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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Iran: Deterrence vs. compellence

In regard to Iran, this story published in The Guardian on February 8 provides the most definitive denial of "war fever" that I've read yet from someone in the Bush administration:
president Bush has made it clear we have no intention of going to war with Iran," said Gordon Johndroe, the spokesman for the White House national security council.
Maybe Johndroe forgot what the President said when he was in Belgium two years ago.

The rest of the newspaper story is about Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's recent deterrent threats directed at the US:
"The enemies know any aggression will give way to a wide reaction from Iranian people toward them and their interests in all parts of the world," Iranian state television quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying...

"We believe that no one will make such an unwise and wrong move (to attack Iran) that would endanger their country and interests," Mr Khamenei said. "Some say that the US president is not the type who acts based on calculations or thinks about the consequences of his action. But even these people can be brought to their senses."
An Iranian naval commander apparently claimed that Iran has tested missiles that could sink big US warships in the Persian Gulf.

Would these kinds of threats be sufficient to deter the US from any kind of attack? Maybe. A nuclear weapon would work even better -- as North Korea would probably advise.

Note also that Khamenei said "enemies" because he's well aware of Israel's latest open efforts to beat the war drums. The LA Times, reported Israel's attempts to compel action on February 7:
Israeli officials have begun an unusually open campaign to muster international political and economic pressures against Iran. They warn that time is growing short and hint that they will resort to force if those pressures fail to prevent Iran's development of an atomic weapon.

Israeli leaders fear that an Iranian bomb would undermine their nation's security even if Tehran never detonated it. That Israel has its own nuclear arsenal would not counteract the psychological and strategic blow, they believe.

Israel began secretly preparing in the early 1990s for a possible air raid on Iran's then-nascent nuclear facilities and has been making oblique public statements about such planning for three years.

What is new is Israel's abandonment of quiet diplomacy to rally others to its side.
Israel has been making hostile threats against Iran fairly overtly since at least fall 2004.

As any student of Thomas Schelling would warn, it is much more difficult to compel than to deter.

Since there's some dispute about how much threat Iran is to Israel, they might want to rethink their strategy.

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