Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sheizaf, Derfner And What Deterrence Means


by Eamonn McDonagh


Noam Sheizaf and Larry Derfner are worried about the possibility that Israel might attack Iran's nuclear facilities. No surprise there. What sensible person could contemplate such an idea with equanimity? However, both of them fall into the trap of assuming that all the risks are stacked on the side of attacking and none on the side of not taking military action.

Derfner seems to think that the only real problem is what he sees as the Israeli government's obsession with the Holocaust. This is core argument:

The powers-that-be say Israel cannot risk another Holocaust; sounds to me like their Holocaust mania is creating what could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It doesn't seem excessive to parse this as meaning that if an attempt is made to exterminate the Jews of Israel then they'll only have their obsession with the extermination of their European relatives to blame.

He also asks this question:

After all the doomsday weapons we've amassed, must we be so afraid, must we hold onto the Holocaust for dear life?

This doesn't indicate that he has much of an understanding about how deterrence works. Israel's nuclear weapons can't protect it from a nuclear attack. They can only ensure that such an attack would receive a response in kind. Deterrence is founded on the belief that your enemy would be unwilling to accept  the costs that your retaliatory strike would impose on him and hence not attack you. If he's willing to accept those costs then you're in big trouble, just as you are if he believes you'd lack either the means or the will to retaliate.

It's worth reminding those who glibly support the idea that Israel's nuclear arsenal will deter a nuclear  Iran that they are supported the killing of hundreds of thousands - possibly millions - of ordinary Iranians if deterrence fails and Israel retaliates. If you don't support this you are not supporting deterrence. There are no clean hands for anyone in this debate.

He goes on to say that an Israeli attack on Iran would,

cause a full-blown schism among Jews, both in Israel and the diaspora.  It will turn Jews against Israel in droves.

Perhaps it would. And no doubt a future Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would lead to an outpouring of sympathy and solidarity for Israel from Jews throughout the world.  That would be really great for the surviving Israelis.

Sheizaf,  in his piece, argues that,

Israeli Generals have a tendency for creating mass hysteria. Defense Minister Dayan thought in 1973 that the end of Israel has come, and Israel armed its nuclear warheads.

Those silly Israel generals, eh? I mean during the Yom Kippur War there wasn't the slightest reason to be worried about the future of Israel when the Syrian  army was on the point of a breakthrough on the Golan Heights, was there?

He goes ask  the following question,

…if Iran is the biggest threat the Jewish people faced since Nazi Germany, why not compromise on other issues - important as those might be - and maybe help reduce this threat, isolate it, or just deal with it on more favorable terms? Why not try getting Syria out of the game, possibly also Lebanon as a result? Why not strike a deal with Abu-Mazen and help legitimize Israel in the Arab world?

Laudable ideas all, but bringing them up in the context of the argument about what to do about the threat of a nuclear Iran rather suggests that Sheizaf thinks that Iran's hostility to the existence of Israel is based on a vicarious sense of grievance regarding the fate of the Palestinians and the Golan Heights and that were these matters to be addressed the tide of Iranian hostility to Israel's existence might ebb.

Neither Derfner nor Seizaf offer any analysis of Iran's policy towards Israel or on matters such as the Holocaust. It would be perfectly possible to consider these questions and still reject an Israeli attack but neither writer seems to take the government of Iran sufficiently seriously to do so.



Eamonn McDonagh

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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