Israel urged to end nuclear ambiguity

London think tank says "open nuclear deterrence" is best policy against Iran.

Iran Nuclear 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Iran Nuclear 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel should pursue a strategy of "open nuclear deterrence" towards Iran if international attempts to curtail Teheran's nuclear ambitions fail, a London think tank argues in a report to be released Monday. Openly declaring its nuclear weapons stockpile and laying out the conditions of their use in the event of an Iranian attack is an option worth considering, a report published by the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) stated, "if it is conceded that diplomatic efforts are doomed to fail, yet the price of war is too high." Of all the options available to Israel to counter the Iranian nuclear threat, "the military option is the least desirable" as a strike against Iran "might push an already volatile Middle East into further hostilities, uniting anti-Western groups worldwide" against Israel and the US while "isolating moderate Muslim forces," the report states.
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"Israel and Iran Report: War of Words or Words of War" will be the subject of debate Monday afternoon at a meeting of the All-Party Iran Group and the All-Party Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation at the Palace of Westminster. While in recent weeks "there seems to have been some softening of the Iranian position" and possible openings for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse, it would be "na ve to believe that there has been a complete change of heart in Teheran" or a lessening of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's bluster, the report states. "The likelihood of military action by Israel against Iran's nuclear installations is increasing every day the international community does not act," observed Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow of the Middle East Program at Chatham House, director of the International Relations Department in the Webster Graduate Center of Regents College and author of the paper. However, diplomacy and not a preemptive military strike remains the "preferred option" for the West, Mekelberg stated, arguing that a tightening of international supervision of Iran's nuclear production facilities and a halt to "enriching uranium to weapons grade" would likely satisfy Israel and the US. Israel has been successful in diplomatically "internationalizing" the Iranian threat but Israel's weak government, the "lack of a genuine insightful public debate" and of a critical discussion of the implications of military action made a preemptive strike more likely, Mekelberg argued. "Weak governments can be more adventurous than stable ones, and herein lies the danger," the Chatham House paper states, "as a successful operation in Iran might be a useful way to bury other bad news." The IAF could cripple Iran's nuclear program, but Israel on its own had "insufficient military capability to destroy all Iran's nuclear program." A joint strike by the US and Israel "would delay the Iranian nuclear program for a few years, but would have grave consequences," the paper states. Possible Iranian responses include a "missile counterattack on Israel" targeting Haifa and Tel Aviv, the closure of the Straits of Hormuz, destabilizing Iraq and restarting the proxy war in Lebanon with Hizbullah. "The international community would condemn Israel for acting unilaterally" while moderate Muslims "would be put in an untenable position" worldwide. If diplomatic efforts fail to rein in Teheran's nuclear ambitions, Israel should consider changing its "nuclear doctrine from one of ambiguity to openness, while accepting that other countries, including Iran, may acquire a nuclear capability." With an open nuclear policy should come an open statement of deterrence, where Israel would "clarify and define its response in the event of a nuclear attack, supported by international guarantees," the Chatham House paper argues. While "deterrence of this sort might not work at the same level as during the Cold War," the credible threat of retaliation to forestall enemy attack would be "satisfactory" on a "state-to-state level" in the Middle East. Fears that the success of the US nuclear deterrence policy towards the Soviet Union could not be replicated by an Israeli nuclear deterrence program are unfounded. "An Iran with nuclear weapons will not interfere with the international nuclear balance of terror; hence it will be irrational for Iran to use these either as a threat or in practice," Mekelberg concluded. Openly declaring its nuclear stockpile and laying out its response to aggression could serve as a spur towards regional arms control and the "eventual removal of all weapons of mass destruction," the report states. Since weapons of mass destruction "generate fear because of what they can potentially do rather than because of their widespread use, the proliferation itself becomes an incentive to disarm through negotiation." Mekelberg conceded the "main problem" with open deterrence would be the "proliferation of nuclear technology and materials" and the chance they would fall into the hands of "rogue or terrorist elements not bound by the same rules of the game that all states, including Iran, abide by." However, citing Cold War theoretician Kenneth Walz, Mekelberg argued that "nuclear weapons make miscalculated war even less probable because of the awareness of how lethal such weapons can be."