Israel and Iran: Partners in Plausible Nuclear Deniability
Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are known to be champing at the bit to bomb Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities. Even though, as the New York Times reported:
. . . former intelligence chief, Meir Dagan. . . . made headlines a few weeks ago when he asserted . . . that a military attack on Iran would be “a stupid idea.” This week Mr. Dagan . . . said that attacking Iran “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.”
Israel of course enjoys a non-nuclear program with everything from tactical (battlefield) nuclear weapons to thermonuclear (hydrogen) bombs. To the contrary, it insists, enabled in its charade by the United States. In Iran's case, the International Atomic Energy Agency has yet to find damning evidence of a nuclear-weapons program. In fact, some of the "evidence," such as what's called the alleged studies documents, seemed manufactured and/or planted. Still, those of us most opposed to using force against Iran would make more credible advocates for a negotiated solution if we accepted that Iran most likely seeks weaponless, or "virtual," deterrence (no weapons, but the full-blown capacity to manufacture them).
In Israel's case, though, it's nuclear denial is full of holes large enough to drive a truck through. As far back as 1986, former Israeli nuclear technician Mordecai Vanunu blew the whistle on Israel's program to the British press, for which he served 18 years in Israeli prison.
Iran now has its own Mordecai Vanunu, however much he doesn't realize it. A couple of months ago, Iran watchers were agog when an article appeared on a website run by Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) that envisioned the day when Iran becomes a nuclear-weapons power. The piece, as Julian Borger reports at the Guardian, begins:
The day after Iran's first nuclear test is a normal day. The day after Islamic Republic of Iran's first nuclear test will be an ordinary day for us Iranians but in the eyes of some of us there will be a new sparkle.
This strange, hypothetical, article . . . hammers home again and again the message that an Iranian nuclear test will not lead to disaster. On the contrary, life will go as before except that Iranians will feel better about themselves.
Why would the IRGC sanction such a statement? Borger again.
This has the look of a kite being flown, but for whom? It could be intended to get Iranians used to the idea of a nuclear test. . . . It could be a gesture of defiance to the world by hardline elements. . . . The article comes during a period when Tehran's official stance is particularly . . . assertive, announcing today that it will triple its production of 20% enriched uranium and shift it to the underground Fordow site, near Qom.
Borger then quotes Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli expert on the Tehran regime, about the article.
It's breaking a major taboo. . . . if this report is followed by others similar to it, then it would signify a major change in the way Iran refers to its nuclear program.
But such a campaign would likely backfire as it
. . . would be a significant boost for western efforts to isolate Iran [which, along with Iran's] deteriorating economic situation could be more damaging to the regime's top priority, which is its survival, than a military attack by the West.
In fact, if the IRGC author had been more truthful, he would have written:
The day after Iran's first nuclear test will be an ordinary day for us Iranians -- until Israel rains down holy hell on our heads.
Iran needs to tread carefully. You would think it would have learned a lesson from archrival Saddam Hussein, who, in a clumsy form of regional deterrence, behaved as if Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. By foiling United Nations inspectors at every turn, he helped provide fodder for the United States to win support for an attack on the premise that Iraq was a rogue nuclear state.
Iran denies nuclear-weapons aspirations but, for a whole host of reasons from deterrence to status to using the program as a bargaining chip, seems to want the region and the West to think it might one day possess them. In the interim, it could well wind up attacked like Iraq's Osirak reactor was by Israel in 1981. When Iran inevitably retaliates, it would no doubt suffer a devastating second wave of attacks from the United States, which would pitch in when Israel got in over its head. Prevaricating about nukes is a dangerous game to play.