Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Weekly column by Vic Rosenthal

Did you ever notice how from time to time a particular theme appears simultaneously in various media? One that I’ve seen a lot of lately is “Israel doesn’t have the ability to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, so we need to find a way to live with it.” Here is yet another example, from security analyst Yossi Melman, writing in Ha’aretz:

As the nuclear talks with Iran resume in Vienna, Israel must try to reach an agreement with Washington, by which the U.S. will extend it a nuclear umbrella and openly acknowledge it. …

The deployment of a nuclear umbrella is the ultimate guarantee of deterrence in the face of Iran’s nuclear program and, if Tehran succeeds in assembling a nuclear weapon, the possibility that Iran will threaten Israel in order to extract concessions from it. …

You don’t have to be a general or a military strategist to understand [why Israel can’t destroy Iran’s nuclear program]. It’s enough to look at the map, at the forces operating in the area and to read about the air force power from available sources. …

I’ve left out Melman’s detailed arguments about why it would be difficult. He discusses countries the IAF can and can’t fly over, the need for refueling, the fact that we would almost certainly lose some pilots, and so on. But all he can do is produce a list of constraints. Such a list only shows that he, Melman, doesn’t know how to attack Iran.

Let’s look at the consequences if Iran develops a nuclear capability (in this context it doesn’t matter if they have a bomb or just the ability to assemble one quickly). The psychological effects for Israelis of living under that kind of threat would be crushing. Because of the great imbalance in size and population between the countries, the threat of Israeli retaliation might not be sufficient to deter Iran from a first strike, especially if it were combined with a massive rocket attack from Hezbollah. And remember that the Iranian leadership acts in large part from religious motives, which may lead to irrational behavior.

Other countries in the region, like Saudi Arabia or Egypt might decide that they needed bombs too, which they could purchase from several suppliers with no need for an extended development program. Israel’s Begin Doctrine would be shredded. The possibility of an accidental nuclear exchange would become exponentially greater, as would the possibility that such weapons would fall into the hands of terrorists. Outside investment in Israel would dry up, the economy would struggle, and some Israelis might even flee the country.

The issue is much simpler than Melman presents it. Israel does not have a choice but to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, because she cannot live with it. The suggestion that Israel could simply outsource her deterrence to the US, even if the US were led by someone more dependable than the man who called the rout of American forces from Afghanistan “an extraordinary success,” is more than stupid – it is suicidal.

The US, unfortunately, is a nation in decline, socially, economically, politically, and militarily. I don’t think any of her adversaries – China, Russia, and Iran – are strong enough to frontally challenge her at this point, but I expect to see them chipping away at her allies, like Taiwan and Ukraine. Israel would be very foolish to put all her eggs in America’s basket today.

Melman himself admits the “weakness of the Biden Administration and its lack of desire to confront Iran” in connection with the negotiations for a nuclear deal. But a few sentences later, he suggests that a “nuclear umbrella” placed over Israel by the same administration would protect her. And this he calls “a bold and creative move!”

It seems to me that despite what Melman and others have said, Israel does have options to attack Iran. One approach is to paralyze the regime as a whole: cut off the head by killing the leadership, and cut the spinal cord by wrecking her communications and power infrastructure (perhaps with EMP weapons). Not everything must be done by manned aircraft: drones, submarine-launched missiles, Jericho ICBMs, and even special forces on the ground could take part. In this way, Iran can be taken out of the game without the need to destroy all her nuclear facilities at once. This also entails neutralizing Hezbollah at the same time, which might be the most difficult part.

There are other approaches, but rather than the surgical removal of the nuclear program, I prefer an attack targeting the regime because it will also lead to solutions to other problems, like Hezbollah. Possibly if the regime is hurt badly enough, the domestic Iranian opposition will be free to act, which could bring about the best outcome of all.

It’s not known to me who is encouraging the voices of defeatism coming from those like Ehud Barak and Yossi Melman, but in both cases the suggested solution is that Israel beg for the protection of the US, which makes me suspicious of those circles in America – for example, former president Barack Obama and his associates – who would like to see a further erosion of Israel’s independence and freedom of action.

Israel has a history of solving difficult problems in innovative ways. This is precisely such a case. I’m confident that she will prevail – and sooner than some think.


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