Editor's note: Asher Kaufman is associate professor of history and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He is the author of "Reviving Phoenicia: The Search for Identity in Lebanon."
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Editor's note: Asher Kaufman is associate professor of history and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He is the author of "Reviving Phoenicia: The Search for Identity in Lebanon."
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Story Highlights Israel ruled out military option against Iran as early as 2005
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Today's New York Times runs what I believe is its first op-ed explicitly advocating a military campaign against Iran. Such agitation for war isn't new -- John Bolton and friends have been obsessively demanding such an attack for a long time, adapting the argument for war as the only solution to whatever the current situation may be. It's one thing when the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Fox News or other conservative outlets advocate such a war. You expect that, and discount accordingly; an op-ed in Fred Hiatt's Washington Post demanding war on Iran is like a DC-based blogger complaining about the Redskins... it happens constantly, nobody takes it very seriously and it doesn't accomplish anything. But the New York Times doing so is a serious step towards mainstreaming the idea, akin to how Ken Pollack and Tom Friedman's support for the invasion of Iraq persuaded a lot of centrists and liberals. It's as if we as a country have learned nothing from the Iraq war debate.
Alan Kuperman, the NYT op-ed's author, is best known for defending the U.S. non-response to the genocide in Rwanda (leading the late, lamented Alison Des Forges to accuse him of playing "word games to rationalize the West's ignominious failure to halt genocide in Rwanda"). While he has no evident expertise in Iran, he has determined that Iranian domestic politics and a few months of negotiations conclusively prove that negotiations can never work and that there's only one way to stop Iran -- war.
His argument is like a caricature of such war advocacy, hitting each predictable theme like a sledgehammer.
- Does he rule out the alternative policy by default? Yes he does! "peaceful carrots and sticks cannot work."
- Does he reduce the policy options to two extreme positions, one of which is guaranteed to be rejected? Yes he does! "the United States faces a stark choice: military air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities or acquiescence to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons."
- Does he warn that Saddam, um, Ahmedenejad will give WMD to terrorists? Yes, yes he does. "if Iran acquired a nuclear arsenal, the risks would simply be too great that it could become a neighborhood bully or provide terrorists with the ultimate weapon, an atomic bomb." (the "neighborhood bully" is a nice touch.) Will, pray tell, the smoking gun be in the shape of a mushroom cloud?
- Does he exaggerate the prospects for success? Yes, he does. Well, first he says "As for knocking out its nuclear plants, admittedly, aerial bombing might not work." But he quickly moves on from that, since that will not do. Oddly, his main example of success comes from Iraq, where he claims that the first Gulf war led to the uncovering of the Iraqi nuclear program --- not the Osirak raid -- which is accurate, but rather completely contradicts his argument.
- Does he minimize the risks of military action? Yes, he does. "Yes, Iran could retaliate by aiding America’s opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it does that anyway." Try telling that to U.S. military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, or to leaders in the Gulf, who are slightly less cavalier with the lives of their people.
- Does he suggest that if all else fails regime change would be easy and cheap? Yes, dear lord, he does. "If nothing else, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the United States military can oust regimes in weeks if it wants to." Truly, this was the lesson to be drawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm still marveling over how easily we overthrew Saddam and the Taliban and got out of Iraq and Afghanistan more or less costlessly. That was special. On the other hand, as Matt Duss helpfully points out, "if we don't have an Iran war, how are we supposed to have an awesome Iran surge?"
- Does he accuse those who oppose military action of appeasement? Yes, yes, of course he does. "in the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement."
The Obama administration almost certainly doesn't want to make such a wrong-headed move --- but, then, there are a lot of things which the Obama administration doesn't want to do but has been forced into by political realities (Gitmo, the public option, escalation in Afghanistan) and intentions aren't enough. Many people may have assumed that the legacy of Iraq would have raised the bar on such arguments for war, that someone making such all too familiar claims would simply be laughed out of the public square. The NYT today shows that they aren't. I suspect that one of the great foreign policy challenges of 2010 is going to be to push back on this mad campaign for another pointless, counter-productive war for the sake of war.
Friday, December 4, 2009
“Rep. Berman: ‘I Intend To Pass The Iran Sanctions Bill’… That No One Thinks Will Work And Which Iranian Dissidents Oppose” - Matt Duss
“I intend to pass the bill by the end of this year,” Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told POLITICO. His bill has 339 co-sponsors in the House, and it might be taken up under a parliamentary process that allows quick approval of widely supported legislation.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) told fellow Democrats on Thursday morning that the bill would be brought to the floor within two weeks, according to Democratic aides. The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee passed similar legislation at the end of October, although it is unclear if and when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring that bill up for a vote. [...]
