Iran Drumbeat Watch: 'Stability Flip' in Israel?

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Lots of (informed) response, pro and con, to my contention that the United States will not bomb Iran -- and that Israel won't do so unless the Netanyahu government really, truly loses sight of its nation's strategic interests.

Let's start with one from an American reader. I've added emphasis to highlight the main themes:

From our [U.S.] point of view, Israel attacking Iran is probably a mistake.  However, I believe Israel went from indecisive on the issue, to a crisis-mode mentality, around Feb 20-25th -- and a leadership-psychology and crisis-perceptions stability flip is in progress.  I believe that the flip was triggered by the diplomat bombings campaign Iran launched - I think Israel's leaders took that as evidence that Iran's too dangerous to reason with.

I'm not a political scientist ... but I study WMD proliferation and crisis incidents in geopolitics.  A lot of Jervis' work over the last 25 or so years (see for example "Psychology and Deterrence" by Jervis, Lebow, and Stein from 1989) has focused in on leadership and decisionmaking, including leaders' psychological responses to crisis situations,  and things like a disturbing perceived stabilization/destabilization inversion once a crisis sets in. 

Perceptions of one's own vulnerability increase in a crisis, and perceptions of enemy vulnerability may increase as well, making preemptive attacks more tempting.  What are deterrents in peacetime may spur a crisis into war, such as ambiguous WMD programs or tit-for-tat terrorism campaigns (Israel bombs Iranian scientist; Iran bombs Israeli diplomats).

The behavior of Israeli leadership shifted in late February all of a sudden.  What I fear is that they made that psychological flip, and the "stabilization inversion" has flipped restraining forces into perverse go-to-war arguments.

I believe that Iran failed to perceive the Israeli crisis mode and stability inversion in February, though they shifted a bit this week in a possible sign they now perceive it.

I haven't got any particular sources, I'm going by what people are leaking and reporting about the Israeli political, military, and intelligence leadership suddenly getting a lot more active and mobile.

Part of me is wondering whether Iran may have decided that an Israeli strike would actually be a net bonus to Iran [JF note: I agree] - they're far enough down the road that they can, with some slight delay in the fullness of time, make up any losses Israel can realistically inflict.  An Israeli strike will probably be leverage to prevent more UN intervention or later US intervention.  And it gives Iran leverage to take stress off their allies in Syria, possibly lessening the chance of western intervention there.  They don't seem to be egging it on directly, but they seem to be getting ready to take advantage of it.

For a strong pro-deterrence argument, see this new piece by Fareed Zakaria. More to come. And match analyses like the one above, and those to follow, with the simple "bombing will solve the problem" slogans that we're hearing on the campaign trail.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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