Mowing the nuclear grass - opinion

Mowing the “nuclear” grass means delaying Iran’s nuclear program as much as possible, by bombing it over and over again, if necessary. Although not ideal, it is much better than a nuclear Iran.

 AN ISRAELI F-15 takes part in an international aerial training exercise in October at the Uvda Air Force Base. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
AN ISRAELI F-15 takes part in an international aerial training exercise in October at the Uvda Air Force Base.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Israel needs a military option in order to deter Iran from producing nuclear weapons. One of the arguments against such an attack is that Iran might rebuild its nuclear program. However, Israel can attack Iran again if that transpires.

Israel’s foes in the Gaza Strip, predominantly Hamas, strive to upgrade their weapons, such as rockets and missiles. This has forced Israel to launch major operations. Israel aims to destroy the build-up of weapons and military infrastructure in order to slow Hamas’ progress. This approach is known as “mowing the grass.”

Israel might have to repeat this strategy in Iran. Mowing the “nuclear” grass means delaying Iran’s nuclear program as much as possible, by bombing it over and over again, if necessary. Although this would not be an ideal solution, it is much better than allowing Iran to hold a nuclear arsenal.

Israel, the United States, and Arab states as well wish to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. Current talks with Iran about its nuclear program may result in another agreement. However, such an agreement would be unlikely to deter Iran from resuming its nuclear program, if Iran believes the international community was not monitoring them. A breach to an agreement might easily happen if a major crisis occurs far away from Iran, such as a clash between China and the United States over Taiwan. Currently, it appears no imminent agreement is likely, due to Iran’s hard-line extreme position. A stalemate in the agreement process could enable Iran to exploit the situation and expand its nuclear weapons production.

Lately, Israel has reiterated its long-standing position of disallowing Iran from having nuclear weapons. Israel has warned that it might take military action. However, recent warnings have not been adequate to deter Iran from making significant progress over the last year. It is not completely clear how much Iran has advanced, but there are very concerning signs that Iran is closer than ever to producing nuclear weapons. Israel has not been successful in deterring Iran through its current military strategy.

 Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani arrives for a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna, Austria, November 29, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER) Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani arrives for a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna, Austria, November 29, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER)

An Israeli raid would rely on the Israel Air Force. Iran might assume the IAF is not yet ready because of lack of preparations and various shortcomings. Israel needs KC-46 tankers, due to the distance to Iran, as well as “bunker buster bombs” to crack the thick protection of some Iranian sites. Iran has also upgraded its air defense, including the S-300, a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile.

Following these factors, Iran might calculate that its nuclear sites are capable of surviving an Israeli raid. Iran would sustain damages, but not irreparable ones. That is why Israel should better express its intentions through action, such as multiple attacks on Iranian nuclear sites over time that would prevent Iran from restoring losses from each prior attack.

Following any Israeli raid, Iran and its proxies, mostly Hezbollah, could strike Israel. However, Hezbollah is currently occupied with handling the huge economic crisis in Lebanon. Hezbollah also is aware of the enormous cost that an Israeli attack could have on its organization as well as Lebanon itself. Israel would pay a price too. This is one of the main risks Israel has to take. Nevertheless, if Iran possesses nuclear weapons, the potential threat to Israel is likely much higher.

Israel has to strengthen its military option not only to convince Tehran that Jerusalem is steadfast, but also to urge the international community, particularly Western powers, to pressure Iran into making major concessions. If Israel emphasizes that it might repeat its raid on Iran, this may be persuasive to the international community of Israel’s determination on preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The Biden administration might be frustrated if Iran is not willing to compromise, assuming negotiations with the Islamic Republic break down because of Tehran. The Biden administration would probably avoid threatening Iran with any kind of a US attack. Instead, American policy would rely on sanctions and maybe covert cyber operations.

The Biden administration warned Israel not to surprise its US patron regarding Iran. December 7 marked the 80th anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which was a traumatic event for the United States. The Biden administration does not want to have a Pearl Harbor in Iran, such as through a surprise Israeli attack. It would of course be different from the 1941 attack because Iran is an enemy of both Israel and the United States. Nevertheless, the Biden administration worries that a sudden Israeli raid in Iran might have severe consequences for the United States and its Middle Eastern allies.

A nuclear-armed Iran would impose a very serious threat to the United States, Israel and other Arab states as well. However, the Biden administration would prefer to avoid an Israeli raid as a way of preventing a nuclear attack by Iran. Nonetheless, Israel is about to invest $1.5 billion in preparing to strike Iran. The Biden administration, at least not openly, did not ask Israel to stop this process, nor did it try to disrupt the effort. An attack on Iran would rely on the IAF that is based on US weapon systems. The United States can cripple the IAF by not providing the latter with spare parts, ammunition, etc. This US approach ultimately means the Biden administration does not rule out Israeli strikes in Iran.

All in all, Israel’s military option should be used as a last resort. Yet, both Iran and world powers have to understand Israel might strike Iran more than once if this is what is required to stop Iran from having a weapon that could destroy Israel.

The writer has been dealing with and studying Israel’s national security for more than 25 years. He served in the Israeli military and later worked for the Defense Ministry as a researcher. He has a Ph.D and has published six books in the US and UK, his latest: Containment in the Middle East (University Press of Nebraska, 2019).