Berman and other backers of the measure hope that the economic pain caused by disruption of those imports would force Tehran to scale back its nuclear ambitions.
I don’t know of any analyst — right or left — who thinks that this legislation will be at all effective in changing Iran’s behavior. Back in August, Gal Luft wrote that “Iran is much less vulnerable to gasoline sanctions than is commonly believed on Capitol Hill, and its foreign gasoline dependence is dropping by the day.” Under President Ahmadinejad, Iran has both increased its refining capacity and enacted a more effective petrol rationing program, both of which have, according to Luft, “slashed Iran’s need to import petroleum products.”
Luft also noted that “Iran is becoming increasingly reliant on China for its refinery expansion program — and Beijing has shown little interest in abiding by any sanctions regime initiated by the United States.”
The American Enterprise Institute’s Iran Tracker website also looked at the potential impact of petroleum sanctions, concluding that “the imposition of sanctions might generate no significant change in Iranian policy in the short term.” AEI’s report also notes that “the group that should be the target of strengthened sanctions, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is least likely to be affected”:
Some analysts have argued that the IRGC actually benefits from a more economically isolated Iran because it no longer has to compete with foreign companies for government contracts. For example, one of the main engineering companies under IRGC control, Khatam al-Anbiya, has secured at least $7 billion in government oil, gas, and transportation contracts. Although IRGC companies do not always have the necessary technical expertise for some projects, they still generate revenue by acting as an intermediary between the government and international companies. IRGC members may continue to receive government contracts and subsidy money even if the government adjusted domestic economic policies.
Perhaps just as significantly, leaders and spokespersons of Iran’s Green Movement have rejected these sanctions, arguing that they would hurt the Iranian people while doing little to affect the regime. In September, Mir Hossein Mousavi said sanctions “will impose agonies on a nation who suffers enough from miserable statesmen.”
In a recent interview with the Washington Times’ Barbara Slavin, Iranian dissident Mohsen Makhmalbaf “specifically rejected gasoline sanctions, “saying [they] would hurt average people.” While Makhmalbaf also said that “it was better to focus on the Revolutionary Guards,” as the above reports indicate, sanctions on refined petroleum products — especially of the unilateral sort proposed in the Berman bill — are a particularly ineffective instrument for doing this. Far from forcing Iran to scale back its nuclear program, the threat of these sanctions seems only to have motivated the Iranian regime to move more quickly to harden itself against their effects.
Originally published on 12/3/09 at the Wonk Room
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
"Within 18 to 24 months, we will know whether Obama inherited a dead patient on an operating table," Riedel said. "The question of sending more troops will define Obama's first term in office."
Copyright 1995- 2009 The Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost.com/
Monday, October 19, 2009
Iran's expanding nuclear program poses one of the Obama administration's most vexing foreign policy challenges. Fortunately, the conditions for containing Tehran's efforts may be better today than they have been in years. The recent disclosure of a secret nuclear facility in Iran has led to an apparent agreement to allow in U.N. weapons inspectors and to ship some uranium out of the country, and the United States and Europe seem to be closing ranks on the need for sanctions and engagement.
Of course, the matter is far from resolved; Russia and China are sending mixed signals on their position, while even a weakened Iranian regime remains duplicitous. But the prospects for developing a strategy with a solid chance of success improve if we dispose of five persistent myths about Iran's nuclear program:
1. Iran is on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon.
For years we've heard conflicting accounts on this issue. There have been claims since the 1990s that Iran was a few years away from a bomb. Then, two years ago, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Iran had discontinued its dedicated nuclear weapon efforts in 2003. Today, the consensus among experts is that Iran has the technical ability to make a crude nuclear device within one to three years -- but there is no evidence that its leaders have decided to do so.
The regime's most likely path to the bomb begins in Natanz, in central Iran, the site of the nuclear facility where over the past three years about 1,500 kilograms of uranium gas has been enriched to low levels. Iran could kick out U.N. inspectors, abandon the Non-Proliferation Treaty and reprocess the gas into highly enriched uranium in about six months; it would take at least six more months to convert that uranium into the metal form required for one bomb. Technical problems with both processes could stretch this period to three years. Finally, Iran would need perhaps five additional years -- and several explosive tests -- to develop a Hiroshima-yield bomb that could be fitted onto a ballistic missile.
