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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

But will Olmert listen on Iran?

In today's Jerusalem Post, Purdue law professor Louis Rene Beres and Kadima Achora MK Isaac Ben-Israel have some very solid advice for Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert on how to deal with Iran.
Under no circumstances, we concluded, should Israel entertain any hope of coexisting long-term with a nuclear Iran.

Today, Israel's core plan for active defense against future Iranian nuclear missiles remains the Arrow anti-ballistic missile program. Although this plan is sound as part of a much broader security strategy, it wouldn't suffice in the case of a nuclear Iran. This plan must be augmented by improved Israeli deterrence and by corollary preparations for defensive first strikes against relevant Iranian hard targets.


IF THE Arrow Missile Defense System were 100% efficient in its expected reliability of interception, even an irrational Iranian adversary armed with nuclear and/or biological weapons could be kept at bay without defensive first strikes or threats of massive retaliation. After all, were Israel's reported nuclear deterrent neutralized by a fanatical Iranian enemy willing to risk a massive counter-city Israeli reprisal (a suicide-bomber writ large), any first-strike by Teheran could still be blocked by the Arrow.

This sounds better in theory than in practice. In the real world of international conflict, ballistic missile defense (BMD) could not attain such needed levels of reliability. No BMD system, even the successfully tested Arrow, can be leakproof. Yet, where the warheads upon an enemy's missiles would be nuclear, no level of leakage could be tolerable.

Israel cannot fully depend upon its anti-ballistic missiles to defend against any future WMD attack from Iran any more than it can rely only on its presumed nuclear deterrence. This means that even the best possible Arrow system, complemented by credible and capable nuclear threats, would not obviate Israel's preemption option.


NOWHERE IS it written that Israel must sit back passively and respond only after a nuclear and/or biological attack has been absorbed. Israel has the same right given to all states to act preemptively when facing an annihilatory assault. Known formally as "anticipatory self-defense," this right is affirmed in international law. The 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons even extends such authority to the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain existential circumstances.

Israel must continue to develop, test and implement an interception capability to match the growing nuclear missile threat from Iran. It must also continue to prepare for critical preemptions. If Iran should be allowed to become nuclear, Israel would have to fully enhance the credibility of its presumed nuclear deterrent and deploy a recognizable second-strike force, adequately hardened, multiplied and dispersed. This strategic force would be fashioned to inflict a decisive retaliatory blow against selected enemy cities.

Every state has the inherent right under international law to ensure its own survival. Israel is no exception.
The observations that no ballistic missile defense system is leakproof and that no level of leakage is tolerable when defending against nuclear missiles is particularly prescient in light of this article in Haaretz this morning which claims that an 80% accurate ballistic missile defense system would be sufficient. The argument may be academic, but personally I would rather not take the chance that Beres is right and former US Air Force Secretary James Roche is wrong.

The bigger issue though is whether the Olmert-Barak-Livni government has the guts to use the anticipatory self-defense doctrine if an when a nuclear Iran appears imminent. I would not bet on it.


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