With the almost inevitable passage of the Iran deal on Capitol Hill in the next two weeks, Israelis are naturally worried about the future. Indeed, there is reason for concern.
Israeli-American relations were harmed during the fight over the deal and it will take time for them to mend.
Iran, already close to having an atomic bomb, will almost surely have the atomic bomb within the next decade. Too, within eight years it can buy ICBMs, which are irrelevant for attacking Israel, but a deterrent to the US getting involved in a Middle East war.
Israelis are acutely aware that more than 90 percent of them live in only 9,000 square kilometers. This makes them vulnerable to a handful of Iranian missiles carrying atomic bombs, which can reach Tel Aviv in 11 minutes. The inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, carried out partly by Iranians over a 24-day period, will be of little value.
American promises to help Israel in a major way sound rather thin after the US and Europe caved so willingly to Iranian pressure.
And yet there are many reasons for hope as well. First and foremost, it is always difficult to forecast the future. In World War II, at the height of the Holocaust, who expected that in a few short years a Jewish state would be founded? In 1967 when three armies were poised to destroy Israel, who expected a stunning Israeli victory in only six days? Conversely, after the Six Day War, who expected that Israel would be in a perilous state when fighting the same Arab armies (minus Jordan) only seven years later? Politically, the Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia are likely to turn even more to Israel for an alliance against Shi’ite Iran. Too, with a declining stock market, weak economy and Hillary Clinton’s “emailgate,” there is a growing chance that a pro-Israel Republican could win the 2016 presidential election and undo much of the Iran deal, which is not a treaty but only an executive order. After all the majority of the Senate, House and public are against the deal. And even a moderate Democrat might well amend the executive order to fit the new realities of a nuclear Iran that could harm American interests in the Middle East.
Militarily, Israel is by far the strongest power in the Middle East. It already has the most advanced anti-missile systems in the world (Arrow 2, Iron Dome, David’s Sling) and within several years is likely to have an even more modern anti-missile system. Arrow 3, built together with the United States, will intercept incoming Iranian missiles 130 km above the earth in the exosphere. Its “kill ratio” is such that it could destroy as much as 99% of incoming missiles.
Too, Israel has a small but capable navy.
By 2017 Israel will have six German-built Dolphin-class submarines reputed to be capable of launching nuclear weapons.
This gives Israel an invulnerable second- strike nuclear capability of considerable magnitude.
Even more important, Israel is reputed to have 80-100 atomic bombs and doubtless could produce many more in the next few years.
While Iran has a weak air force and army, and an even weaker navy, Israel has a first-rate air force and army with satellite, cyber warfare and intelligence capabilities significantly better than Iran’s. On the conventional side of any conflict, although not without difficulties, Israel should be able, especially with the new F-35 fighter, to rule the air as well as the seas.
Economically, Israel is far more powerful than Iran. While Israel has a strong First World economy of $36,000 GDP/ capita, Third World Iran’s economy, as a petro state, is at a pitiful $5,000 GDP/capita.
Israel has a top-five hi-tech “Silicon Wadi” with $22 billion of exports and is working openly with the United States (Roosevelt Island), Russia (Skolkovo) and China (Shantou). By contrast, Iran lacks a Silicon Valley, in a twenty-first century where hi-tech is the future.
Demographically, while over three million Jews immigrated to Israel (and continue to come) after 1948, four to five million largely well-educated Iranians have fled Iran and continue to do so at a rate of 150,000 a year. Over 40% of the Iranian population consists of minorities (Azeris, Arabs, Kurds) who are often not happy with strong Persian radicalism.
Internationally, while many countries hope to benefit from trade with Iran, they would oppose Iran launching a nuclear war. With its budding relations with Sunni Arab states, Russia in particular would definitely oppose such a move and has the ability (as the source of 70% of Iran’s arms) to make life quite difficult for Iran.
Domestically, Israel has a strong, if often frenzied, democratic regime and accompanying legitimacy. By contrast, Iran is highly corrupt and its elections pseudo-democratic at best. If the grand ayatollah is hopelessly ill as rumored, a protracted battle over his succession could easily tear apart the country for several years. As the Green Movement showed in 2009, there is a strong relatively secular element in Iran, while the supporters of the Islamic fundamentalist regime are reckoned at only 10%-25%.
There is much about which to be concerned – and even more that gives hope to Israel in the years to come.The author is a professor at the Josef Korbel School on International Studies at the University of Denver.