Of course, the United States and others would see Tehran moving in this direction, and exposure or inspection of suspected facilities would complicate Iranian objectives. We can further lengthen this timeline by ridding Iran of the essential ingredient for a bomb: low-enriched uranium. On Oct. 1, Iran agreed to ship most of this uranium to Russia for fabrication into reactor fuel; we will know in the next few weeks if it will keep that pledge. If it does, Iran's "break-out" capability -- the ability to produce a bomb quickly -- would be eliminated, at least for the two years it takes to enrich more uranium.
2. A military strike would knock out Iran's program.
Actually, a military attack would only increase the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear bomb.
"There is no military option that does anything more than buy time," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last month. "The estimates are one to three years or so." And that's if the United States struck hundreds of targets. A less powerful Israeli attack could only damage, not destroy, Iran's facilities.
Worse, after such a bombing, the Iranian population -- now skeptical of its leadership -- would probably rally around the regime, ending any internal debates on whether to build a bomb. Iran would put its nuclear program on fast-forward to create weapons to defend itself. It could also counterattack against Israel or other U.S. allies. This month, a top official of Iran's Revolutionary Guard threatened to "blow up the heart of Israel" if the United States or Israel attacks first.
On the merits of a U.S. strike, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he worries about "the possible unintended consequences of a strike like that . . . having an impact throughout the region that would be difficult to predict."
Attacking Iran would not end the problem; it could start a third U.S. war in the region.
3. We can cripple Iran with sanctions.
Sanctions rarely, if ever, work on their own. There is no silver bullet that can coerce Iran into compliance or collapse.
Some mix of sanctions -- whether restricting travel, making it harder for Iranian banks to do business, further limiting foreign investment or even denying Iranian citizens basic needs, such as gas -- may be necessary if Tehran does not restrain its nuclear program or live up to its pledges. But the key is to couple such pressure with a face-saving way out for the Iranian leadership. As the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran put it, a sanctions strategy must feature "opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways." These could include Iran's inclusion in regional security talks, the suspension of sanctions and a secure supply of reactor fuel, leading up to normalized relations with the West.
No nation has ever been forced to give up nuclear programs, but many have been persuaded to do so, including Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Iraq and, most recently, Libya.
4. A new government in Iran would abandon the nuclear program.
Some believe that an irrational, apocalyptic government now rules Iran and that regime change is the only solution. But there is broad support across Iran's political spectrum for the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Recall that the country's nuclear program began with the shah, a U.S. ally who had plans to build 20 nuclear reactors, similar to the plans the mullahs promote today. The shah also started covert work on nuclear weapons. The U.S. government knew about this research but looked the other way, going as far as selling Iran its first nuclear reactor.
Even with a reformist government, it is unlikely that Iran would quickly end its nuclear program. But its leaders might be persuaded to limit the program's nuclear weapons capabilities. "Tehran's decisions," according to the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, "are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs."
5. Iran is the main nuclear threat in the Middle East.
The real threat posed by Iran's nuclear program is that other states in the region feel they must match it. The race has already begun.
While Israel's possession of nuclear weapons has not spurred other countries in the area to develop their own, over the past three years a dozen states in the Middle East, including Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Libya (again), have begun civilian nuclear programs. These programs, alas, are not about reducing the countries' carbon footprint -- they are a hedge against Iran. These states have begun the decades-long process of developing the technical, commercial and engineering capabilities to build nuclear weapons, should they decide to do so. At this point, it is not clear that stopping Iran would stop these programs.
The real danger is not a nuclear-armed Iran but a Middle East with more nuclear-armed nations and unresolved territorial, economic and political disputes. That is a recipe for disaster, and that is why there is no country-specific solution; we cannot play nuclear whack-a-mole.
A comprehensive plan must build barriers against acquiring nuclear weapons and must reduce the motivation to do so. This means dealing with the regional security and prestige issues that motivate most countries to start nuclear programs. It requires a global approach that deals with both sides of the nuclear coin: disarmament and proliferation. Reducing existing nuclear stockpiles creates the support needed to stop the spread of the weapons; stopping the spread creates the security needed to continue reductions. We must keep flipping that coin over. Each flip, each step, makes us a little safer.
