Israel’s Nuclear Choice: Proliferation or Disarmament

Does Bibi really have a strategy? He appears to have gambled everything on America’s power to force Iran into a position of total capitulation on its nuclear infrastructure. He has also expected the US to roll back Iran’s regional power throughout Lebanon and Syria. What Bibi has failed to understand is that after two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast majority of the Democratic Party is loath to risk entering into a third. Probably the same can be said for a clear majority of the Republican Party as well. So when Kerry or Obama ask the question to opponents of the Iran nuclear deal — what is your alternative other than war? — they are met with the facile answer of “a better nuclear deal”.

But it’s too late to negotiate a better nuclear deal without the total support of the P5+1. That’s the rub. It’s either going to be this nuclear deal or an Israeli or Arab proposed “Grand Bargain”, that can capture the imagination of all the great powers. So far the Saudi leadership seems content to go along with Obama’s plan in exchange for a vast array of anti-missile defensive weaponry and US promises of conventional help to defend the kingdom. The Saudis have also claimed that whatever Iran is allowed to possess in terms of nuclear infrastructure, they too will possess. It seems that the Middle East is poised to enter into an era of nuclear capacity expansion in conjunction with supersonic air interjection. In other words, eventual first-strike nuclear-weapons war-fighting capability under a dome of protection. This reliance on anti-missile defensive weaponry will certainly be a dramatic addition to the prospect of nuclear proliferation. But it also has the potential to create a brand new modern Middle East theory, that nuclear war can be winnable. Not only will this initiate a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but also, a defensive arms race.

If you think this is far-fetched, the discussions on the THAAD defensive system (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) have already begun between Riyadh and Washington. And the main Saudi objection to the Iran nuclear deal is whether or not Iran’s military bases will be allowed to be inspected. As military bases are inspected, missiles and anti-missile systems can also be detected. Apparently, the military remains off-limits as far as Iran’s Supreme Leader is concerned. But they are apparently not off-limits as far as the King of Saudi Arabia is concerned. Maybe, Secretary of State, John Kerry can answer the two leaders’ red lines on military base inspections. However what is now coming into clear focus are the early fears of nuclear breakout leading to the necessity of anti-missile shields against attack. These fears can only grow as Iranian restrictions are removed on research and development, missile procurement and a deepening commitment by Tehran to the spread of advanced conventional equipment to its terrorist allies.

The introduction of vast nuclear infrastructures and defensive weaponry into the Middle East is bad enough. But the Middle East is fast becoming a region of failed states, leading to massive new terrorist entities. How such an unstable region can be allowed a short ten to fifteen year sunset clause — on a nuclear breakout time that by President Obama’s own admission will eventually be geared toward mere days — is beyond the imaginative scope of this writer’s abilities. But Obama and Kerry are convinced that their plan is the only realistic one. They say that Grand Bargains are the fantasies of dreamers and that only their plan will prevent the certainty of war in the short term. But nations never live in the short term only. They live, first and foremost, as families with usually three generations to worry about. Obama claims to know what is in the best interest of Israel. But if Obama had a real understanding of the Israeli experience, would he feel as confident with his plan as he appears to be? Of course he wouldn’t, not with such a short sunset clause, a region in turmoil, the spread of nuclear war-fighting capacity and two girls who could be mothers themselves in ten or fifteen years. Obama either doesn’t really care about Israel, or he and Kerry are kidding themselves in pursuit in pursuit of awards or careerist legacies.

But what about Bibi? It was his prophecies of doom which led us to this point in the first place. Event haven’t turned out well for Netanyahu. His handling of Israel’s strategic relationship with the US has been seriously eroded by a severe case of partisanship. For now, most Americans view Israel’s government as being an adjunct to the Republican Party. This is not a strategy of an intelligent nation state. It’s a disaster. Obama can’t really defend his Iran nuclear plan to Israel and the Sunni Arab states, but he can sell it to the Democrats in Congress. Bibi will be very hard pressed to stop him. Because in the final analysis, Obama is correct — what is the alternative to the Iran nuclear deal? Obama says it’s either his plan or immediate war. And Jerusalem and Riyadh remain quiet without an alternative to inspire the world and especially the P5+1.

Israel must decide in the next few weeks whether to offer up an alternative, or use the next few years as a breathing space to build up its offensive and defensive nuclear abilities. Sticking with the current policy will soon be a dead end. Ehud Barak is content that Israel can contain other Middle East nuclear states. Perhaps he’s a secret advocate of the concept of a winnable nuclear war, I don’t know. Bibi wants to maintain Israel’s nuclear weapons monopoly, but that seems like a failed, and soon, doomed strategy. So, either Israel will go onto the next stage of nuclear history, defensive systems and nuclear proliferation; or it will make another kind of history and align itself with the Sunni Arab states and call for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

Israel’s choice is clear; either it will stun the world — especially Pope Francis of the Vatican City-State, a significant world religious leader — by calling for a ban on war and nuclear weapons in the Middle East, or it can prepare for a very dangerous new century of nuclear weapons. NATO and the Americans have already begun this horrible new age by the proposed stationing of anti-missile defensive systems in Europe. Russia has already damned this NATO strategy. Israel would be foolish to follow in NATO’s footsteps. The region and the world sit at a crucial crossroad. It’s time for little Israel to step forward and lead.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).
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