Are Iran’s leaders rational actors? This question matters when justifying any decision by Israel to preempt Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. An Iranian regime seen as driven to destroy the Jewish state has to be dealt with differently than one whose objectives are mediated by calculations of costs and benefits. Deterrents that would be normally expected to restrain a state would not work with an irrational Iran. But if the Islamic republic, for all its bluster, in fact carefully weighs its policies and values regime survival, then threats alone could succeed in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions—and presumably this Iran would allot high priority to avoiding armed attack on its homeland.

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