Would you board a plane which had a 5 percent chance of crashing?

Mladen Andrijasevic
In the article Israel's Missile Defense:  The New Strategic Factor in the Middle East  Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel,  writes:  
         
Many, unconsciously perhaps thinking of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War balance, misunderstand this system's effectiveness. Of course, they point out, even if one nuclear missile gets through that would still be catastrophic. But this neglects three factors.

First, the Soviets had many hundreds of nuclear-tipped missiles and could launch dozens at the same time. Iran is unlikely to have more than s small number and will be unable to fire off more than an even smaller number at one time. This improves greatly the chance of a successful defense.

Second, missile defenses have greatly improved since the Cold War era. The diversity of protective systems has grown in a spectacular manner.

Third, Israel must ensure-and know that Iran understands this-that its planes can take off and hit back the attacking country with nuclear weapons of its own. Israeli experts calculate that to have a chance of stopping such an Israeli second strike, Iran would have to fire a dozen missiles simultaneously.

Certainly, it is possible that Iran's regime (or a faction there that might fire missiles without full government approval) would ignore the rational fear of being devastated in return. Yet by maximizing this certainty, the possibility of the Iranian regime ignoring the danger is minimized.
However, Bernard Lewis in his 2006 article in the Wall Street Journal wrote:

For people with this mindset, MAD [mutual assured destruction] is not a constraint; it is an inducement." 

What this means is that the above first three points would make sense if Iran's leaders were rational, but not if, as Bernard Lewis believes, they would be induced by the prospect of mutual assured destruction, in other words when they would be looking forward to triggering a nuclear war.

Barry Rubin takes this possibility into account as well:

Certainly, it is possible that Iran's regime (or a faction there that might fire missiles without full government approval) would ignore the rational fear of being devastated in return. Yet by maximizing this certainty, the possibility of the Iranian regime ignoring the danger is minimized.
I understood that by "maximizing this certainty" Rubin meant the certainty of Iran being devastated in return and everything that should be done on our part to maximize that certainty so that Iran could not ignore it, and know exactly what to expect.  But if Iran's regime were irrational this would just increase their desire to start a nuclear war even more.  Iran would not be ignoring the danger since to them it is not danger but salvation. It would be exactly what they believe they need for the return of the Mahdi.

So the whole analysis hinges on the probability of the Iranian regime being irrational. If this probability were negligible then all the discussion of making sure that Iran knows the consequences of a nuclear exchange and the strength of  Israel's defense  would make sense.  However, if the probability of Iran's regime being irrational is NOT negligible then the function  becomes an inverse function, i.e. the measures  which would prevent Iran from starting a war if it were rational have, de facto, the opposite effect if the regime were irrational.

Let's assume that the probability of Iran's regime being irrational is 5 percent.  Since the "weight factor", i.e. the scale of peril associated with this probability is horrendous there is no point in discussing all the other negative consequences that arise with Iran having nuclear weapons.  Would you board a plane which would have a 5 percent chance of crashing?  Would you be worried about whether there would be someone at the destination airport waiting for you so you would not need to look for a taxi?  Or would the 5 percent probability make you not board the plane and make sure nobody else does?

Barry Rubin concludes

As I've previously pointed out, Israel is unlikely to attack Iran to stop it from getting nuclear weapons. The lack of international support and the difficulty of launching such a mission without an imminent threat, among other factors, inhibit such an operation.

But Israel won't hesitate to attack Iran if there is a real threat that the regime will launch missiles against Israel. You can bet on that.

"If there is a real threat that the regime will launch missiles against Israel " writes Rubin.  There is no IF.  The not negligible probability that the Iranian regime may be irrational is the real threat


In the article Israel's Missile Defense:  The New Strategic Factor in the Middle East  Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel,  writes:  
         
Many, unconsciously perhaps thinking of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War balance, misunderstand this system's effectiveness. Of course, they point out, even if one nuclear missile gets through that would still be catastrophic. But this neglects three factors.

First, the Soviets had many hundreds of nuclear-tipped missiles and could launch dozens at the same time. Iran is unlikely to have more than s small number and will be unable to fire off more than an even smaller number at one time. This improves greatly the chance of a successful defense.

Second, missile defenses have greatly improved since the Cold War era. The diversity of protective systems has grown in a spectacular manner.

Third, Israel must ensure-and know that Iran understands this-that its planes can take off and hit back the attacking country with nuclear weapons of its own. Israeli experts calculate that to have a chance of stopping such an Israeli second strike, Iran would have to fire a dozen missiles simultaneously.

Certainly, it is possible that Iran's regime (or a faction there that might fire missiles without full government approval) would ignore the rational fear of being devastated in return. Yet by maximizing this certainty, the possibility of the Iranian regime ignoring the danger is minimized.
However, Bernard Lewis in his 2006 article in the Wall Street Journal wrote:

For people with this mindset, MAD [mutual assured destruction] is not a constraint; it is an inducement." 

What this means is that the above first three points would make sense if Iran's leaders were rational, but not if, as Bernard Lewis believes, they would be induced by the prospect of mutual assured destruction, in other words when they would be looking forward to triggering a nuclear war.

Barry Rubin takes this possibility into account as well:

Certainly, it is possible that Iran's regime (or a faction there that might fire missiles without full government approval) would ignore the rational fear of being devastated in return. Yet by maximizing this certainty, the possibility of the Iranian regime ignoring the danger is minimized.
I understood that by "maximizing this certainty" Rubin meant the certainty of Iran being devastated in return and everything that should be done on our part to maximize that certainty so that Iran could not ignore it, and know exactly what to expect.  But if Iran's regime were irrational this would just increase their desire to start a nuclear war even more.  Iran would not be ignoring the danger since to them it is not danger but salvation. It would be exactly what they believe they need for the return of the Mahdi.

So the whole analysis hinges on the probability of the Iranian regime being irrational. If this probability were negligible then all the discussion of making sure that Iran knows the consequences of a nuclear exchange and the strength of  Israel's defense  would make sense.  However, if the probability of Iran's regime being irrational is NOT negligible then the function  becomes an inverse function, i.e. the measures  which would prevent Iran from starting a war if it were rational have, de facto, the opposite effect if the regime were irrational.

Let's assume that the probability of Iran's regime being irrational is 5 percent.  Since the "weight factor", i.e. the scale of peril associated with this probability is horrendous there is no point in discussing all the other negative consequences that arise with Iran having nuclear weapons.  Would you board a plane which would have a 5 percent chance of crashing?  Would you be worried about whether there would be someone at the destination airport waiting for you so you would not need to look for a taxi?  Or would the 5 percent probability make you not board the plane and make sure nobody else does?

Barry Rubin concludes

As I've previously pointed out, Israel is unlikely to attack Iran to stop it from getting nuclear weapons. The lack of international support and the difficulty of launching such a mission without an imminent threat, among other factors, inhibit such an operation.

But Israel won't hesitate to attack Iran if there is a real threat that the regime will launch missiles against Israel. You can bet on that.

"If there is a real threat that the regime will launch missiles against Israel " writes Rubin.  There is no IF.  The not negligible probability that the Iranian regime may be irrational is the real threat