- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2008


The more things change, the more they remain the same. Despite a recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that says otherwise, Iran’s plan to acquire nuclear weapons remains firmly in place. Israel has no legal obligation to sit back and wait to be annihilated — international law is not a suicide pact. A principal effect of the American NIE will be to inhibit any pre-emptive action against Iranian nuclear assets and infrastructures. In the words of Maj.-Gen (res.) Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, former director of Israel Defense Force (IDF) military intelligence, ” the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions without any interference.”

Gen. Farkash’s observation refers to Washington and Jerusalem. Both the United States and Israel would now find it more difficult to exercise “anticipatory self-defense” against Iran. Indeed, from a purely tactical standpoint, the United States Air Force (USAF) would still be better prepared to launch any pre-emptive strikes against Iranian hard targets than the Israel Air Force (IAF). The IAF is very capable, but it is also very small.

Unless either the United States or Israel remains willing to strike defensively against an openly genocidal regime in Tehran, Israel may have to resign itself to “living” with a nuclear Iran. Such resignation would be ill-advised, because Tehran is unlikely to satisfy the most basic assumptions of stable nuclear deterrence. Such coexistence could never resemble the earlier U.S.-Soviet “balance of terror.” This would not be your father’s Cold War.

Following the NIE, Israel may also choose to rely more upon its “Arrow” anti-missile system for active defense. But defending civilian populations from nuclear attack requires a near 100 percent reliability of interception, and the very best system of ballistic missile defense (BMD) could never be “leakproof.” Even if Israel’s BMD could intercept all incoming enemy missiles, Iran might still plan to share some of its developing nuclear weapons and technologies with Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon and/or with Hamas or Islamic Jihad surrogates in Gaza.

Terrorists would not need any missiles to deliver nuclear payloads. Trucks, boats and automobiles would suit them just fine. Should the United States decide to launch pre-emptive strikes against pertinent Iranian hard targets, its strike force could comprise approximately 75 stealth attack aircraft “- B-2s and F-22s. Also included would be some 250 non-stealth F-15s, F-16s, B-52s and three carrier battle groups. Each carrier battle group could contain more than 120 F-18s and a large inventory of cruise missiles.

The United States has more than 1,000 unmanned aerial vehicles for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the Iraq theatre. These could support a decisive campaign to convince Tehran that we can hit Iranian nuclear development facilities, command-and-control-structures, integrated air defenses, Air Force and Navy units and the Shahab-3 missiles, using over 2,500 aim points.

If Israel’s Arrow was extraordinarily efficient in its intercept reliability, an irrational Iranian adversary armed with nuclear weapons could be handled. Even if Israel’s nuclear deterrent were immobilized by an enemy state willing to risk a massive “countervalue” Israeli reprisal, that aggressor’s first strike could still be blocked by the Arrow. But the needed efficiencies are simply not possible, and Israel should not bet its existence on active defenses.

Israel must strengthen its nuclear deterrence posture. To be deterred, a rational adversary will always need to calculate that Israel’s retaliatory strike forces are sufficiently invulnerable to any first-strike attack. Facing the Arrow, this adversary will now require more missiles to achieve an assured destructive first strike against Israel. The Arrow will at least compel a rational adversary to delay any intended first-strike attack against Israel until it can deploy a more robust nuclear missile force.

Israel must continue to develop, test and implement an interception capability to match the growing threat dictated by enemy missile capabilities. It must also prepare for certain possible pre-emptions and for enhancing the credibility of its nuclear deterrent. Israel must now operationalize a survivable retaliatory force targeted on principal enemy cities.

International law is not a suicide pact. No state can be required to become complicit in its own annihilation. Leaving Iran to the toothless sanctions of the United Nations — and to the perilous viability of complex defense technologies — could bring Israel to the outer margins of survival. If America won’t act decisively against Iran, Israel must.

Louis Ren Beres is Professor of International Law at Purdue University and chairman of “Project Daniel,” a report on Israel’s strategic future. Retired USAF Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney is a military analyst for the Fox News Channel.

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