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Thursday, January 04, 2007

'Think tank' urges government to attack Iran's nuclear program

Haaretz is reporting that an Israeli think tank is urging Israel to attack Iran's nuclear program sooner rather than later. Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Strategic Studies says that unless Israel attacks, Iran will have nuclear weapons soon. The think tank also says that Israel is capable of carrying out the attack by itself:
"Time is working in Iran's favor, and barring military action, Iran's possession of nuclear weapons is only a matter of time," the institute said in a statement distributed at a news conference where it released its annual assessment of the Middle East's strategic balance.
The problem is that our government is led by Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Comrade Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Feigele Livni. Among them last summer, this crew waited too long to launch a ground invasion of Lebanon, failed to attack Syria when they had a green light to do so from the US, and were expected to do so, and still have no prospect of recovering our kidnapped soldiers without giving up a massive number of 'Palestinian' prisoners terrorists.

Technically, the think tank did not call for a military strike. But when someone tells you things like the following, your course of action should be obvious, unless of course, you are Ehud K. Olmert.
The INSS think tank stopped short of calling for an Israeli military strike to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Although experts elsewhere have questioned Israel's ability to cripple the Iranian program, which is scattered and built in part in underground bunkers, analysts at INSS said Israel would be capable of carrying it off.
There is also some disagreement among the think tank's members as to whether the US ought to have a role and what that role ought to be.
A member of the institute's board, Brigadier General (res.) Giora Eiland said there would not be a military strike without a full "strategic and military" understanding with the U.S.

"Even if, at the end of the day, Israeli jets are going to carry out, or execute, this attack, it might be perceived - and rightly - as an understanding between the United States and Israel," Eiland said.

INSS head Zvi Shtauber, a retired general who also served as Israel's ambassador in London and senior policy adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, said Israel was "technically" capable of striking alone and would have to do so if it takes action, because no other country would agree to work openly with Israel.

Taking issue with Eiland's assessment that the U.S. must sign off on such an attack, he said, "There are certain things that it's better the U.S. not know about."
This recommendation is officially couched with language about "if nothing else works" but they also say that they don't expect sanctions to work and that we are running out of time. Does Olmert have the guts to pull the trigger? Don't bet on it.

Over at Pajamas Media, they've been having essentially the same debate. Claudia Rosett says that the world is 'fiddling' while Iran builds the bomb:

If the UN were serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear-bomb program, then Iran’s swaggering abuses of recent times would have had members of the UN Security Council, seconded by Annan, calling, pleading, begging for the U.S., with its precision capabilities, to lead a bombing raid on Iranian targets dear to the hearts of the terrorist-spawning totalitarian ayatollahs and their globe-trotting totem, Ahmadinejad. Even if it’s impossible to track down every iota of Iran’s sprawling nuclear program, it ought to be at least feasible to target the known nuclear-related installations, assorted crucial ministries, and enough in the way of Iran’s oil-export and gasoline-import facilities to give Ahmadinejad & Co. a deadly serious message of disapproval, backed by a large repair bill — costing not only money, but the precious element of time. That would be far more fool-proof, not to mention bribe-proof, than anything that goes under the name of UN sanctions. As a by-product, it would introduce a note of sobriety in Tehran, and neighboring Damascus, that would do more than all the Iraq Study Groups in creation to help quell the Syrian- and Iranian-backed violence in Iraq. It would cut down on the available resources now flowing from Iran to assist Hezbollah’s terrorist takeover of Lebanon. And watching Ahmadinejad and his cohorts pick through a Bushehr reactor reduced to rubble might even inspire North Korea’s Kim Jong Il to re-think the wisdom of acting as the nuclear pace-setter of rogue regimes.

Instead, the UN is now providing our own administration with an excuse and an avenue to delay and dither while terrorist-sponsoring Iran, one of the world’s most dangerous regimes, arms itself — to borrow President Bush’s phrase — with the world’s deadliest weapons. My colleague at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Andy McCarthy, has an excellent piece about this on NRO.

