- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008


Israel’s Strategic Future, a special report of the Project Daniel Group, was presented to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on January 16, 2003. Among other things, the report asserted that under no circumstances should Iran be allowed to go nuclear. This firm position stemmed from our understanding that stable deterrence could never exist with a nuclear Iran led by the current extreme regime, and that Iran’s belligerent stance toward Israel had remained openly genocidal.

Iran has advanced steadily with plans to build and deploy nuclear weapons. On April 8, 2008, Iran’s National Day of Nuclear Technology, President Ahmadinejad announced his intent to install 6,000 additional centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Now no serious observer could any longer accept the argument that Iran seeks nuclear power only for peaceful purposes.

International law is not a suicide pact. Every state has not only the right, but also the obligation, to protect its citizens from aggression. This expectation is beyond any moral or legal question when a determined and possibly irrational enemy seeks nuclear weapons.

Ideally, Israel could deter any Iranian WMD attack by maintaining a credible posture of nuclear deterrence. But this is not your father’s Cold War, and Israel’s notably small size leaves Jerusalem very little room for strategic error. Not surprisingly, Israel continues to maintain a prudent plan for active defense against future Iranian missiles. The plan’s indispensable core is the Arrow anti-ballistic missile.

Still, no system of active defense can be leak proof. And terrorist proxies, rather than missiles, could also be used to deliver Iranian nuclear weapons. It follows, as Project Daniel had advised Mr. Sharon, that Israel must consider and codify appropriate preemption options. Under international law, these essential options are known as anticipatory self-defense. For Israel, time is quickly running out. The Jewish state cannot fully depend upon its anti-ballistic missiles to defend against any future WMD attack from Iran any more than it can rely entirely upon nuclear deterrence. Even a near-perfect Arrow complemented by credible nuclear threats would not obviate Israel’s preemption option. Israel has the right of all states to act in anticipatory self-defense when facing an existential assault. The 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) even extends this right to the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain residual circumstances. These are live or die situations where the only expected alternatives to preemption would be unendurable assaults by enemy states or their surrogates.

Israel certainly has no wish to act upon the 1996 ICJ Opinion. But it must continue to prepare for certain critical non-nuclear preemptions, and also to implement a maximally efficient missile interception capability. Should Iran somehow become nuclear, Israel would then have to significantly enhance the credibility of its nuclear deterrent (including a prompt end to the doctrine of nuclear ambiguity or bomb in the basement), and to deploy a suitable second-strike force. This recognizably invulnerable (hardened and dispersed) countervalue force would be fashioned to inflict a decisive retaliatory blow against selected Iranian cities.

Whenever possible, Israel will continue to seek security by peaceful means. But under no circumstances will it allow Iran to imperil its citizens with nuclear harms.

LOUIS REN BERES is professor of International Law at Purdue University.

Maj. Gen. Isaac Ben-Israel retired from the Israeli air force, is a professor at Tel Aviv and a member of the Knesset.

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