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Lining Up on Iran
JINSA Report #:
February 24, 2012
Israel, the United States, and Europe share grave concern over the Iranian theocracy's politics and its serial use of violence in pursuit of its goals. The Islamic Republic formally declared war on the west and is the major state sponsor, funder, and trainer of terrorism, including plotting terror in the United States. The regime abuses human rights, violates international accords, materially supported violence against American troops in Iraq, props up the Syrian dictatorship, destabilizes Lebanon, and targets Israeli diplomats.
As Iran stands on the cusp of achieving a nuclear weapons capability and tests and deploys missile delivery systems, the U.S. administration and some in Europe appear to be parting ways with Israel.
Interminable negotiations have served only to further convince the Iranian government that possessing such weapons will give it the clout it desires. For Washington, the Iranian threat is manageable, but for Israel it is increasingly viewed as one of survival. Iran has explicitly and repeatedly announced its intention to 'wipe Israel of the map.'
Since the exposure of additional clandestine nuclear facilities in Iran, Israel has been on high alert, and the clock in Jerusalem is now rapidly approaching midnight. Senior Israeli officials have publicly declared that time is running out for economic and diplomatic negotiations to compel Iran to cease its nuclear program.
Nevertheless, even as the United States and the EU enforce tougher economic sanctions as a preferred policy choice to military strikes, Israel has pointedly not ruled out a pre-emptive attack on Iran's research, enrichment, conversion, heavy water and other facilities at Bushehr, Fordow, Natanz, Arak, Isfahan, Parchin and elsewhere.
Israel has determined that failure to reverse Tehran's drive to achieve nuclear weapons capability will result in Iran either demonstrating its ability to produce nuclear weapons, or openly acknowledging possession of such devices.
At that point, Israel would either launch a full-spectrum military campaign to set back if not wipe out Iran's nuclear weapons development program, or merely pray that a containment policy might work.
The Israeli leadership appears to be done waiting for the United States and the European Union (much less on China, Russia, and India) to act decisively. Concern that such is the case prompted an unprecedented series of statements from top Obama administration officials strongly cautioning against attacking Iran.
The U.S. military views a campaign to destroy Iran's diffuse nuclear weapons development complex as an undertaking to be carried out only when it can be reasonably determined that such an effort would result in its almost complete destruction - something it alone is uniquely capable of doing. But Israel does not view an attack as an all-or-nothing proposition.
Israel hints that even if it initiated a complex, riskier, and necessarily smaller unilateral air campaign (with the Israel Air Force having to negotiate undisclosed routes and re-fueling methods for its bombers), setting back Iran's program for even a few years would be a success. Israeli thinking is that much could then change in Iran, in terms of domestic politics and international terrorism.
There are concerns that if an Israeli strike merely sets back the Iranian program, and does not eliminate it, Tehran would subsequently intensify its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and intensify its war against western interests.
Such reasoning, however, presupposes that the Iranian regime is proceeding at something less than an all-out effort to develop a nuclear program now. Iran has a long history of deception regarding its enrichment activities. U.S. intelligence in the past has consistently underestimated the nuclear capabilities of Pakistan, India, North Korea, and Libya.
Further, the U.S. government apparently will consider Iran to have joined the "nuclear club" only when it possesses a functional atomic weapon. But for Israel, Iranian possession of the varied components of a nuclear weapon, integrated or not, is tantamount to possession of an actual weapon. In Israel's eyes, Iranian capability would give the regime significant leverage, since the time required to assemble a weapon is indeterminate.
The tipping point could be an Israeli judgment that the United States and the EU will substitute a policy of containment for prevention - a significant decision point that would trigger deep concerns in the region and a possible arms race that would leave Israel surrounded by nuclear weapons states.
In this vein, it was sobering to hear Major General Aviv Kochavi, Israel's Director of Military Intelligence, declare recently that, "Iran is estimated to have over four tons of enriched materials and nearly 100 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium - sufficient fissile material for four bombs."
Speaking to the 2012 Herzliya Conference, Kochavi added that, at this late date, the final decision as to whether Iran will assemble nuclear weapons has little to do with the technical capacity and everything to do with a decision in the hands of Iran's Supreme Leader, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei. Kochavi said that would happen in about one year.
The Times of London suggested recently that in the event of a successful Iranian nuclear test, Saudi Arabia would immediately launch a twin-track nuclear weapons program. Riyadh would purchase warheads from abroad (presumably from Pakistan), with development of a new ballistic missile to deliver them (likely also from Pakistan), to create an immediate deterrent.
At the same time, it was reported that Saudi Arabia would upgrade its planned civil nuclear program to include a military dimension, beginning uranium enrichment to develop weapons-grade material in the long term. Not too long ago, the Saudis announced an ambitious plan to construct 16 nuclear reactors by 2030 to meet its growing energy needs.
In light of the shared security interests and strategic defense cooperation between Israel and the United States, the Obama administration should:
a) publicly make clear its definition of what constitutes an Iranian nuclear weapon, to include its various component capabilities and parts, eliminating the apparent gap between Israeli and U.S. conceptions.
b) commit itself to deeper consultations with the Israeli defense establishment to define what constitutes a successful attack on Iran's nuclear development program.
c) finally acknowledge that sanctions without full Chinese, Russian and Indian cooperation are a short term tactic doomed to failure in the foreseeable future, and that Iran will not be deterred in its ambitions. While regime change is the only outcome short of military pre-emption that offers the possibility of denying Iran nuclear weapons, there are few indications that the current regime will fall before it has passed the nuclear threshold.
d) declare a new policy doctrine for an Iran that maintains an ambiguous nuclear weapons capability in the event that sanctions prove insufficient and the attack option by either Israel or the United States is not exercised.
e) prepare to come to Israel's defense morally, diplomatically, and militarily - in the event the U.S. administration is unwilling to deny Iran nuclear weapons - if Israel attacks Iran's nuclear weapons development program.