Self-defense - Israel’s only option?

Most analysts are of the assessment that there is no point counting on Obama’s assurance to “take no options off the table, including military options,” to stop Tehran from possessing nuclear weapons.

IAF F-15s refueling midflight 390 (R) (photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
IAF F-15s refueling midflight 390 (R)
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
Recent reports in the international media, including The Sunday Times and The Telegraph, suggest that like Israel, Saudi Arabia too is upset with the recent Geneva nuclear deal between the West and Iran. The essence of these reports is that Saudi Arabia perceives a grave threat to its existence from a potential nuclear weapon state of Iran. To ward off this danger, Riyadh could band together with Jerusalem to attack Iranian nuclear plants. The Saudis have recently been to some of the Israeli airbases in the south. They have allegedly agreed to let Israel attack Iran via its airspace. They are practicing standing down their air defenses. In case of an Israeli attack on Iran, Saudi Arabia would cooperate with it in the use of refueling planes, rescue helicopters, and drones. Riyadh could also step up intelligence sharing with Jerusalem.
A defense agreement has reportedly been in the works between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and also the UAE for the sharing of a radar station and missile defense information. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu himself has been supervising “intensive meetings” with some of the Gulf officials to combat the perceived Iranian threat.
One finds it hard to believe all such reports in their entirety. True, Saudi Arabia and most of the other Wahhabi-guided Sunni rulers in the Arab world would not like the Khomeinist Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and then be in a position to execute its historical imperialist agenda in the Muslim world. True, the Gulf states today are already within the range of Iranian missiles. The Iranian nuclear reactor located near the Gulf poses a threat also to their ecological existence. But they are unlikely to come out in the open and join hands with Jewish Israel against a Muslim Iran. Almost all Muslim nations have been united in portraying Israel, at least publicly, as an enemy of Islam for their own political reasons. The Saudi rulers cannot afford to act otherwise. They have also to project and protect their leadership image in the Islamic world.
Besides, ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Saudi monarchy seems to have been scared of the possibility of a popular revolution against its own legitimacy in modern times. As such it cannot afford to take on Iran head on and generate an international atmosphere conducive to the latter openly fueling any movement challenging the legitimacy of the current dispensation in Riyadh.
In a recent paper, strategic analyst Joshua Tietelbaum asserted that this fear is so dominant in the Saudi political calculus that it has refrained from taking any action against Iran even when Tehran has organized sedition amongst Saudi Arabia’s own Shiites. Riyadh has also chosen for the same reason to overlook Tehran’s hand in the explosion at the Khobar Towers in Dhahran in 1996.
The analyst goes on to infer that this fear may even drive Saudi Arabia to seek clandestine rapprochement with Iran. The rulers of other Gulf Council states are also suffering from the same fear complex, which had prevented them from coming out against Tehran. This may be discerned in Qatar's welcoming of the Geneva nuclear deal as an "important step toward safeguarding peace and stability in the region" and Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates following suit.
In addition, one finds, Saudi Arabia -- and other states in the region -- cannot afford to antagonize the United States and Europe by aligning with Israel against Iran at a time when they have concluded a new nuclear deal with Tehran to checkmate its nuclear ambition. Despite their recent frustration over US policies in Egypt, Syria and Iran, relations between the two sides have remained very strong. According to a study, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest international customers for some of US contractors. Arms trade between the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council nations has continued to flourish. Between 2008 and 2011 alone, the GCC nations bought new weapons worth $15.9 billion. Of that, the United States accounted for $9.4 billion and West Europe $4.6 billion.
Given the approach of the Wahabbi Saudi rulers vis a vis the Khomenist Iran, one would be inclined to think that the only option for the Jewish state could be to advance its own armament program. As analyst Louis Rene Beres has suggested in the past, Jerusalem has already moved militarily far ahead since the ‘Project Daniel’ Group made its recommendations to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon way back in 2003 on its perceived Iranian threat. Israel would need just to keep pace with its armament modernization and equip itself with all appropriate systems to maintain its military superiority over Iran.
One also finds there is a near consensus across the Israeli strategic community to take some effective steps aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear designs. Most analysts are of the assessment that there is no point counting on US President Barack Obama’s assurance to “take no options off the table, including military options,” to stop Tehran from possessing nuclear weapons. Things do not look any better under new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. Tehran has continued marching towards a bomb. Since his election in June this year, it has installed additional centrifuges. Rouhani has even declared that Iran would not give up ‘one iota’ of its nuclear rights. Also, these analysts say, if the Iranian nuclear program were for peaceful purposes, Tehran would not have been insisting on uranium enrichment or plutonium production. Around seventeen nations in the world today are producing nuclear energy outside this route. Tehran too could have chosen this option.
There are, however, mixed opinions as to whether Jerusalem should go in for an attack on Iranian nuclear plants. Some strategic analysts are in agreement with Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor assertion in a UN Security Council open debate on October 22, that Iran is moving fast towards acquiring nuclear weapon status. Hudson Institute founder Max Singer warned that the Geneva nuclear deal makes it easy for Tehran just to declare it will not produce nuclear weapons and then proceed with its enriched uranium and plutonium production program. In the future Jerusalem will have no way to be sure that Tehran “will not be able to produce a number of bombs – within a few months or less – too quickly for Israel or the West to stop them."
Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies Efraim Inbar has suggested it is time Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, that only military force can prevent the nuclearization of Iran. This option is very much within its reach, for Israel has “the ability to strike and significantly damage Iran’s nuclear infrastructure while overcoming its aerial defense systems.”
Israel could use whatever support Saudi Arabia and Gulf states extend to it. An American Jewish strategist asserted: "Iran is much more a threat to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf than it is to Israel. Iran wants the "bomb" to dissuade anyone from interfering when it extends its influence into Shi'i majority areas of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia (where the major oil installations are in Shi'i populated regions. So the Saudis are willing to encourage anything that stops nuclear development by Iran."
Others are leaning toward refraining from attacking Iran - at least for now. A well-informed Israeli observer warns on the condition of anonymity, “Jerusalem would need to take into consideration the ‘fallout’ of such an attack. Iran is not Iraq of the 1980s or Syria later - neither of which reacted when Israel took out their nuclear capabilities.”
Her view draws similarities with that of Former IDF deputy chief of staff Uzi Dayan,who is said to have consistently opposed the strategy of attack itself. He has been of the view that Iran's nuclear weapons program must be halted; but that sanctions which embargoed Iranian oil and gas and outlawed transactions with the Iranian National Bank could dissuade the Iranians from proceeding. "While not an existential threat, Tehran's nuclear program is an unacceptable threat," he said some time back.
The author is a senior Indian journalist based in New Delhi. He is a consulting editor to the Power Politics news magazine in New Delhi.