Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Iran is indeed developing nuclear weapons (not a stretch) and that they possess the technology and resources to at least make a few Hiroshima-sized bombs (not a stretch).
Let’s also assume that, practical-minded souls that they are, they use the first bomb they make, on a) Tel Aviv or Jerusalem; b) New York or Washington; c) an uninhabited Canadian island, because their delivery system screws up somehow. In any case, we’re in a Tom Clancy novel so we can determine the origin of the bomb beyond a shadow of a doubt by delicately tasting the fallout. Do you think we would, in each case:
- Retaliate with a nonnuclear strike against strategic targets in Iran, including nuclear fabrication sites, missile sites, aircraft and airfields, etc and impose a strict quarantine on the country?
- Obliterate a civilian target to the extent that they would suffer at least as many casualties as their attack(s) had caused?
- Turn the country into a radioactive slagheap?
- Immediately forcefully demand that the U.N. frown at them?
I’m afraid that they might think that we would never do 2) or 3), even if they did devastate New York. And certainly, it’s unlikely we would do 2) or 3) if they blew up Tel Aviv (although Israel would probably do 3) all on its own in that event). So if they (rightly or wrongly) underestimated our resolve, they might make the Pearl Harbor-ish blunder of blowing up the Great Satan and damn the consequences.
How far do you think we would go to retaliate (in each scenario, above)? How far do you think they think we would go? Do we, in fact, have a credible deterrent? (Deterrents don’t work very well if your adversary is insane, for example.)