Joseph Cirincione is president of the Ploughshares Fund and the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons." He is an expert adviser to the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Why senior Israeli intel & military officers think an Israeli strike on Iran is a bad idea - Anthony Cordesman, Wall Street Journal
After reviewing them he concludes: "These problems are why a number of senior Israeli intelligence experts and military officers feel that Israel should not strike Iran, although few would recommend that Israel avoid using the threat of such strikes to help U.S. and other diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to halt. For example, retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom advocates, like a number of other Israeli experts, reliance on deterrence and Israel's steadily improving missile defenses."
So most Israeli intelligence and military officials believe that Israel should make threats to strike that, in fact, aren't really credible to the Iranians because the many problems Cordesman highlights are well known to the Iranians as well. And because a successful strike on Iran's nuclear capacity would require the US to attack Iran as well, for all the reasons laid out by Cordesman, Israeli threats to attack Iran may actually be accelerating its quest for nuclear weapons. Cordesman warns that an Israeli attack will definitely accelerate Iran's pursuit of nuclear bombs, and since Israel lacks the capacity to continue re-striking Iran's capabilities effectively, the net result of an Israeli attack will be either: forcing the US into a state of perpetual hot war with Iran, or speeding up the acquisition of nuclear weapons by an Iran now bent on vengeance for the Israeli attack: a case of self-fulfilling prophesy if ever there was one.
All in all, the military option remains unworkable and incalculably foolhardy - both in practise and as a threat.
The Iran Attack Plan, Anthony H. Cordesman, The Wall Street Journal, 9/26/09
Iran's acknowledgment that it is developing a second uranium-enrichment facility does little to dispel the view that the regime is developing a weapons program. Israel must consider not just whether to proceed with a strike against Iran—but how.
When the Israeli army’s then-Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Halutz was asked in 2004 how far Israel would go to stop Iran's nuclear program, he replied: "2,000 kilometers," roughly the distance been the two countries.
Israel's political and military leaders have long made it clear that they are considering taking decisive military action if Iran continues to develop its nuclear program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned at the United Nations this week that "the most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
Reporting by the International Atomic Energy Agency and other sources has made it clear that whether or not Iran ties all of its efforts into a formal nuclear weapons program, it has acquired all of the elements necessary to make and deliver such weapons. Just Friday, Iran confirmed that it has been developing a second uranium-enrichment facility on a military base near Qom, doing little to dispel the long-standing concerns of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S. that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
Iran has acquired North Korean and other nuclear weapons design data through sources like the sales network once led by the former head of Pakistan's nuclear program, A. Q. Khan. Iran has all of the technology and production and manufacturing capabilities needed for fission weapons. It has acquired the technology to make the explosives needed for a gun or implosion device, the triggering components, and the neutron initiator and reflectors. It has experimented with machine uranium and plutonium processing. It has put massive resources into a medium-range missile program that has the range payload to carry nuclear weapons and that makes no sense with conventional warheads. It has also worked on nuclear weapons designs for missile warheads. These capabilities are dispersed in many facilities in many cities and remote areas, and often into many buildings in each facility—each of which would have to be a target in an Israeli military strike.
It is far from certain that such action would be met with success. An Israeli strike on Iran would be far more challenging than the Israeli strike that destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981. An effective Israeli nuclear strike may not be possible, yet a regional nuclear arms race is a game that Iran can start, but cannot possibly win. Anyone who meets regularly with senior Israeli officials, officers and experts knows that Israel is considering military options, but considering them carefully and with an understanding that they pose serious problems and risks.
One of the fundamental problems dogging Israel, especially concerning short-ranged fighters and fighter-bombers, is distance. Iran's potential targets are between 950 and 1,400 miles from Israel, the far margin of the ranges Israeli fighters can reach, even with aerial refueling. Israel would be hard-pressed to destroy all of Iran's best-known targets. What's more, Iran has had years in which to build up covert facilities, disperse elements of its nuclear and missile programs, and develop options for recovering from such an attack.
At best, such action would delay Iran's nuclear buildup. It is more likely to provoke the country into accelerating its plans. Either way, Israel would have to contend with the fact that it has consistently had a "red light" from both the Bush and Obama administrations opposing such strikes. Any strike that overflew Arab territory or attacked a fellow Islamic state would stir the ire of neighboring Arab states, as well as Russia, China and several European states.
