The quickest way for Israel to ensure that Iran successfully produces an atomic bomb is to launch a go-it-alone military strike. Paradoxically, if Israel really wants to prevent Iran from seeking and securing atomic weapons, it most certainly should refrain from a military strike on Iran at this time.
Let me explain. If we examine Israel’s security situation by the classic standard which measures the existential threats to Israel, Israel has never been safer. Let’s compare and contrast. At the peak of Arab anti-Israel rejectionism, say around 1973, Israel had no peace agreements with any Arab countries and was surrounded by states or terror groups that were at war with Israel: Egypt, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinians and Lebanon.
Back then Syria and Egypt were armed with the best that Soviet military technology had to offer, in almost unlimited quantities. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Egypt and Syria fielded thousands of top-of-the-line Russian tanks that were a match for Israel’s American and British- made tanks. They fired enormous quantities of infantry-operated anti-tank weapons that inflicted heavy losses, and they hunkered down under a Russian made air-defense system that downed more than one hundred Israeli fighter jets. As a result both Egypt and Syria were able to inflict unprecedented military damage and secure initial territorial gains after their surprise attack on Israel. To this day Israel is still healing from the national trauma of almost 3,000 Israeli soldiers killed and 8,000 wounded (at a time when Israel’s total population was 3.25 million!).
At that time, Israel also had to take into account the military capabilities of countries like Saddam’s Iraq, which fielded the largest Arab army and was considered to be an active threat on the “eastern front,” as well as more distant foes like Libya. I myself participated as an armored corps reservist in the last division-level maneuvers in Sinai, which simulated Israel’s response to an Iraqi attack via Jordan. And the PLO was a terror force to be reckoned with both within Israel and abroad and Arafat was a welcome guest at the U.N.
Now let’s tally up the situation today.
Two former confrontation states on our borders maintain decades-old peace agreements with Israel, with neither showing any real signs of abrogating the agreements or any interest in renewing the state of war with Israel. Hezbollah, while constituting a threat to Israel’s home front, has scrupulously avoided a repeat of the pre–Second Lebanon War dynamic that destabilized its own situation in Lebanon. Hezbollah is well aware of the cost to Lebanon’s flourishing economy and political stability of another round with Israel. Furthermore, its patron states, Syria and Iran, are increasingly involved with their own “issues.” They can no longer guarantee the financial and military backing they once did. In a confrontation with Israel, Hezbollah might well find itself sans allies.
The Palestinians are effectively split into two political entities, one dependent on Israel for its livelihood and stability (West Bank) and one increasingly drawn back into the sphere of influence of Egypt (Gaza), which will continue to maintain the peace with Israel, if only out of its own narrow self-interest.
Libya as a threat is out of the picture. Iraq as a threat is out of the picture. The Arab world is in a state of turmoil that may last for years or decades, leaving it little energy or desire to confront Israel or to sustain a humiliating defeat by it.
In the wider ring of nominally anti-Israel Muslim states, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now (sadly) Turkey, these countries too are in turmoil, as the destructive energies of Al Qaida and the Jihadi movements and the rise of Islamic democracy in Turkey have forced Muslim societies to look inward for the solutions to their problems.
The techno-military gap in Israel’s favor between Israel and its enemies has only grown — due to the support of successive American governments (both Republican and Democratic) and Israel’s capabilities in the field of military technology, cyber-warfare, covert operations, etc.
The bottom line is that in many ways, Israel has dropped off the Arab and Muslim radar screen as they deal with their own problems — and it is in Israel’s interest not to destabilize that situation.
There’s one surefire way for Israel to neutralize all of these factors working in its favor. An attack on Iran by Israel now would unify all of Israel’s enemies who would jump at the opportunity to make Israel the scapegoat for all of the problems facing them today.
By all accounts, an Israeli solo attack would at best delay the inevitable by a few years as Iran would simply burrow its bomb-making facilities even deeper. It would also probably set off a major conflagration in which Israel’s civilian centers would become the target of made-in-Iran missiles launched from Lebanon, Gaza, and Iran. And let’s not forget that militarily, the home front is Israel’s Achilles’ heel.
An Israeli attack will delay the production of the Iranian bomb, but almost certainly not for more than a few years. The reality is that when a nation puts its mind to having a bomb, it will have a bomb (see Pakistan, India, North Korea, and of course, some would say, Israel).
But, if Israel does not attack, there is every likelihood that some or all of the following scenarios will be played out with Iran — leading Iran to voluntarily forgo producing a bomb:
- Sanctions will produce the desire effect.
- After As‘ad’s fall and as the war in Afghanistan winds down, the U.S., after the elections, will be ready to take out the Iranian nuclear option by force — or through threat of force.
- The winds of the Arab spring will reach Tehran and a new postrevolutionary government in Iran will forgo the nuclear option.
- Israel will continue along with western countries to effectively sabotage various aspects of the Iranian nuclear effort at low cost to Israel and the west and at very high cost to Iran.
- Iran will be shown to be the “paper tiger” it really is … with very little military or oil clout to wield.
Any combination of the above could and probably would lead Iran to denuclearize.
This scenario still leaves Israel in the “what if” situation and I suggest a relatively low-cost way to substantially increase Israel’s sense of security in the event that all of the above scenarios do not come to pass and the Iranians do secure an atomic bomb.
Both the Republican candidate for president and President Obama himself can commit themselves in a bipartisan manner, before the elections, to a mutual defense agreement with Israel that would stipulate that a nuclear attack on Israel by Iran or any other country would elicit an immediate and devastating nuclear response by the U.S.A.
Carl Perkal is a documentary film producer and media consultant living in Israel.