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Could a Nuclear War with Iran Really Happen?

Military personnel stand guard at a nuclear facility in the Zardanjan area of Isfahan, Iran, April 19, 2024. Photo: West Asia News Agency via REUTERS

For the moment, as Iran remains “pre-nuclear,” an Israel-Iran nuclear exchange is out of the question. Nonetheless, if Israel is able to maintain its asymmetrical nuclear advantage, a one-sided nuclear war would still be possible. Circumstances could sometime arise in which Israel felt compelled to launch parts of its “ambiguous” nuclear arsenal against Iran. The most plausible rationale of any such launch would be to (1) prevent Iranian “escalation dominance;” and (2) keep Iran from “becoming nuclear.”

In offering suitable explanations, recent history will show that during April 2024, Israel and Iran engaged in a brief but direct interstate conflict. Looking ahead, it would be reasonable to expect additional rounds of direct warfare between these two bitter adversaries. Conflict durations could be much longer and more protracted. It follows that Israel would be under expanding pressures to dominate escalation during periods of hyper-warfare with Iran and that such potentially existential pressures could precipitate an Israeli resort to nuclear weapons use.

Above all else, Israel’s strategic objective vis-à-vis Iran should be nuclear war avoidance. In a near worst-case scenario, Israel could calculate that nothing short of massive non-nuclear preemption would halt Tehran’s ongoing nuclearization.

An Israeli nuclear preemption is inconceivable. But even if Israel’s determination to launch a non-nuclear preemption were analytically correct and law-enforcing, its tangible results could still be catastrophic.

What should now be done by Jerusalem? How should principal Israeli decision-makers balance these dissuasive results against all calculable risks and benefits?

A best answer should be drawn from conceptual and theoretical fundamentals. Israeli strategists should always examine their country’s available security options as an intellectual rather than political task.

There will be pertinent details, both conspicuous and inconspicuous. Any tactically successful conventional preemption against Iranian weapons and infrastructures could come at more-or-less unacceptable costs. In 2003-2004, when this writer’s Project Daniel Group presented an early report on Iranian nuclearization to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, prospective Iranian targets were already more directly threatening to Israel than Iraq’s nuclear Osirak reactor had been on June 7, 1981. That was the date of Israel’s law-based preemption, an operation code-named “Opera.”

To the extent that they could be estimated accurately, the risks of an Israel-Iran nuclear war would ultimately depend on whether the conflict was intentional, unintentional, or accidental. Apart from applying this critical three-part distinction, there would be no good reason to expect optimally useful strategic assessments from Tel Aviv (MOD/IDF).

Once applied, however, Israeli planners should fully understand that their complex subject is without any clarifying precedents, and that this absence would present an insurmountable prediction problem.

It will also be obligatory for Israeli strategists and war planners to bear in mind the timeless warnings of Prussian thinker Karl von Clausewitz on the role of “friction.” At its core, friction represents “the difference between war on paper and war as it actually is.”

Peremptory rules of logic and mathematics preclude any meaningful assignments of probability in matters that are unprecedented or sui generis. To come up with any logically-meaningful estimations of probability, these predictions would have to be based upon the determinable frequency of relevant past events. As there have been no occasions of an interstate nuclear exchange, there could be no relevant past events.

Competent Israeli strategic analysts must examine all current and future nuclear risks from Iran. Such a comprehensive examination should take special note of Iran’s radiation dispersal weapons and its potential capacity to attack Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor with non-nuclear missiles. Also worth emphasizing is that North Korea, bolstered by Russia and China, has been a clamorous ally of Iran, and could sometime allow its national nuclear forces to serve as Iranian proxies during a protracted war with Israel.

If any Israeli planners should assume that a “Trump II” presidency could help in such unpredictable scenarios, they ought first to recall Trump’s ambiguous summarizing message after the Singapore Summit: “We [Trump and Kim] fell in love.”

