Fingers crossed? How about nuclear annihilation?

HENGHAMEH FAHIMI/AFP/Getty Images Anne Applebaum airs the familiar complaint that the Iraq mess has made real sanctions on Iran less likely. She then goes on to say: What, then, are we left with? Fingers crossed, that those who say Iran’s nuclear bomb is years away are right. Fingers crossed, that maybe Iran really does just ...

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An Iranian surface-to-surface Shahab-2 missile is displayed by the Revolutionary Guards under a portrait of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at Baharestan Square as a sign of resistance and to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), 28 September 2003 in Tehran. Iran will not compromise on its right to nuclear technology or to conduct uranium enrichment, the foreign ministry said, shrugging off mounting international pressure over its atomic programme. AFP PHOTO/Henghameh FAHIMI (Photo credit should read HENGHAMEH FAHIMI/AFP/Getty Images)

HENGHAMEH FAHIMI/AFP/Getty Images

Anne Applebaum airs the familiar complaint that the Iraq mess has made real sanctions on Iran less likely. She then goes on to say:

What, then, are we left with? Fingers crossed, that those who say Iran's nuclear bomb is years away are right. Fingers crossed, that maybe Iran really does just want a civilian nuclear program. Fingers crossed, that if Iran gets nukes, its government will behave responsibly.

HENGHAMEH FAHIMI/AFP/Getty Images

Anne Applebaum airs the familiar complaint that the Iraq mess has made real sanctions on Iran less likely. She then goes on to say:

What, then, are we left with? Fingers crossed, that those who say Iran’s nuclear bomb is years away are right. Fingers crossed, that maybe Iran really does just want a civilian nuclear program. Fingers crossed, that if Iran gets nukes, its government will behave responsibly.

Fingers crossed? Anne, like many other pundits, seems to have forgotten about a well-developed doctrine called “deterrence.” During the Cold War, math whizzes at places like the Rand Corporation churned out reports and game-theory matrices on the subject; in other words, we know a lot about it, and it’s a lot more sophisticated than a pundit’s “fingers crossed.”

But you don’t have to have a black belt in deterrence theory to understand the issues when it comes to Iran’s would-be nukes. Let’s take the case of Israel, which would theoretically be the country most threatened by an Iran with nuclear weapons. Israel reportedly has upwards of 200 nuclear bombs and/or warheads and second-strike capability. Notably, Israel has three nuclear-armed submarines; Iran has no technology that can detect them.

In the extremely unlikely event that the mullahs are foolish enough to launch their unreliable missiles on Tel Aviv and/or Jerusalem (most likely killing tens of thousands of Muslims and destroying several major Islamic holy sites in the process), Israel will annihilate Iran. With their submarines, the Israelis can do so even if their entire country is destroyed first. Boom. That’s deterrence.

It’s that simple. And the United States offers another order of magnitude of deterrent power. Sanctions and negotiations may yet prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; there is plenty of time, and there is no hard evidence that Iran has even made the political decision to weaponize. But even if diplomacy fails, as no less a personage than former CENTCOM commander John Abizaid said recently, “Nuclear deterrence would work with Iran.” Just like it worked with the Soviets, who were vastly more powerful and much more aggressive. This is not to say that there wouldn’t be problems, but they would be manageable.

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