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Monday, April 24, 2006

Iran may tempt other Mideast countries to go nuclear

I suppose this shouldn't be much of a surprise, but HaAretz is reporting this morning, that a civilian-military committee has found that if Iran attains nuclear weapons, as appears to be likely, it may tempt other mideastern countries to go nuclear. The question is what we can do about it. I have redacted the HaAretz article and added many comments (which are not marked). You may especially wish to note the latter part of the article which raises some issues about the committee's composition. Dan Meridor has become a leftist like Olmert in his old age - he joined the short-lived Centre Party that ran in the 1999 elections. Meridor is now affiliated with a leftist 'think tank' called the Israel Democracy Institute.

Another article on the committee appears in the Jerusalem Post. The Post notes that the committee predicted "an escalation in low-intensity conflicts and the use of non-conventional weapons in Middle East warfare."

The committee, chaired by former minister Dan Meridor and appointed by Ariel Sharon, recommended to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Sunday that Israel should maintain its policy of nuclear ambiguity. It also recommended that since Jordan has strategic importance for Israel, its stability should be supported, and that the National Security Council should become the government's central military planning authority.

The comprehensive report, which addresses strategic issues for the next decade, is considered top secret. After its has been redacted, it will be highly classified. It is possible that portions of the report will be published to familiarize the public with the Israeli defense outlook. The report recommends that defense premises be reexamined once in five years and that a mechanism be established to monitor the implementation of recommendations.

The report addresses the nuclear threat to Israel. Iran is capable of bringing war to the entire Middle East and constitutes an existential threat to Israel. The committee found that if Iran gets nuclear arms, other Muslim, Middle Eastern countries will try to follow suit. It is known that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are already trying, that Libya gave up its nuclear arms, and that Iraq was trying to develop them until the US invasion in 2003. The
report comments on a proposed Israeli response to Iranian nuclear testing (but the article does not tell us what it the comments were or what the proposed response was). The committee recommends that Israel maintain its policy of "nuclear ambiguity."

In a chapter on decision-making, the committee criticized the government for not providing adequate and complete planning on defense matters. The report recommends that the NSC become the central planning authority for the government, and that it include a small agency for national intelligence. The committee recommends minor cuts in the defense budget, and setting a five-year defense budget based on the assumption that economic growth will continue. The basis for that assumption is spurious in light of the current coalition negotiations, and it would be interesting to hear what the recommendations are in the event that the economy does not continue to grow.

The report indicates that Israel faces major, rapid strategic changes including technological changes. According to the report, Israel faces new risks - the non-conventional weapon threat and terror. It is not clear to me what is new about either of these threats, except for the apparent imminency of the nuclear threat. We have faced terror since before there was a state, and Syria and Iraq had chemical and biological weapons for years (and in Syria's case it still has them). The committee noted that terror deterrence is complex and difficult, particularly in territory that lacks governmental hierarchy or against organizations without territory, instead of states. The report's overall approach recommends greater emphasis on firepower, particularly remote firepower, over troop movements. which had been used in the past. Of course, to do that, the government would also have to drop its aversion to civilian casualties among the enemy, which means it would first have to acknowledge that they are an enemy. For example, the entire Jenin operation in 2002 could have been done a lot more easily with air power and with much fewer Israeli casualties. The report also recommends greater emphasis on intelligence and operations from outer space.

Formally, the Meridor Committee was established by Mofaz. However, Sharon approved the appointments, vetoing with no explanation former defense minister Moshe Arens and former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon. The report has been submitted for comment to Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Atomic Energy Committee director Gideon Frank. Ayalon's rejection is a bit surprising since he was the Shin Bet chief under Peres and served from 1996-2000 - the period after Rabin's assassination. Perhaps he was too left wing for even Sharon. Today, he is a Labor MK. Moshe Arens, on the other hand, is a known right winger, and it is not surprising that Sharon would not appoint him.

The committee met 52 times over 18 months before submitting its report, during which Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip, and Hamas won the Palestinian Authority elections.

Disputes arose among committee members on several subjects  including terror and how Israel should define it. The committee debated strategic-theoretical issues such as defining "victory" and "deterrence." In a discussion of all the types of wars, the committee proposed adding to "deterring," "warning" and "decisive," a major chapter on the various aspects of "defense."

Efforts were made in the past to summarize Israel's defense outlook under the direction of then Defense Ministry director general David Ivri, but that committee's work was essentially stopped when Ehud Barak was elected prime minister in 1999.


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