Iran vs Israel: Nuclear Beauty Contest III

Israel seemingly doesn’t want nations to know for certain whether it has nuclear weapons so that it is not pressured to join the NPT, this called nuclear ambiguity perhaps it should be called nuclear flirtation. Israel still faces the possibility of being wiped out by the combined conventional forces of all of its neighbors, diminished by 1979 peace accord with Egypt and the 1994 accord with Jordan is not eliminated. While Israel is gaining some integration into the larger Middle East as necessitated by Iran and ISIS, the pendulum could swing the other way if local populations do not learn to embrace their Jewish neighbor in the Levant. NATO faced a similar problem in Europe against the numerically superior Soviets. Nuclear deterrence, perhaps the greatest of Asymmetric warfare tactics was first established by Western Allies against the Soviets, only later by the Israelis against Arab States.  Despite the similarities with deterrence, nuclear ambiguity harms the idea of nuclear deterrent policy as lampooned in Dr. Stangelove, “Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, EH?”  This ersatz deterrence policy has its origins in the Nixon administration and may have been suggested by Henry Kissinger to the Israelis for preventing US embarrassment and keeping the NPT out of the picture. The advantage of ambiguity is that it implies two things, nuclear weapons will be used against overwhelming force in a first strike and their purpose is ultimately defensive because Israel can’t threaten with something they don’t claim to have.  We only really know this because Israel has never launched a nuclear missile and because the existential problem of needing to deter an entire region as ebbed but not disappeared. Israel could be perceived as a mad dog willing to use a WMD for its own glory but experience has dispelled what even at the time was an unrealistic possibility the need to deter the region from all out war remains palpable. Talk of a nuclear arms race by Middle Eastern nations is a direct result of Iran’s recent nuclear project, not Israel’s mature one. 

Iran could be said to have fashioned its own ambiguity, Ayatollah Khamenei allegedly issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons stating such weapons were against Islam. The Washington Post, Nov 27th, 2013 “Did Iran’s supreme leader issue a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons” suggested that Iran had no problem with producing chemical weapons but was unable to find any written text of the alleged fatwa. More importantly a Fatwa, especially as posed by a Supreme Leader is arbitrary. Having and using nuclear weapons is against Islam only for as long as the Ayatollah says it is. Iran’s recent Reaganesque statements that it will achieve peace through power while unveiling a new Fateh 313 ballistic missile that represents progress on being able to deliver a nuke, President Rouhani stated, "If a country does not have power and independence, it cannot seek real peace."  The problem is Iran does have real power in its ability to project force into Syria, Gaza, the Golan, Iraq and Yemen nor is Iran in any danger of not surviving a conflict with any nation or nations. Iraq was unable to conquer Iran when Iran was in a very weak post-revolutionary position and Iraq was at the apex of its military power. Like China and Russia, The US and its allies have not attempted to invade Iran and topple the government and has no plans to do, nor would such an invasion likely to be successful as supply lines would be very strained and Iran would have a large, highly motivated population to strike a relatively exposed US with. 

Israel has threatened many times to attack Iran because of its nuclear weapons program and has been presumed to be behind a series of assassinations of nuclear scientists, deploying malware against centrifuge productions but Israel has been circumspect in only wanting to attack the nuclear program. Iran is a general threat against the Jewish State and the region yet Israeli rhetoric does not pay Iran back in kind. Israel in conventional warfare has limited itself to the proxies of Iran and Syria rather than engage directly the source of terrorism. The Iranian nuclear program threatens Israel, obviously Israel's actions and rhetoric are highly antagonistic even if the antagonism is justifiable and outweighed by Iranian threats. 

One reason for the antagonism, beyond the infiltration of Israeli territories with Iranian sponsored terror groups Islamic Jihad and for some time, Hamas in addition to their proxy Hezbollah in Syria, is Iran continuously threatens to “wipe Israel off the map.”  More ominously, Iran claimed that Israel could be destroyed in 9 minutes with missiles as translated by MEMRI and reported in by Dudi Cohen for ynetnews but the implication would have to be such devastating missile strikes would need to be nuclear. 

Worse still, Iran has a considerable track records for endangering civilians and policies for killing civilians through its proxies. Both Hezbollah and Hamas have Iranian sponsored doctrines which make targets of enemy civilian populations as well domestic civilian populations by embedding military operatives in civilian areas. There is little room to doubt that Iran would have no doctrine to prevent using nuclear weapons to win a war, even one it chooses to start. Iran has also continues to support Syria militarily which uses chemical weapons against its civilians. 

Iran has WMD, chemical weapons, during the Iran-Iraq, described by Global Security although those chemical weapons could be considered a counter to Iraq’s use of such weapons there was no doctrine on Iran’s part against using them.  In Iran’s defense, it was catching up to an enemy using chemical weapons on the battlefield but there is no indication that these weapons turned the tide of the war for Iran, in fact the Iraqi use of superior conventional weapons and having a better trained military proved to very inadequate for invading Iran. While Iran gets called a paper tiger for failing to resupply Yemen, the real strength of the Iranian military is dug in defenses at home.

The inability to project military force well while having designs on extending Iranian influence in the region has committed Iran to a strategy of exporting revolution supported by asymmetric warfare.  “Asymmetric warfare” can refer to guerrilla warfare and insurgency tactics but it has also become a fig leaf term for terrorism. A human bomb in a grocery store is an asymmetric tactic. While Iran is gaining some possibility of confidence and credibility for its Hezbollah and Iranian military forces in Syria, Iran has historically relied on terrorist tactics as both a means to inflict damage on an enemy as well as the gain the political benefit of making civilian feel endangered.  The Buenos Aires bombing against the AMIA because it is Jewish by a suicide bomber proves Iran has no compunctions about killing innocent civilians for perceived gain. There is nothing in Iranian military doctrine that credibility denies using any weapon against an enemy or its civilian population. If Iran could get its hands on something better than nuclear it would and it would have no reason to use it. A terrible beauty wants to slouch its way toward Bethlehem.