October 22, 2012
Credit: Photo Credit: FARS News Agency
Bill Sweetman Washington and David Eshel Tel Aviv
“We don't think nuclear weapons are useful,” remarked John Hamre, a former U.S. deputy defense secretary, at a symposium in Omaha, Neb., in summer 2009. “We think they are dangerous. But most countries think they are useful.”
That's an important statement to remember as the face-off continues in the Middle East between a nation that everyone knows has nuclear weapons, but does not admit it, and a nation that claims to not be developing nuclear weapons but acts as if it is. To say that Israel and Iran have their differences is a monumental understatement, but the actions of both are similar in their lack of transparency and the mixed and contradictory signals.
To some extent, these signals spring from real disagreements. In Israel, there are two opposing camps. One is led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who hold that Israel must bomb Iran's nuclear sites in the near future. The other follows former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin, director of the Israel Security Agency from 2005-11, who make the case that Israel absolutely should not bomb Iran, or at least not before the U.S. presidential election next month.
Between these camps, two polarized schools of thought emerge. The mainstream of government leaders—for the most part politically to the right—maintain that a nuclear bomb in the hands of a radical religious regime like Shiite Iran—which openly says Israel must be wiped off the map—poses an existential threat to Israel's national security. Therefore, if bombing Iran could indeed prevent that country's obtaining a nuclear capability, it is the correct strategic move.
In the government's view, the persistent claim that an attack on Iran will cause the entire Middle East to go up in flames is incorrect, because Israel's self-defense capabilities can keep Iran at bay. Israel's leaders assure their people that whoever portrays what transpires the day after the strike as a war that will cost the lives of tens of thousands of Israelis is overstating the threat. There are those who expect that the Sunni Arab world will not be sorry to see such a strike, and that the Iranian response will be measured, calculated and absorbable.
Retired air force general and former chief of military intelligence Amos Yadlin is more critical in his outlook. In his view, the decisive year to act is not 2012 but 2013, maybe even early 2014.
“We have at least a half-year left before we reach the true crossroads where we will have to make the fateful decision. But even when we reach the crossroads, in order for an Israeli strike to really prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb for a long time to come, it must enjoy legitimacy,” Yadlin says. “The international community believes there is still time for diplomacy and sanctions. Consequently, our legitimacy battery is almost empty. Above all, we must cease butting heads with the U.S. and try to reach a strategic understanding with it. Israel must shape a policy and take action to ensure that, if we are compelled to attack, the world will be behind us on the day we do so,” the general emphasizes.