Deterrence or preemption?

So you are a high-ranking Iranian officer in the “wiping Israel off the map command.” You need to present a strategic approach for defeating the Little Satan. What’s your plan?

First of all, you have learned something from Israeli strategic doctrine and your own experience in the 8-year war with Iraq, and you understand that the war must not be fought on your own territory. For this reason, among others, you will utilize proxies: Hezbollah in Lebanon and various Shiite militias that you are working to locate in Syria. It would also be convenient to coordinate with Hamas, so you will support Hamas in its buildup today, even though it is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, ultimately an enemy of Iran.

You fear, above all else, Israel’s air force. Therefore you will not try to challenge the IDF for air superiority. Instead you will attack with various forms of rockets and missiles, fired from mobile launchers, hardened underground installations, and heavily populated areas. You will invest a large amount of your resources in multiplying the number of launchers and making them as costly to destroy as possible. In this way you can overwhelm Israel’s missile defense systems and gain time to do as much damage as possible to Israel’s civilian and military infrastructure before the IAF destroys your capabilities.

At the same time, you will deploy missiles that are accurate enough to hit specific targets. Israel is a small country with a highly concentrated population. Missile defense systems will be located to protect airbases and other important facilities, but a saturation attack with accurate missiles could succeed in degrading Israel’s capability to strike at the launchers. There are other targets that could generate a great number of civilian casualties and harm to infrastructure, such as the well-known ammonia tank in Haifa, other chemical facilities, tall buildings in Tel Aviv, power plants, and more.

Israel’s weak spot, you believe, is its inability to accept casualties, either among its soldiers or on the home front. So you will try to create panic by dramatic mass-casualty attacks. In addition to the rockets, incursions by Hezbollah troops on the northern border, tunnel attacks by Hamas, and even terrorism from Judea and Samaria can be used. Large segments of the population will flee to safer places, creating chaos. The IDF will ultimately repel incursions in the North and South, but the objective will be achieved.

Thanks to the JCPOA (the nuclear deal), you have been saved from serious economic difficulty. You are also flush with cash (courtesy of American taxpayers). All that money can be used to build up rocket forces, militias, drone fleets, and everything else that you will need. You are no longer prevented from pursuing your missile and nuclear programs (the nuclear program is proceeding covertly).

There is time to build up your forces, you are convinced, because Israel is constrained by international pressure from launching a preemptive attack. During the pre-war period, you will keep up the diplomatic and propaganda pressure against Israel. The objective of this cognitive warfare attack will be to convince the public and the decision-makers worldwide that Israel is an aggressor as well as an illegitimate colonial power, so that when war does come, the Security Council, the Western Powers, Russia, and China will stay out while your forces are ascendant, but demand an immediate cease-fire when Israel prevails.

In addition, you know that Israeli decision-makers believe that even if they attack preemptively they will suffer unacceptable casualties (because any casualties are unacceptable to them). Therefore they will either allow you to strike first or wait until the last moment and try to hit you when they have absolute proof that an attack is imminent, and they have no choice.

You know that the war will be devastating for Israel and for your proxies, but Iran itself will not be directly involved. Israel will suffer mass emigration as citizens with foreign passports leave. Palestinian terrorism will increase along with their hope of success. Either the country will collapse or it will be severely weakened and on the way to collapse.

You know that you are looking forward to war and they are hoping that somehow it will be prevented.

You can relax and have a cup of coffee. Everything is proceeding according to plan. When you are strong enough, you will attack. No matter what happens then, you win.


If you are Gadi Eisenkot or Bibi Netanyahu, you know that an initial attack from Hezbollah’s rockets alone – they can launch up to 1000 a day – would be devastating. You know that this cannot be allowed to happen. You have been telling your population that Hezbollah is deterred from attacking by the expectation of our response, but you know that is incorrect. You know that the reason there is quiet today is that the Iranian military complex is waiting until it feels confident that it is strong enough (and is free from the complications of the Syrian war). You would like to think that you will get adequate warning from your intelligence agencies to preempt the enemy attack, but you can’t be sure.

You should know what the Iranians are thinking. You should understand that the only way to defeat their plan is to preempt their attack with overwhelming force. You will need to hit the missile batteries in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah’s command centers, weapons depots, troop concentrations near the border, and more. At the same time, you must be prepared for an attack from Hamas in the south as well. There is no doubt that no matter what you do, they will succeed in launching many rockets and carrying out terrorist attacks, and there will be casualties. You should keep in mind that it would have been ten times worse if they had been allowed to attack first. As someone recently said, “it must be a 67 and not a 73.”

But that isn’t enough. Hezbollah, Hamas and the Shiite militias are proxies for Iran, which is not deterred by threats to Lebanon or Syria. Iran has been using its time to develop its own missile forces, not to mention its nuclear program. There is close cooperation on the nuclear front between Iran and North Korea, and it is reasonable to assume that Iran already has or could quickly get equivalent capabilities. You cannot allow this threat to continue to exist. You must hit the Iranian nuclear facilities as well as its conventional military infrastructure. Yes, it would have been easier in 2012, but it didn’t happen then.

Time is not on your side. Every day that you do not preemptively attack Iran and its proxies, they get stronger. In addition, the longer you wait, the more likely it is that the enemy will attack first. The diplomatic situation is not improving, and is not likely to improve. There will certainly be great opposition to a preemptive attack, maybe even the imposition of sanctions. But the alternative is worse.


The greatest mistake made by Israel is to assume that deterrence has been effective until now and that it will be effective in the future. But Iran is not deterred! The regime is simply waiting for the moment at which it is ready and at which an attack would be most effective.

This is extremely important. If the enemy is deterred, then it is reasonable to continue the strategy of deterrence indefinitely. Mutual deterrence kept the US and the Soviet Union from nuclear war for almost 50 years. But if the enemy is not attacking because the time isn’t ripe, then continuing the status quo is more dangerous than upsetting it.

Our generals are managers. They have budgets and bureaucratic empires, and they like stability. They don’t want anything to happen to their assets. Most armies tend to lean toward the right; ours maybe leans a bit leftward. The generals are not anxious to fight. The PM also is extremely cautious.

But this is one of the most dangerous moments in Israel’s history, comparable to the period before the 1967 war. The war in Syria is ending and many of Iran’s strategic pieces are already in place.

We have a state today because our leaders didn’t hesitate to act at the right moment. Now is the right moment to deal with the Iranian threat to destroy our state.

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One Response to Deterrence or preemption?

  1. Bonnie Prince Charlie says:

    A frighteningly accurate analysis of the situation.

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