bunch when it comes to foreign policy.

So you’re not going to have the Israelis striking alone.

Here’s the more likely (but still unlikely) scenario. The Israelis attempt a decapitation strike.

While the Iranian nuclear facilities are difficult to destroy with the military hardware the Israelis possess, a strike to decapitate the Iranian leadership and key members of the Revolutionary Guard. This is doable and requires more intelligence than military reach. And given rumblings that Israeli has almost unprecedented intelligence penetration into Iran, I wouldn’t rule out them having the ability to pull it off.

If the end goal of the Israelis is to prevent Iran from getting to the goal line the best option is a change of leadership and given they aren’t invading, decapitation is the best option, revolutions can take a while. Another reason a decapitation strike is optimal for the Israelis comes down to how it will be viewed by the rest of the world. The Russians aren’t going to be happy as they lose massive influence in the region of the Israelis are successful, but the rest of the world that matters will publicly berate Israel, and privately be thankful that someone finally did away with that issue. If they do it right, it’s a win for everyone but Russia, especially the Arab countries which would like to make peace with Israel (especially Jordan) but can’t because Iran continues to instigate in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip supporting Hezbollah and Hamas.

A change of leadership, or at least chaos in Iran will buy far more time for the Israelis to follow up with secondary operations inside Iran to disable the nuclear program than any airstrikes will ever do.

The other upside for the Israelis here is that if they are not successful you can bet that Iran is going to get the U.S. involved whether they like it or not given that Iran will implicate the U.S. in an effort at regime change. The U.S. will be forced to clean up the mess once the fighting starts and will (with limited casualties of <500 men) be able to dispatch the regime and knock out the nuclear program. This isn’t the optimal outcome, but once the Iranians start shooting at large U.S. warships in the straights there won’t be any question of the eventual outcome.

So to reiterate, all of the data and history says that Iran will get or get the potential to put a bomb together. Israel nor the U.S. will execute a strike on the nuclear facilities, and at the end of the day you won’t be any less safe for it having happened. But, the more likely and effective scenario to denying Iran a weapon would be a decapitation strike, still unlikely, but more likely. I put 12 month odds at 20/1.

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