For a variety of reasons, including a misguided infatuation with soft power, neither the United States nor Israel has exercised the legitimate right of anticipatory self-defense against Iran.
As a result, Iran’s entry into the nuclear club is a virtual fait accompli. In Israel, a nation already targeted for annihilation, self-defense is limited to contingency plans, active defense, and deterrence. However, each case is fallible.
Contingency plans make sense when pre-emption is an option. Should there be an attack on Israel, retaliation is the only option. Active defense is useful since it can confuse the planning of the enemy, but it is difficult, alas impossible, to know how many missiles will penetrate defenses in the mist of war.
And last, deterrence is workable only if Iran is unwilling to risk the loss of life. If a theological scenario enters the nuclear equation, the prospective loss of innocent life may not deter.
In its latest report, 2011, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military-related organizations.”
However when effective pre-emption or anticipatory self-deterrence is unstable, survival is largely dependent on missile defense from Arrow and Aegis destroyers. These systems in Israel are being perfected but they are not perfect.
Hence Israel, as a way to enhance deterrence might change its nuclear posture from “deliberate ambiguity” to counter — city targeting and cumulative penetration capability.
As noted, this isn’t a panacea, but it may well be that Iranian commentary about a nuclear conflagration as a prelude for the return of the Mahdi has rhetorical, not practical, application.
Certainly Israel would like to avoid these contingencies, relying instead on the United States to deter, or if that fails, destroy the nuclear sites. At the moment, the U.S. seems to be resigned to an Iran with nuclear weapons.
The Obama administration either believes Iran is not a serious threat or that sanctions will at some point so damage the Iranian economy that deployment is rendered nugatory. With Germany, Switzerland, China, and Russia violating the sanctions regimen, this hardly seems a viable course of action.
A nuclear Iran may be unthinkable, as every leader from Obama to Sarkozy has noted. But action doesn’t necessarily follow a promise. President Bush argued that his presidency would be deemed a failure if he left office and Iran had nuclear weapons.
Iran may be a threat to European capitals and a long0term threat to the U.S., but it is a proximate threat to Israel now. It is the shadow that blocks Israeli sunlight. There are other issues in Israel including the Palestinian question; yet there is only one existential issue: the Iranian nuclear threat.
Whether it is six months, one year or several years away from completion, the Iran nuclear juggernaut is moving ahead serving as a Damoclean sword over the heads of the Israeli people.
Israeli batteries at the Iron Dome and Arrow facilities remain confident. They have every reason to feel this way. The troops are strong and their devotion to the security of the Israeli people is unshakable.
Still there are the unknowns — penetration ratios, effectiveness in battle, unpredictable conditions. Yet every commander I met in my recent trip to Israel expressed the belief that they will do whatever is necessary to protect the Israeli nation.
In Israel, it often seems that God is nearby. Despite the destruction of the First Temple and the attempt by the Romans to destroy the Second Temple, the Jewish people managed to prevail. When I said to one officer that Iran could have the means to destroy Israel, he said “Never again! Need I say more.”
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction Books).
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