Friday, August 28, 2015

Returning to Those Thrilling Discussions of Yesteryear

Stratfor has an interesting article on Israel's hesitation to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. Which has dangerous implications. Will the deal require Israel to nuke Iran to preempt a nuclear threat?

Stratfor, writing about Israel's apparent unwillingness to risk a strike on Iran, says that Israel isn't sure its military could cripple Iran's nuclear facilities and that a failure could dent Israel's military reputation:

For the Israelis, the price of failure in an attack on Iranian nuclear sites would have been substantial. One of Israel's major strategic political assets is the public's belief in its military competence. Forged during the 1967 war, the IDF's public image has survived a number of stalemates and setbacks. A failure in Iran would damage that image even if, in reality, the military's strength remained intact. Far more important, it would, as the failed U.S. operation did in 1980, enhance Iran's position. Given the nature of the targets, any attack would likely require a special operations component along with airstrikes, and any casualties, downed pilots or commandos taken prisoner would create an impression of Israeli weakness contrasting with Iranian strength. That perception would be an immeasurable advantage for Iran in its efforts to accrue power in the region. Thus for Israel, the cost of failure would be extreme.

That is a real problem. That's why I figured Russia should have stopped at their Crimea takeover and banked the "style points" for that coup rather than risk exposing their military as less than impressive in a less successful campaign in the east.

Stratfor's analysis is consistent with my view that Israel could come up with a strike option--if they think outside the box enough--but that only America has the ability to really wage a campaign of multiple strikes over a long period of time to smash up the infrastructure.

And even we risk the obvious flaw that not all of Iran's nuclear infrastructure may be in Iran. As I asked at the end of this post:

But what if focusing on the ramifications of the terms of the deal just doesn't really matter? What if it really is the regime that matters? What if all the focus on break-out times and sanctions misses the point that Iran is playing another game altogether?

Further, at some point, Israel may have to decide between a risky conventional attack that has a low chance of success against the likelihood that Iran might nuke an Israeli city with a high chance of testing whether or not Israel is a "one-bomb state." Calculations change a great deal when you substitute concern for your military reputation with concern with your continued existence.

And this is where it gets really sticky.

Some assume that Iran with nuclear weapons is no big deal because Israel's nuclear weapons deter Iran. I have deep doubts about that comforting notion.

If Israel can't deter Iran, we have to think about what Israel's response to a nuclear-armed Iran will be.

Remember, right now Israel has enough doubts about their ability to mount a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. What will Israel's options be after Iran buys better defensive weapons after the long embargo on arms goes away. Already Iran is discussing advanced air defense missiles with Russia (Reset!).

If Israel believes Iran will nuke Israel and if Israel believes their conventional option is too weak, Israel's only logical alternative is a counter-force nuclear strike on Iran's nuclear weapons and their nuclear infrastructure in general. That's the logic of the situation.

Ah, dust off those old Cold War tomes on counterforce theory.

At that point, our only hope is that the Bush-era Obama Option has been improved enough to allow us to mount a last-minute attack campaign to disarm an openly nuclear Iran as an alternative to a disarming nuclear strike by Israel. We at least have the ability to substitute large numbers of precision weapons for nuclear warheads.

As we debate whether this deal will stop Iran from going nuclear, can we at least center the debate on the assumption that a nuclear-armed Iran is a bad thing? Because some of the deal supporters seem confused on this issue.

As an aside, one good thing about the letter by nearly 200 retired admirals and generals who oppose the Iran nuclear deal. The Obama administration touted a supportive letter by several dozen officers. That actually gave me momentary doubt about my judgment sitting here as a civilian with only open-source information to judge the debate.

The new letter makes me more comfortable that I'm not wrong to oppose the deal. Hopefully it has the same effect on others whose opinion matters most immediately. Just how close to midnight do we want the nuclear clock?