This might not stop Israel. Hardly a week goes by without another warning from senior Israeli officials that a military strike is possible, and that Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, even though no nation has indicated it would support such action. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to threaten Israel and to deny its right to exist. At the same time, President Barack Obama is clearly committed to pursuing diplomatic options, his new initiatives and a U.N. resolution on nuclear arms control and counterproliferation, and working with our European allies, China and Russia to impose sanctions as a substitute for the use of force.
Mr. Ahmadinejad keeps denying that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and tries to defend Iran from both support for sanctions and any form of attack by saying that Iran will negotiate over its peaceful use of nuclear power. He offered some form of dialogue with the U.S. during his visit to the U.N. this week. While French President Nicolas Sarkozy denounced Iran's continued lack of response to the Security Council this week, and said its statements would "wipe a U.N. member state off the map," no nation has yet indicated it would support Israeli military action.
Most analyses of a possible Israeli attack focus on only three of Iran's most visible facilities: its centrifuge facilities at Natanz, its light water nuclear power reactor near Bushehr, and a heavy water reactor at Arak it could use to produce plutonium. They are all some 950 to 1,000 miles from Israel. Each of these three targets differs sharply in terms of the near-term risk it poses to Israel and its vulnerability.
The Arak facility is partially sheltered, but it does not yet have a reactor vessel and evidently will not have one until 2011. Arak will not pose a tangible threat for at least several years. The key problem Israel would face is that it would virtually have to strike it as part of any strike on the other targets, because it cannot risk waiting and being unable to carry out another set of strikes for political reasons. It also could then face an Iran with much better air defenses, much better long-range missile forces, and at least some uranium weapons.
Bushehr is a nuclear power reactor along Iran's southwestern coast in the Gulf. It is not yet operational, although it may be fueled late this year. It would take some time before it could be used to produce plutonium, and any Iranian effort to use its fuel rods for such a purpose would be easy to detect and lead Iran into an immediate political confrontation with the United Nations and other states. Bushehr also is being built and fueled by Russia—which so far has been anything but supportive of an Israeli strike and which might react to any attack by making major new arms shipments to Iran.
The centrifuge facility at Natanz is a different story. It is underground and deeply sheltered, and is defended by modern short-range Russian TOR-M surface-to-air missiles. It also, however, is the most important target Israel can fully characterize. Both Israeli and outside experts estimate that it will produce enough low enriched uranium for Iran to be able to be used in building two fission nuclear weapons by some point in 2010—although such material would have to be enriched far more to provide weapons-grade U-235.
Israel has fighters, refueling tankers and precision-guided air-to-ground weapons to strike at all of these targets—even if it flies the long-distance routes needed to avoid the most critical air defenses in neighboring Arab states. It is also far from clear that any Arab air force would risk engaging Israeli fighters. Syria, after all, did not attempt to engage Israeli fighters when they attacked the reactor being built in Syria.
In August 2003, the Israeli Air Force demonstrated the strategic capability to strike far-off targets such as Iran by flying three F-15 jets to Poland, 1,600 nautical miles away. Israel can launch and refuel two to three full squadrons of combat aircraft for a single set of strikes against Iran, and provide suitable refueling. Israel could also provide fighter escorts and has considerable electronic-warfare capability to suppress Iran's aging air defenses. It might take losses to Iran's fighters and surface-to-air missiles, but such losses would probably be limited.
Israel would, however, still face two critical problems. The first would be whether it can destroy a hardened underground facility like Natanz. The second is that a truly successful strike might have to hit far more targets over a much larger area than the three best-known sites. Iran has had years to build up covert and dispersed facilities, and is known to have dozens of other facilities associated with some aspect of its nuclear programs. Moreover, Israel would have to successfully strike at dozens of additional targets to do substantial damage to another key Iranian threat: its long-range missiles.
Experts sharply disagree as to whether the Israeli air force could do more than limited damage to the key Iranian facility at Natanz. Some feel it is too deeply underground and too hardened for Israel to have much impact. Others believe that it is more vulnerable than conventional wisdom has it, and Israel could use weapons like the GBU-28 earth-penetrating bombs it has received from the U.S. or its own penetrators, which may include a nuclear-armed variant, to permanently collapse the underground chambers.
No one knows what specialized weapons Israel may have developed on its own, but Israeli intelligence has probably given Israel good access to U.S., European, and Russian designs for more advanced weapons than the GBU-28. Therefore, the odds are that Israel can have a serious impact on Iran's three most visible nuclear targets and possibly delay Iran's efforts for several years.
