Strategic Deterrence will Fail

“We have told the world we are not willing to take it anymore,” he said. “Iran says we can bring the war to your doorstep, because you will never bring it to ours. This is not going to happen. This is not how it’s going to play. I understand why they felt that this is how it worked in previous years, but it’s not going to work with this government. If the Iranians are bringing war to our doorstep, then they’re going to find war at theirs. If they want to avoid it, then we will avoid it as well.” 

Yair Lapid, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, interviewed in The Jerusalem Post, June 1, 2022

Israel successfully deters Iran on the tactical level but will it succeed in deterring Iran strategically as well? The above cited comment by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is an attempt at deterring Iran on the strategic level and his comment requires some explanation. Israel does not have the means to bring war to the doorstep of Iran so this implies a covert defense pact with the United States, not a general defense alliance though but a defense pact directed specifically against Iran. The US has not yet given up entirely on negotiations with Iran but Israel and the United States are using the time to jointly prepare for war against Iran. There are three phases of attacks:

  1. Destroying the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
  2. Imposing a no-fly zone over Iran with air support to Iranian insurgents.
  3. An American-led invasion of Iran.

From Lapid’s comments can we infer that phase 2 (the no-fly zone) has been doctrinally separated from phase 1 (the destruction of the nuclear weapons program) for deterrence purposes in order to protect the Israeli and American homelands as well as the homelands of other allies. The message is: If you don’t dismantle your nuclear weapons program we will destroy it. If you attack us and our allies, including with weapons of mass destruction in order to prompt the reappearance of Hidden Imam as you plan to do, we will bring down your regime with a no-fly zone and if that does not work we will invade and liberate your country. Of course both Israel and the United States are aware that Iran does not doctrinally distinguish between the “Small Satan” and the “Great Satan” when it comes to armed conflict.

While attempting strategic deterrence is nominally prudent and responsible considering Israel’s excellent track record in deterring Iran, it is extremely unlikely to work. Trying is nevertheless worthwhile and necessary. Why will it almost certainly fail? Because it relies on Iran calculating and acting rationally and its strategy of provoking the Hidden Imam to reappear is anything but rational. Iran is tactically rational and that is why most Iran experts mistakenly assume that Iran is strategically rational as well when in fact it is not.

It is necessary to see this from Iran’s perspective. Why would Iran permit itself to be deterred by its archenemies? The logic of that would be for Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program rather than let Israel and America destroy it and that is certainly not going to happen. Rather, what we can conclude is that phase 1 and phase 2 are inevitable but it is unclear whether phase 3 will become necessary as well.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization.

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