But Ron Rosenbaum is troubled by the 'second strike' question:

It is the second strike question I find most troubling. I’d studied and written about the strategy and morality of “second strike” retaliation in the context of the U.S./U.S.S.R. “Mutually Assured Destruction” deterrent stand-off in the Cold War Era.

Mutually Assured Destruction you’ll recall involved the declaration by both sides that any first strike by the opposing side would be followed by an undeterrable “second strike” upon the populations centers of the first strike side, ensuring the deaths of tens even hundreds of millions, thus putting an unacceptable price on a first strike however “successful”. (A second strike attack would have to target population centers since missile silos and air-bases and other military targets would have already fired their weaponry).

The question that those on the Right and Left raised about M.A.D. “doctrine” was this: if one side initiated a first strike, deterrence by Mutually Assured Destruction had—by definition—failed. So what would be the point of carrying out the mass killing of civilians. Tens of millions of civilians might be destroyed by an all out first strike, what would be the point of destroying the rest of the world in a second strike specifically designed to mass-murder civilians? For the pure principle of punishment? Would it be justice or vengeance? Rationality or madness? Would any individual take responsibility for such a choice?

That is why Dr. Strangelove “doomsday” scenarios were contemplated: taking the choice out of the hands of any one human, making the second strike, the second half of planetary extinction something hardwired, locked in, not dependent on human-initiated order or choice. Automatic. Irrevocable. As it would have to be to insure believability, to make deterrence efficacious.

Fortunately—I think—no such system could be made fail-safe, fool proof, accident immune and none was ever employed (contra Nelson DeMille who, in his popular thriller, Wildfire, appears to believe automated “doomsday” second strike response was a component of M.A.D. It wasn’t. See my Harper’s piece “The Subterranean World of the Bomb”, which can be found in The Secret Parts of Fortune).

So that will always leave retaliation, revenge, second strike deterrent target choice in human hands. Most probably, in the nuked-Israel scenario, it will likely be in the hands of the commanders of Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear armed missiles. Probably those three Dolphin Class subs the Israelis bought from the Germans (!) in the late 90s. Whose job would be to insure that no first strike on the land of Israel could deter massive retaliation from under the sea.

But what would such sub-launched nuclear missiles target? What would be purpose of their second strike capability.

One of the commenters to the “Footnote 55” post argues (with what degree of authority I know not) that “It is well known but not officially admitted that Israeli second strike tactic is to strike against anyone who could be a threat to the survivors and not only the [initial] attackers”.

This implies a degree of precision and control, intelligence and long term second strike survivability I’m not sure is attainable from the likely submarine-launched second strike missiles, or even surviving land based missiles in hardened underground silos, say. Second strike weapons are designed for indiscriminate deterrence since precision in a post nuclear environment is unrealistic. [It also would imply an attempt to target the entire Arab world. CiJ]

Still one must credit the commenter who brought the subject up: protecting the survivors. Could there be anything more grim, devastating, heartbreaking to contemplate.

And yet these are matters someone must contemplate. Indeed it would not be surprising if there is an super secret subcommittee of intelligence and cabinet officials in Tel Aviv contemplating it at this very moment.

There must be a “doctrine”, as they say in nuclear war studies, that lays out the strategic, tactical and moral considerations involved in targeting options: questions of proportionality, degree of responsibility, command-and-control (who will make the second strike decisions if the Israeli cabinet is destroyed for instance).

It is likely that the “doctrine” is being re evaluated in the light of the new, Iranian, threats. Should the new doctrine on second strike options be made public?

Evidence that this re-evaluation is going on can be found in the controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s so called “slip of the tongue” about Israeli nuclear capacity and what it portended for Israel’s long held position of” nuclear ambiguity”.

I will examine the “slip of the tongue”, and the debate over “nuclear ambiguity” and the question of its continued usefulness, in a subsequent post. Meanwhile I’d still be interested in whether readers have any further ideas about second strike doctrine, what roles justice, vengeance, proportionality and morality should play. It may become, alas, the most important question of our time, not just for Israel, but for the rest of the world which could easily be drawn into a Middle East nuclear conflict.

By the way, Rosenbaum also has a piece that examines Olmert's 'slip of the tongue' here.


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