The story is very different, however, when it comes to destroying the full range of Iranian capabilities. There are no meaningful unclassified estimates of Iran's total mix of nuclear facilities, but known unclassified research, reactor, and centrifuge facilities number in the dozens. It became clear just this week that Iran managed to conceal the fact it was building a second underground facility for uranium enrichment near Qom, 100 miles southwest of Tehran, and that was designed to hold 3,000 centrifuges. Iran is developing at least four variants of its centrifuges, and the more recent designs have far more capacity than most of the ones installed at Natanz.
This makes it easier to conceal chains of centrifuges in a number of small, dispersed facilities and move material from one facility to another. Iran's known centrifuge production facilities are scattered over large areas of Iran, and at least some are in Mashad in the far northeast of the country—far harder to reach than Arak, Bushehr and Natanz.
Many of Iran's known facilities present the added problem that they are located among civilian facilities and peaceful nuclear-research activities—although Israel's precision-strike capabilities may well be good enough to allow it to limit damage to nearby civilian facilities.
It is not clear that Israel can win this kind of "shell game." It is doubtful that even the U.S. knows all the potential targets, and even more doubtful that any outside power can know what each detected Iranian facility currently does—and the extent to which each can hold dispersed centrifuge facilities that Iran could use instead of Natanz to produce weapons-grade uranium. As for the other elements of Iran's nuclear programs, it has scattered throughout the country the technical and industrial facilities it could use to make the rest of fission nuclear weapons. The facilities can now be in too many places for an Israeli strike to destroy Iran's capabilities.
Israel also faces limits on its military capabilities. Strong as Israeli forces are, they lack the scale, range and other capabilities to carry out the kind of massive strike the U.S. could launch. Israel does not have the density and quality of intelligence assets necessary to reliably assess the damage done to a wide range of small and disperse targets and to detect new Iranian efforts.
Israel has enough strike-attack aircraft and fighters in inventory to carry out a series of restrikes if Iran persisted in rebuilding, but it could not refuel a large-enough force, or provide enough intelligence and electronic warfare capabilities, to keep striking Iran at anything like the necessary scale. Moreover, Israel does not have enough forces to carry out a series of restrikes if Iran persisted in creating and rebuilding new facilities, and Arab states could not repeatedly standby and let Israel penetrate their air space. Israel might also have to deal with a Russia that would be far more willing to sell Iran advanced fighters and surface-to-air missiles if Israel attacked the Russian-built reactor at Bushehr.
These problems are why a number of senior Israeli intelligence experts and military officers feel that Israel should not strike Iran, although few would recommend that Israel avoid using the threat of such strikes to help U.S. and other diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to halt. For example, retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom advocates, like a number of other Israeli experts, reliance on deterrence and Israel's steadily improving missile defenses.
Any Israeli attack on an Iranian nuclear target would be a very complex operation in which a relatively large number of attack aircraft and support aircraft would participate. The conclusion is that Israel could attack only a few Iranian targets—not as part of a sustainable operation over time, but as a one-time surprise operation.
The alternatives, however, are not good for Israel, the U.S., Iran's neighbors or Arab neighbors. Of course being attacked is not good for Iran. Israel could still strike, if only to try to buy a few added years of time. Iranian persistence in developing nuclear weapons could push the U.S. into launching its own strike on Iran—although either an Israeli or U.S. strike might be used by Iran's hardliners to justify an all-out nuclear arms race. Further, it is far from clear that friendly Arab Gulf states would allow the U.S. to use bases on their soil for the kind of massive strike and follow-on restrikes that the U.S. would need to suppress Iran's efforts on a lasting basis.
The broader problem for Iran, however, is that Israel will not wait passively as Iran develops a nuclear capability. Like several Arab states, Israel already is developing better missile and air defenses, and more-advanced forms of its Arrow ballistic missile defenses. There are reports that Israel is increasing the range-payload of its nuclear-armed missiles and is developing sea-based nuclear-armed cruise missiles for its submarines.
While Iran is larger than Israel, its population centers are so vulnerable to Israeli thermonuclear weapons that Israel already is a major "existential" threat to Iran. Moreover, provoking its Arab neighbors and Turkey into developing their nuclear capabilities, or the U.S. into offering them a nuclear umbrella targeted on Iran, could create additional threats, as well as make Iran's neighbors even more dependent on the U.S. for their security. Iran's search for nuclear-armed missiles may well unite its neighbors against it as well as create a major new nuclear threat to its survival.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W1
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