For a variety of reasons, including a misguided infatuation with soft power, neither the United States nor Israel has exercised the legitimate right of anticipatory, or pre-emptive, self defense against Iran. As a result, Iran’s entry into the nuclear club is almost a given. In Israel, a nation already targeted for annihilation; self defense is limited to contingency plans, active defense and deterrence. However, neither is perfect.
Contingency plans make sense when preemption is an option. Should there be an attack on Israel, retaliation is the only option. Active defense is useful since it can confuse the planning of the enemy, but it is impossible to know how many missiles will penetrate defenses in the chaos of war. Further, deterrence is workable only if Iran is unwilling to risk the loss of life. If a theological scenario enters the nuclear equation, the prospective loss of innocent life may not serve as an effective deterrent. It may well be, however, that Iranian commentary about a nuclear conflagration as a prelude for the return of the Mahdi has rhetorical, not practical, application.The problem is: no one knows.
In its latest report, 2011, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military-related organizations.” Survival, then, would be largely dependent on missile defense from Arrow and Aegis destroyers. These if Israel thinks these systems might not be sufficient.
Certainly Israel would like to avoid these contingencies and rely instead on US intelligence, or if that fails, to destroy Iran’snuclear sites. At the moment, the U.S. seems resigned to an Iran with nuclear weapons. The Obama administration either believes Iran is not a serious threat or that a policy of “containment” might work, or that sanctions will, at some point, so damage the Iranian economy that deployment would be rendered impossible.. With Germany,Switzerland, China and Russia all violating the sanctions regimen with no adverse consequences whatever,, this hardly seems a viable course of action.
A nuclear Iran may be unthinkable, as every leader from Obama to Sarkozy, has noted. But action does not necessarily follow a promise. President Bush argued that his presidency would be deemed a failure if he left office and Iran had nuclear weapons.
A nuclearized Iran would be a threat to European capitals and a long term threat to the U.S. but it is a clear and present threat now not only to Israel but also to the oil-rich countries in the region. It is the shadow that blocks Saudi, Kuwaiti, Iraqi, Emirati and Israeli sunlight.
In Israel, there are other issues, including the Palestinian question; yet there is only one existential issue: the Iranian nuclear threat — whether it is six months, one year or several years away from completion.
Israeli batteries at the Iron Dome and Arrow facilities remain confident. They have every reason to feel this way. The troops are strong and their devotion to the security of the Israeli people is unshakable. Still there are always the unknowns: penetration ratios, effectiveness in battle, unpredictable conditions. Every commander, however, during a recent trip to Israel, expressed the belief that the nation will do whatever is necessary to protect the State of Israel. There it always feels as if God is nearby Despite the destruction of the First Temple and the attempt by the Romans to destroy the Second Temple, the Jewish people managed to prevail. As one Israeli officer said to the comment Iran could have the means to destroy Israel: “Never again! Need I say more?”