A few months ago we observed the 70th anniversary of the U.S. nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the time the world was engaged on the issue of the nuclear agreement with Iran. Was the non-proliferation regime now hanging in the balance in the altercation between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama? Since the fateful confrontation between the two we have learned from Ehud Barak, Minister of Defense under Netanyahu and former Prime Minister, that there have been three occasions in the last few years in which Netanyahu sought the support of his military for an attack on Iran. The military leadership was resistant in each instance.
What does this tell us? It reveals to us that the Israeli military already considers itself deterred from a pre-emptive strike against Iran, even well before there can be any talk of Iranian nukes. Any large-scale attack on Iran by Israeli forces would likely come at the price of the destruction of Israeli society as we know it. A significant risk is that the major cities will be made uninhabitable, and that would be the end of the society that Israelis have constructed.
Conventional weaponry has become so fearsomely destructive that nuclear weapons are really quite superfluous except possibly in the strategic thinking of the major powers. Now I propose that a similar line of thinking could have been taking place on the Iranian side: "We don't need nukes in order to defend our interests. They drain the treasury, and they don't yield significant added value." After all, the existence of perhaps hundreds of nuclear weapons on the Israeli side did not alter the strategic judgment of the Israeli military that an attack on Iran was inadvisable.
When it comes to offensive weaponry, the argument of sufficiency applies. When it comes to defense, the issue is adequacy---and this can no longer be guaranteed in the modern world. The instrumentalities of war have reached the retail level, and are available with increasing variety. If the intent is merely to disrupt a functioning society, there are many ways to bring that about. The result is mutual deterrence even among non-nuclear powers, and this gives one hope that the non-proliferation regime can be re-vitalized in the wake of the Iran nuclear agreement.
Netanyahu was aware of all this when he waged his final campaign against the nuclear agreement. Since the agreement was already a done deal by that time, what could have been his purpose? Netanyahu was undoubtedly looking to the future. He sought to heap opprobrium on President Obama for the impertinence of deviating from Israeli foreign policy on matters seen as critical to Israel's security. Ever since President Johnson was silent in the face of the Israeli assault on our ship the USS Liberty, the government of Israel has known that it effectively controls our foreign policy with respect to its core interests.
Significantly, Netanyahu knew that the US was categorically opposed to a strike against Iran. That was apparently of no consequence to his planning. The only concurrence he needed was from the Israeli military itself. Once an attack was launched, the US would inevitably be drawn in.
How do we end this wag-the-dog scenario, in which one of the most belligerent regimes on the planet gets to control our foreign policy? With the Iran nuclear agreement putting wind in our sails, one way would be to place the nuclear non-proliferation agenda on the front burner, and to bring Israel's nukes into the conversation. When it comes to matters nuclear, Israel is the rogue nation, not Iran. Being forthright enough to say so would be the beginning of our independence. Now that Iran's nuclear future has been subjected to international regulation, we need to have a frank conversation about Israel's flouting of international norms.
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