Following their Singapore meeting, Trump and Kim each seemed to assume the other’s decisional rationality and also the mutual primacy of decisional intent. If such an assumption had not existed, it would have made no logical sense for either president to strike existential retaliatory fear in the other. But what are the derivative lessons of “Singapore” for Israel vis-à-vis Iran? Should Israel also assume a fully rational adversary in Iran? Though any such assumption would be more or less reassuring in Jerusalem’s decision-making circles, it could also be incorrect.

On several occasions during his presidential tenure, Donald Trump praised pretended irrationality as a potentially promising US nuclear strategy. But such a strategic preference could never be purposeful for Israel. This is the case despite Moshe Dayan’s much earlier musing about Israel and its enemies: “Israel must be seen as a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”

Though neither Israel nor Iran might prefer conditions of a steadily escalating war, either or both “players” could still commit catastrophic errors during their obligatory searches for “escalation dominance.” If Jerusalem and Tehran undertake competitive risk-taking in extremis, Israel’s only reliable “ace in the hole” will be its continuing nuclear monopoly.

An unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war between Israel and Iran could take place not only as the result of misunderstandings or miscalculations between rational leaders, but also as the unintended consequence of mechanical, electrical, or computer malfunction. This includes hacking interference and should bring to mind corollary distinctions between unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war and an accidental nuclear war.

Though all accidental nuclear war would be unintentional, not every unintentional nuclear war would be caused by accident. An unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war could sometime be the result of certain misjudgments about enemy intentions.

“In war,” says Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz famously in On War, “everything is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.” Fashioning a successful “endgame” to any impending future nuclear confrontation with Iran, Israel’s leaders will need to understand that a crisis in extremis is inevitably about more than maximizing any “correlation of forces” or “missile-interception” capabilities. It will be about variously antecedent Israeli triumphs of “mind over mind.”

As a nuclear war has never been fought, what will be needed in Jerusalem is more broadly intellectual guidance than Israel could ever reasonably expect from even its most senior and capable military officers.

The reason is simple.

There are no plausible experts on fighting an unprecedented kind of war, not in Jerusalem, not in Tehran, not anywhere. It was not by happenstance that the first serious theoreticians of nuclear war and nuclear deterrence in the 1950s were academic mathematicians, physicists, and political scientists. Having to deal with matters that lacked usable historic or empirical data, these thinkers were forced to rely essentially on deductive logic, deriving their essential strategic theories from meticulously assembled abstractions.

There remains one final point about still-estimable risks of an Israel-Iran nuclear war. From the standpoint of Jerusalem, the only truly successful outcome would be a crisis or confrontation that ends with a reduction of Iranian nuclear war fighting intentions and capabilities. It would represent a serious mistake for Israel to settle for any bloated boasts of “victory” based upon a one-time avoidance of nuclear war. In this geo-strategic conflict with Iran, potentially existential dangers to Israel are foreseeably continuous.

The Israel-Iran strategic conflict is self-propelling. For Jerusalem, providing Israeli national security vis-à-vis a steadily-nuclearizing Iran ought never to become an ad hoc or “seat-of-the-pants” struggle. Without any suitably long-term plan in place for avoiding an atomic war, a nuclear conflict that is deliberate, unintentional or accidental could “sometimes happen.”

At every stage of its corrosive competition with Tehran, Israel should avoid losing sight of the only rational use for its presumptive nuclear weapons and doctrine. That limited use is to maintain Israeli “escalation dominance” during military crisis and to prevent an operationally usable Iranian nuclear force. More generally, nuclear weapons can succeed only as instruments of strategic deterrence and nuclear war avoidance. By reasonable definition, any actual use of a state’s nuclear weapons would “automatically” signify their failure. Israel ought to view ongoing “asymmetrical” conflict with Iran as the preferred context for preventing Iranian nuclear weapons.

There is something else. In the absence of such conflict, an already nuclear Israel could still exercise a preemption option against a pre-nuclear Iran, but only as a “bolt-from-the-blue” attack. Though this particular sort of action could fulfil all authoritative expectations of “anticipatory self-defense” under international law, it would be vastly more difficult to support in political and public relations terms.

