MAD about Iran?

Edward Jay Epstein asks whether the CIA was wrong (again) in its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. “In a stunning departure from all the previous estimates dating back to 1997 under Presidents Clinton and Bush,” Epstein recalls, the CIA declared in its 2007 NIE: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

Reviewing the most recent evidence, Epstein concludes that the CIA got it wrong. “[I]n light of all the developments in the past year,” Epstein writes, “America’s new president will have to confront the reality that Iran now has the capability to change the balance of power in the Gulf, if it so elects to do so, by building a nuclear weapon.”

Contemplating this eventuality, Obama is reported by Haaretz to be prepared to offer Israel a place under the American “nuclear umbrella.” According to Haaretz, the Obama administration “will declare that an attack on Israel by Tehran would result in a devastating U.S. nuclear response against Iran.”

The Haaretz report is based on a single “well-placed American source.” It is puzzling on its face. Israel by itself possesses the capacity to inflict a devastating nuclear response on Iran if Iran strikes Israel with nuclear weapons. The problem is that destroying Israel would only take a few nuclear weapons and the powers-that-be in Iran might be willing to pay the price.

If true, the Haaretz report would suggest that Obama has essentially abandoned his previous statements declaring Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons to be “unacceptable.” It would suggest that Obama is reconciled to the prospect of Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons. And it would fail to take into account the possible difficulty of deterring a regime whose theology might welcome an Islamic apocalypse.

Bernard Lewis has observed that “Iran’s leadership comprises a group of extreme fanatical Muslims who believe that their messianic times have arrived.” Accordingly, for the Iranian regime, “mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent factor, but rather an inducement” because the regime’s authorities believes it “can hasten the final messianic process. This is an extremely dangerous situation of which it is important to be aware.”

Via reader Ethan Brecher.

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