October 22, 2012
Bill Sweetman Washington
As Maj. T.J. (King) Kong put it so well in Dr. Strangelove: “Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human bein's if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelin's about nuclear combat.” We have been used to keeping those feelings at a distance for a couple of decades, but the luxury of not thinking about deterrence, and leaving that job to a small group of specialists, is gone.
The nightmare that the world has kept locked in the closet is rattling around again. Nuclear weapons have always been associated with gut-level antipathy between nations, but even in the most difficult days of the Cold War it was realized on all sides that the goal was to manage conflict and tension so that the weapons were never used. India and Pakistan have fought wars, but stayed far from the nuclear threshold.
Iran and Israel are different. Neither is overt about its nuclear capabilities. Israeli leaders talk openly about using airstrikes to preempt Iran's development of nuclear warheads and regional-range missiles, and it is widely assumed that Israel has already used covert force and violence to that end.
Iran may like to play the innocent, but it runs a clearly ambiguous nuclear program and brags about its missiles—which, by the way, constitute a weak military investment if they only carry high explosives. Its political and religious leaders speak of the elimination of Israel, and have themselves to blame when people listen to them.
In the following pages, Aviation Week analyzes the strategy, doctrine and technology behind both Iran's nuclear program and the talk of a pre-emptive strike. A few key points:
•Iran cannot be bombed out of developing a nuclear-armed missile with the range to reach Israel, at least not with conventional weapons. The best that can be hoped for is a delay of a few years.
•Iran would be committing national suicide by waging a nuclear attack on Israel, given that many believe Israel has an untouchable second-strike capability.