What if Israel and Iran were both “already nuclear”? In such a next-to-worst case scenario, Israel, having failed to act in a timely fashion, could have to strike preemptively against a more menacing adversary. In a worst case scenario, Israel would fail to prevent a nuclear Iran, and Iran would become the first adversary to fire its nuclear weapons. Certain specific Arab states could rush to join the “nuclear club.” In all likelihood, these states — potentially joined by Turkey — would be Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Summarizing all these “strategy of conflict” issues in policy-relevant terms, Israel’s only cost-effective strategy would be to prevent Iranian nuclearization and correlative Arab state nuclearization by dominating escalations during a non-nuclear war or an asymmetrical nuclear war. Ideally, such a strategy would be exercised during the course of an already-ongoing armed conflict, though Israel could, as last resort, plan “bolt-from-the-blue” strikes against Iranian hard targets that are convincingly lawful expressions of national survival options. Under international law, these permissible strikes would be examples of “anticipatory self-defense.”

In the end, we are all creatures of biology. For Israel and Iran, a nuclear war would resemble any other incurable disease. For both, therefore, the only reasonable survival strategies must lie in prevention.

Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books, monographs, and scholarly articles dealing with military nuclear strategy. In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel. Over recent years, he has published on nuclear warfare issues in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; The Atlantic; Israel Defense; Jewish Website; The New York Times; Israel National News; The Jerusalem Post; The Hill and other sites. A different version of this article was originally published by Israel National News.

The post Could a Nuclear War with Iran Really Happen? first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Timothée Chalamet to Play Lead Role in New Film About Jewish Ping Pong Champion Marty Reisman

Timothée Chalamet at the World Premiere of ‘Dune: Part Two’ held at the Leicester Square Gardens, London, United Kingdom on Feb. 15, 2024. Photo: Cover Media via Reuters Connect

French Jewish actor and Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet is set to star in and produce a new film about the late Jewish table tennis legend Marty Reisman.

Chalamat will play the lead role in “Marty Supreme,” written by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein, who will also produce with Eli Bush and Anthony Katagas. The film is from producer A24, which also distributed Safdie’s past films “Uncut Gems” and “Good Time.” A24 took to social media on Tuesday to confirm that Chalamet has joined the project. A release date for the film has not been announced.

 

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Nicknamed the “wizard of table tennis,” Reisman was an American professional ping pong champion who won 22 major table tennis titles between 1946 and 2002, including two United States Opens and a British Open. He won five bronze medals at the World Table Tennis Championships and, in 1997, became the oldest player to ever win an open national competition in a racket sport at the age of 67 by winning the United States National Hardbat Championship.

Reisman was known as “the Needle” for his slim frame and quick wit, and once opened for the Harlem Globetrotters with a ping pong comedy routine in which he used his shoes as paddles. He was also known for his flamboyant style and gravitated towards bright colored clothing, Borsalino fedoras, and Panama hats. Reisman was born in New York City and began playing table tennis as a child. He started his career as a hustler in Manhattan, playing for bets. He died in 2012 in Manhattan at the age of 82.

The Safdie bothers split up creatively earlier this year to pursue solo projects. “Marty Supreme” is the first time that Josh Safdie is directing a film since “Uncut Gems,” and his first solo feature directorial effort since 2008’s “The Pleasure of Being Robbed.” In 2019, Chalamat praised the Safdie brothers, saying they have “continuously put out contemporary, raw, and untethered work over the last decade, each film building on the traits of the prior, but never once sacrificing their innate grittiness.”

Chalamet’s latest film — James Mangold’s “A Complete Unknown,” in which he plays a young Bob Dylan — is currently in post-production.

The post Timothée Chalamet to Play Lead Role in New Film About Jewish Ping Pong Champion Marty Reisman first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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The Hostages Should Be an International Issue — Not Just an Israeli One

People walk past images of hostages kidnapped in the deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas from Gaza, in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 11, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The world witnessed an unprecedented crisis when citizens from 24 countries were abducted by Hamas and taken into Gaza as hostages on October 7, 2023.

