There’s an old saying that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A corollary case is unfolding here. One that suggests for those who don’t learn from others’ history, they are simply doomed, as might be the case for Israel if it continues to pursue a practice of nuclear weapon denial. The time for denial is over and deterrence to begin.
MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction was the nuclear deterrence policy in place during the Cold War. It successfully achieved its objective, keeping the peace, albeit a tense one between the Soviet Union and the United States. No nuclear weapons were ever launched by either side against the other.
MAD policy is built upon the premise that if one country pre-emptively (i.e. first strike) launches nuclear missiles at another, the recipient will still have time to launch a full retaliatory strike and destroy it too. It then begs the go no-go question to each side; what then is to be gained by ever launching? The answer is nothing. Rather, any launch yields only total destruction to both sides. That bilateral conclusion then became the backbone reason why there were no hostile nuclear launches by either side during the five decade long Cold War.
A guaranteed no win scenario, creating a defacto “prudent judgment balance”, embodied the “no launch is a good launch” environment between the Cold War superpowers.
Now jump forward two decades to today. We have the underpinnings of a mini Cold War developing in the Middle East. With the assumption that Israel has 100-200 or so nuclear weapons as various expert sources speculate (even ex President Carter in very irresponsible and careless fashion, recently noted 150), it is in position (even if it had only ten nuclear weapons) to assure total destruction, in fact annihilation of any regional country that attacks it. To date, it has uniformly either not confirmed or denied (vis-à-vis the Israeli government’s unofficial but rigidly enforced policy of "deliberate ambiguity") these weapons existence and therefore made no MAD statements to threatening regimes, like Iran. The obvious argument then, why have muscle if you can’t or won’t show it off? Particularly, when a new muscle flexer emerges on the street. It’s akin to a body builder wearing a coat at the beach. Why bother lifting weights?
As the Israel(U.S.)/Iran nuclear crisis ripens, capturing more headlines, there are three strategies either in play or being bandied about to end the standoff, the third wreaking growing havoc in global commodity, capital and equity markets, led by the oil market impact. These include 1) diplomatic negotiation with Iran to cease its nuclear weapons program, 2) sanctions (and isolation) against Iran if and as diplomacy fails, or 3) conventional military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities such as those at Natanz and Arak by the Israeli Air Force ala the raid on the Iraq nuclear facility in the 1980’s.
Note: The wild card of course is a U.S. conventional or heaven forbid, nuclear attack in conjunction with an Israeli strike or even completely separately, on Iran, which if the policy recommendations of this article are adopted, would never need come to fruition - for the U.S. or the Israelis. In fact, war with Iran is averted as is the need for an Israeli military strike.
Unlike the Iraq situation however, when only one centralized target location needed to be taken out to destroy the entire Iraqi nuclear program, the Iranian nuclear weapons program is set up quite differently, in decentralized fashion. The Iranians astutely learned the Iraq lesson to not concentrate all nuclear weapons program activities at a single central location. The integrated Iranian nuclear weapons program/complex therefore is fragmented and geographically diverse and dispersed. It comprises hundreds of sites, many underground, for the sole purpose that the program will survive an attack.
None of these 3 options therefore will result in the desired goal of Israel and the U.S. (i.e. WEAST – U.S and its West and EAST allies) - no Iranian nuclear weapons. Iranian President Ahmadinejad has and will continue for all intents and purposes, thumbed his nose at both diplomacy and sanctions, and given the infrastructure breadth and geographic separation between the many Iranian nuclear facilities, an Israeli attack would only result in temporary crippling key chokepoint locations like Natanz, which would be promptly rebuilt. The real damage or effect then of such a raid is not destruction of the Iranian nuclear weapons program but rather triggering a broader military conflict in the Middle East, driving oil prices to $200 per barrel or much higher, with the Iranians attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz, and other Arab sympathy related oil supply disruptions, and decimating WEAST economies. This would be even further exacerbated if the attack was done in unison with or solely by the United States.
The simple fait accompli then, while it can be temporarily delayed, there is no stopping the Iranian nuclear program. Any attack by Israel and/or the U.S. would only escalate to drastically greater regional and global conflict and global economic failure contagion.
Accepting then the unfortunate inevitability the Iranian nuclear program will successfully yield one or more nuclear weapons, what alternative to military strike remains for Israel to ensure its existence against a regime who has explicitly stated it wants Israel wiped off the map? And what alternative to war exists for the U.S.?
The simple answer is it’s time for Israel and the U.S. to do something very different.
For Israel, it’s time to do what it has been loathe to. That is, come clean on its nuclear weapon program and arsenal and aggressively promote an altogether new, two pronged “MAD +6” Policy:
- MAD - PR campaign directed at Iran. The message being “retaliation without restraint”.
- “Plus 6” - PR campaign directed at Israel’s immediate Arab neighbors. The message being “you’re equally at risk too from Iran”. Any Iranian nuclear strike on Israel, given its extraordinarily tiny size and prevailing westerly winds (with either a north or south bias drift depending on time of year), would also yield incredible nuclear fallout on the immediate neighboring Arab nations – Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and perhaps others. Effectively, if Iran nukes Israel, it simultaneously nukes many of Israel’s Arab neighbors – liken it to a case of “Middle East Fratricide”. In a strange if not ironic way then, Israel is inadvertently protected by its former and/or current Arab enemies and neighbors. Those Arab countries providing a defacto nuclear or rather human shield for Israel. A new and enlightened concept Israel needs to highlight and aggressively promote throughout the Mideast.
For the U.S., it must in parallel, follow its own two pronged “MAD + I2” Policy: