Academic journal article McNair Papers

Neighbors, Negotiators, and Nonproliferators

Academic journal article McNair Papers

Neighbors, Negotiators, and Nonproliferators

Article excerpt

If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality. (27)

--Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, December 14, 2001

Israeli Options Toward a Nuclear-Armed Iran

Israeli civilian and military officials as well as academics view a nuclear-armed Iran with great trepidation. Israelis take at face value the threats from Iran to drive them out of Palestine or place them under Muslim rule in a unitary state, to liberate Jerusalem, and to restore the Palestinians to their homeland. Scarcely mentioned are the fact that the shah was open to engagement with Israel (28) or the possibility that Iran's hostility toward Israel could ever waver. In fact, however, popular sentiment in Iran today appears divided, with some favoring ties with Israel, and others, influenced by the visible suffering of the Palestinians under occupation, opposing ties.

What Israelis cannot overlook are the terrorist operations against Israeli targets by Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad, both Palestinian factions receiving Iranian aid, and the Lebanese Hizballah, created by Iran in the early 1980s as a surrogate for terrorist operations against Western, U.S., Gulf Arab, and Israeli targets. For the Iranian Islamic republic, Palestinian suicide bombers are not terrorists; they are freedom fighters and therefore worthy of assistance. For Israelis, Iran and its surrogate Hizballah in Lebanon are real and not merely existential threats. Hizballah operations against Israeli targets, cross-border attacks, even the flight of an unmanned drone across the border are all extensions of the Iranian threat. For Israelis, then, it takes no leap of imagination to see Iran providing Hizballah or the Palestinians with weapons of mass destruction or being willing to use nuclear weapons against the Jewish state. This worry is underscored by Iran's development of its Shahab-3 missile, which has sufficient range--over 1,300 kilometers--to reach anywhere in Israel.

The "Never-Again" Principle

Despite the consensus that exists in Israel about the nature of a nuclear threat from Iran, there is debate over how Israel should react. If one assumes that Iran has not yet crossed the nuclear threshold and that its facilities are known and vulnerable, then many Israelis support a preemptive strike by Israel or the United States. They argue it does not matter that all the targets cannot be identified and that there probably will be collateral damage; it will be enough to set Iran back a few years, just the way the Israeli attack on the Iraqi Osiraq reactor in 1981 delayed Baghdad's nuclear ambitions. Those who argue for attacking while Iran is still in transition cite the Begin doctrine. As described by one Israeli historian:

   On June 9, two days after Israel destroyed Iraq's reactor, Prime
   Minister Menachem Begin had a press conference and praised the raid
   and justified it on moral and legal and defense grounds. Begin
   alluded to the holocaust and what kind of holocaust a single Iraqi
   atomic bomb could bring against Israel, and ended by evoking the
   memory of the holocaust and invoking "never again" as the ultimate
   justification for the preemptive strike. Begin said never again
   will another holocaust happen in the history of the Jewish people.
   In another interview a few days later, he said this attack will be
   a precedent for every future government in Israel. The theme was
   repeated by Sharon as defense minister. This became known as
   the Begin doctrine. It is understood as a broad national commitment
   to deter hostile neighboring countries from acquiring nuclear
   weapons. In the wake of the attack (Osiraq), it was understood as
   preemptive. … 
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