Even now, there are hostages still being held by Hamas with 22 foreign nationalities: The United States, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Tanzania, Thailand, the UK, and Ukraine.

Despite the representation of countries across the globe, the international outcry has been surprisingly — and sadly — muted. The “hostage issue” has largely been perceived as an Israeli one, leaving the responsibility of bringing them home to the IDF and the Israeli government.

According to Daniel Shek, a former Israeli diplomat and spokesperson for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, the international dimension of this crisis is crucial. He warns that the unprecedented kidnapping on October 7 should concern the global community, because something similar could happen anywhere in the world, especially if those responsible are not severely punished for it.

Shek’s assessment of the international response is blunt: “Sufficient? Certainly not.”

There has not been a significant, concerted effort among the various countries to work together or form some kind of pressure group to release the hostages, he says. Most of the concrete efforts to try and resolve the situation have been individual or independent of each other.

In late October 2023, Russian diplomats met with a Hamas delegation in Moscow and insisted that special attention be paid to eight Russian-Israeli citizens being held hostage in Gaza. By November, three of these hostages were released, including Roni Krivoi, a sound engineer working at the Nova Festival when it was attacked (one of the few men released from captivity during this time).

Following the initial release of 17 Thai citizens, two additional Thais were released from captivity in November. A Thai Muslim group claimed its efforts were key to ensuring the release of those hostages. “We were the sole party that spoke to Hamas since the beginning of the war to ask for the release of Thais,” Lerpong Syed, President of the Thai-Iran Alumni Association told Reuters.

One significant effort occurred on April 25, when the leaders of 17 countries joined US President Joe Biden in the first official joint statement calling for the release of the hostages. Among the countries were Argentina, France, Germany, and the UK:

We call for the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza for over 200 days. They include our own citizens. The fate of the hostages and the civilian population in Gaza, who are protected under international law, is of international concern…We strongly support the ongoing mediation efforts in order to bring our people home. We reiterate our call on Hamas to release the hostages, and let us end this crisis so that collectively we can focus our efforts on bringing peace and stability to the region.

Since this statement, however, concrete efforts have been minimal. Biden has expressed a moral commitment to bringing Israeli-American hostages home and has met with them and their families on multiple occasions, but his success in doing so has been limited. There are still eight American citizens being held hostage in Gaza, five of whom are presumed alive.

Liat Beinin Atzili is a survivor.

It was my honor to welcome her to the White House this evening, hear firsthand about her resilience despite enduring the unthinkable, and promise her that my work isn’t done until we secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas. pic.twitter.com/4fMneEkHzv

— President Biden (@POTUS) July 9, 2024

When compared to previous high-profile hostage situations, such as the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, the disparity in global attention is unmistakable. The Iranian hostage crisis gripped the American public and media, whereas the Israeli hostages, including US citizens, have not gained similar levels of attention from the American people.

In 2014, when 276 girls were kidnapped from a school in Chibok, Nigeria, by the Islamist militia group Boko Haram, a campaign for their return drew widespread international support.

The “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign included endorsements from prominent figures like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. In stark contrast, the Israeli hostages’ plight has not seen comparable global outrage. This is despite the hard work of hostages’ families, who fly across the world to fight for their loved ones’ freedom.

In some cases, the hostages have even faced negative attention — a phenomenon unheard of in past crises. Posters of the hostages have been torn down around the world, and some media personalities have questioned the legitimacy of reports from the October 7 attacks.

Shek sums up the universal nature of this cause.

“It doesn’t really matter on which side of the political divide you are in Israel, the US, in France, or anywhere else. It doesn’t really matter on which side of the Israel-Palestine divide you are,” he says. “It’s unjust that innocent civilians have been held for nine months under inhumane conditions. They have been deprived of their rights under international law, and have had no decent medical care or access by the Red Cross. This should concern anyone who cares about human rights.”

The fact that 120 hostages from 22 different countries were taken from Israel by terrorists and remain in Gaza until today demands urgent international action. This hostage crisis is not only an Israeli issue, but a global one.

So, world, where is your outrage? Why don’t you fight to bring your people home?

