Deterring Iran; Israel Seeks to Head off Nuclear Strike

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 11, 2007 | Go to article overview

Deterring Iran; Israel Seeks to Head off Nuclear Strike


Byline: Louis Rene Beres and Isaac Ben-Israel, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The "doomsday clock" continues its advance to "midnight." Existential atomic danger is most immediate to Israel. Iran poses the greatest problem.

Israel knows that the Iranian president's exterminatory threat is real. In law, this threat signifies the intent to commit genocide. Israel also recognizes that the pre-emptive destruction of Iran's growing nuclear infrastructures would involve serious operational and international difficulties. For interception, Israel has deployed elements of the tested Arrow system of ballistic missile defense, but even the Arrow would have "leakage." A single incoming nuclear missile that manages to penetrate Arrow could promptly kill 25,000-50,000 civilians, and even more if we include long-term fatalities. Iran could also share its nuclear assets with terror groups that would use cars and ships rather than missiles as delivery vehicles. These enemies might seek nuclear targets in New York or Chicago as well as Israel.

Iran now augments its declared intent with a corresponding capacity. Left to violate binding treaty rules with impunity, Tehran might be undeterred by threats of Israeli and/or American retaliation. Such a failure of nuclear deterrence could be the result of a presumed lack of threat credibility or even of willful Iranian indifference. Iran could even become the suicide bomber in macrocosm, a nuclear-armed state willing to "die" as a "martyr."

Iran's illegal nuclearization has already started a perilous domino effect in the region. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have announced possible plans to develop nuclear capability "for peaceful purposes." Strategic stability in a proliferating Middle East could never resemble earlier U.S.-Soviet deterrence dynamics. Even the key assumption of rationality might be unwarranted.

A nuclear Iran could therefore lead to a nuclear war in the Middle East. Israel will need to choose wisely between "assured destruction" and "nuclear war-fighting." These are alternative strategies in which one side primarily targets its strategic weapons on the other side's populations and infrastructures or on that enemy state's weapons systems and supporting military assets. Israel could also opt for a "mixed" strategy, but any targeting policy that might encourage nuclear war- fighting would be more costly than gainful.

Israel should opt for nuclear deterrence based upon assured destruction. A counterforce targeting doctrine would be less persuasive as a nuclear deterrent, especially to leaders who might sacrifice their armies as "martyrs." And if Israel were to opt for nuclear deterrence based upon counterforce capabilities, its pertinent enemies could feel especially threatened. …

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