Sunday, October 11, 2009

If the World Won't Stop Iran's Genocide, Israel Must.

by Louis René Beres


Aggressors' intent has been made clear. So must Netanyahu's resolve and own nuclear means

The International Atomic Energy Agency is not especially worried about Iran's newly discovered uranium enrichment operation, and plans to inspect this once secret facility near Qom on October 25. No matter what this inspection reveals, however, sanctions will never be able to protect Israel from a nuclearizing Iran. The Iranian president's frequent and unhidden threats express a clear declaration of intent to commit genocide. Such intent is actually criminalized by binding international law.

Though supported by law, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu understands that the pre-emptive destruction of Iran's growing nuclear infrastructures would involve substantial difficulties. True, Israel has now deployed a system of ballistic missile defense, but even this superb system could not adequately protect Israel's civilians from a nuclear attack.

Even a single nuclear missile that manages to penetrate Israeli defenses could kill very large numbers. In addition, Iran could decide to share its nuclear assets with certain terror groups in the region, with enemies of Israel that could use automobiles and ships rather than missiles as launchers. These groups might also seek "soft" targets in selected American or European cities, such as schools, universities, hospitals, hotels, sports stadiums, etc.

While the IAEA fiddles, Iran continues to augment its incendiary intent toward Israel with a corresponding military capacity. Left to violate Non-Proliferation Treaty rules with effective impunity, Iran's president and his clerical masters might even be undeterred by any threats of retaliation. Such a possible failure of nuclear deterrence could be the result of a presumed lack of threat credibility, or perhaps of a genuine Iranian disregard for all expected harms. In the worst-case scenario, Iran, animated by specifically Shiite visions of "apocalypse," could become the individual suicide bomber writ large.

If Iran does become fully nuclear, Israel may then have to reassess its stance on nuclear ambiguity, and related policies of nuclear targeting. These urgent issues were openly discussed in the Project Daniel final report, first delivered by hand to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Jan. 16, 2003. Originally confidential, the report, titled Israel's Strategic Future , was the carefully informed product of a small group of senior American and Israeli figures drawn from the academic, military, and intelligence communities. Our major recommendation was that under no circumstances should Iran be allowed to "go nuclear."

In the end, Israel's security from Iranian attacks of mass destruction will depend considerably upon its selected targets, and on the precise extent to which these targets have been previously identified. It is not enough that Israel simply has "The Bomb." Rather, the adequacy of Israel's nuclear deterrence and pre-emption policies will depend largely upon the presumed destructiveness of these nuclear weapons, and on where these weapons are thought to be directed.

A nuclear war in the Middle East is not out of the question. Israel will need to choose wisely between "assured destruction" strategies and "nuclear war-fighting" strategies. Assured destruction strategies are sometimes called "countervalue" strategies or "mutual assured destruction." These are strategies of deterrence in which a country primarily targets its strategic weapons on the other side's civilian populations, and/or on its civilian infrastructures.

Nuclear war-fighting strategies are called "counterforce" strategies. These are systems of deterrence wherein a country primarily targets its strategic nuclear weapons on the other side's major weapon systems, and on that state's supporting military assets.

There are serious survival consequences for choosing one strategy over the other. Israel could also opt for some sort of "mixed" strategy. But, for Israel, any policy that might encourage nuclear war fighting should be rejected.

Israel, reasoned Project Daniel, should opt for nuclear deterrence based upon assured destruction. A counterforce targeting doctrine would be less persuasive as a nuclear deterrent, especially to states whose leaders could willingly sacrifice entire armies as "martyrs." If Israel were to opt for nuclear deterrence based upon counterforce capabilities, its enemies might also feel especially threatened. This condition could then actually enlarge the prospect of a nuclear aggression against Israel, and of a follow-on nuclear exchange.

Israel's decisions on countervalue versus counterforce doctrines will depend, in part, on prior investigations of enemy country inclinations to strike first, and on enemy country inclinations to strike all-at-once. Should Israeli strategic planners assume that an enemy state in process of "going nuclear" is apt to strike first and to strike with all of its nuclear weapons right away, Israeli counterforce-targeted warheads, used in retaliation, would hit only empty launchers. In such circumstances, Israel's only application of counterforce doctrine would be to strike first itself, an option that Israel completely rejects. From the standpoint of intra-war deterrence, a countervalue strategy would prove more appropriate to a prompt peace.

Should Israeli planners assume that an enemy country "going nuclear" is apt to strike first, and to hold some measure of nuclear firepower in reserve, Israeli counterforce-targeted warheads could elicit damage-limiting benefits. Here, counterforce operations could appear to serve both an Israeli non-nuclear pre-emption, or, should Israel decide not to pre-empt, an Israeli retaliatory strike. Still, the benefits to Israel of maintaining any counterforce targeting options are outweighed by the expected costs.

Regarding Iran, Israel's best course may still be to seize the conventional pre-emption option. Israel should reject any counterforce targeting doctrine. But if Iran is allowed to continue with its illegal nuclear weapons development, Netanyahu's immediate response should be to end Israel's controversial policy of nuclear ambiguity.

Notwithstanding IAEA assurances, the world has turned a blind eye to Iran's expressly genocidal intent toward Israel, and to Iran's nuclearization. There is no good reason to believe that Tehran would ever stop its plan for nuclear weapons solely because of assorted economic punishments. To Iran, both the U.N. and the U.S. should now finally understand, sanctions represent only a fly on the elephant's back.

No country can be required to become complicit in its own annihilation. Without a prompt change in the "civilized world's" appeasing attitude toward Iran, a law-enforcing expression of anticipatory self-defense may still offer Israel its only remaining survival option.


Louis René Beres is a professor of political science at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international law, strategic theory, Israeli nuclear policy, and regional nuclear war. In Israel, he served as chair of Project Daniel.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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