Miriam Bash is from Livingston, New Jersey, and currently studying Psychology and Marketing at Washington University in St. Louis. Outside of class, she is involved in the TAMID Group at WashU, and is an active member of her campus’ Hillel and Chabad organizations. She is an intern at HonestReporting, where a version of this article first appeared.

The post The Hostages Should Be an International Issue — Not Just an Israeli One first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Hamas Leader Deif’s Deadly Hideout: Media Overlook the Strategic Civilian Shield

Hamas executed one of its military commanders for informing the Israelis on the hideout used by Mohammad Deif (pictured above) during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. PHOTO: Channel 2 News.

The IDF carried out one of its most significant operations in on Saturday since the start of the war against Hamas, executing a strike that targeted Mohammad Deif, one of the masterminds behind the October 7 attack.

Eliminating Deif, the leader of the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades and Hamas’ second-in-command in Gaza, would be a significant blow. While there’s no official confirmation of his death, and Hamas claims Deif is “fine,” it’s worth noting that Saudi news network Al-Hadath reported that his deputy, Khan Younis Brigade Commander Rafa Salama, who was with Deif, was killed.

Deif, nicknamed “The Guest” for his habit of frequently changing locations to avoid detection, has long been hunted by Israel for his involvement in planning and executing numerous terror attacks throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including the 1996 Jaffa Road bus bombings.

Some facts about Saturday’s incident were immediately clear.

First, it took place in the al-Muwasi humanitarian zone near Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, and the IDF is investigating reports that a number of civilians died.

Second, the airstrike targeted senior Hamas operatives.

This latter point was highlighted in almost every international media outlet, noting that Deif might have been killed and invariably referring to him as the Hamas “military chief” or the “architect of October 7,” with a few notable exceptions.

The BBC botched an initial report on July 13.

On its YouTube channel, the broadcaster framed the incident as “90 killed and 300 injured” in an Israeli strike on a Gaza “humanitarian area,” and only mentioned later in the report that Israel was targeting senior Hamas commanders, including Deif.

Similarly, CBS News neglected to mention Deif in its headline, describing it instead as an “Israeli attack on the southern Gaza Strip” that left “at least 90 dead,” according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

The Irish Times reported the death toll as fact, without any attribution, in a piece headlined, “Gaza: At least 90 killed, 300 injured in Israeli airstrike on designated humanitarian zone.”

The focus on the strike taking place in a designated humanitarian zone explains why there were civilian casualties. However, not a single media outlet commented on the fact that senior Hamas commanders, including Deif, were intentionally hiding there. This omission ignores the blatant reality that Hamas exploits civilian areas for cover, leading to inevitable deaths.

Journalism students are often taught about using the “five Ws” – Who? What? When? Where? Why? – to gather the essential points for a story. There used to be another critical question, one that many journalists now forget to ask: “How?”

How did Palestinian civilians die in an Israeli airstrike calculated to take out senior Hamas commanders?

The media should report the patently obvious answer: Deif and his terror acolytes chose to hide in the al-Muwasi humanitarian zone, using the men and women sheltering there as human shields.

Hamas leaders embed themselves within civilian populations because they want Palestinians to die, with Yahya Sinwar even describing civilian deaths as “necessary sacrifices.”

On Saturday, The New York Times detailed how Hamas terrorists, dressed in plain clothes, “hide under residential neighborhoods, storing their weapons in miles of tunnels and in houses, mosques, sofas – even a child’s bedroom – blurring the boundary between civilians and combatants.”

While the Israeli military makes every effort to minimize civilian harm – including, in this case, using accurate visualizations of the “open, wooded area” and acting on additional intelligence information–unintended casualties are a tragic consequence of Hamas’ strategy.

The fact is that Israel has a duty to defend its citizens and protect them from further harm. In the context of its war against Hamas in Gaza, this means eliminating the terrorists who perpetrated the very massacre that started this war.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The post Hamas Leader Deif’s Deadly Hideout: Media Overlook the Strategic Civilian Shield first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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