Think Again: Life and death in the balance

Though many of the customs surrounding the two days convey an attitude of confidence, even joy, in the judgment – e.g., haircuts in advance, festive meals – still, fear of the judgment is paramount.

Notes cleared out of Western Wall ahead of Rosh Hashana‏ (photo credit: WESTERN WALL RABBI)
Notes cleared out of Western Wall ahead of Rosh Hashana‏
(photo credit: WESTERN WALL RABBI)
The upcoming Rosh Hashana holiday is the Day of Judgment.
Though many of the customs surrounding the two days convey an attitude of confidence, even joy, in the judgment – e.g., haircuts in advance, festive meals – still, fear of the judgment is paramount.
To heighten the awareness of life and death hanging in the balance, I would like to share with readers my gleanings from last week on the Iranian nuclear threat and the options facing Israel. (I claim no expertise sufficient to evaluate the technical aspects of the discussion.)
JOHN BOSMA, who has almost half a century of background in strategic arms control, published “Thinking the Unthinkable: An Israel-Iran Nuclear War” in the American Thinker on August 23. He begins: “If there ever were an unassailable case for a small, frighteningly vulnerable nation to preemptively use nuclear weapons to shock, economically paralyze and decapitate an enemy sworn to its destruction, Israel has arrived at that circumstance.”
On the one hand, Israel faces a regime whose elite’s ideology is “inherently preferential towards nukes and direct population targeting as a means of implementing Shi’ite messianism and end-times extremism.”
Senior Iranian officials have tied nuclear war to the appearance of the 12th imam or Mahdi. Or, as the great Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis has put it, nuclear apocalypse may not be a deterrent but an incentive for the mullahs.
Moreover, former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani laid out the logic of a nuclear exchange with Israel. Just last week, the foreign policy adviser to the speaker of the Iranian parliament said, “Israel should be annihilated and this is our ultimate slogan.”
On the other hand, America, under President Barack Obama, has remained silent in the face of Iran’s threats to destroy Israel.
“Every US government prior to President Obama would have forsworn nuclear talks with such a psychopathic regime or walked out in rage upon such utterances,” writes Bosma. That the Americans did not shows that the United States no longer recognizes “a civilizational moral duty to protect [Israel] from the most explicit threats imaginable.”
But the American betrayal has been more direct as well, and includes Obama’s reported threat to shoot down Israeli attack planes in 2014, his disclosure of Israeli nuclear secrets and Central Asian strike-force recovery bases. Those betrayals culminated in the Vienna deal’s undertaking to protect Iran’s enrichment facilities from terrorism and cyberwarfare – i.e., from Israel.
Pushing Israel to act now, writes Bosma, is the imminent delivery to Iran of Russian S-300 antiaircraft missiles, the world’s best. In addition, the Vienna deal leaves Iran the right to dramatically upgrade its ballistic missiles program and its nuclear infrastructure, even if it waits until the deal’s expiration to actually produce a bomb. So waiting will only make the Iranians more formidable.
Bosma then lists three factors that, in his view, impel Israel to use tactical nuclear weapons if it does attack Iran. First, according to Bosma, Iranian engineers have perfected the world’s toughest concrete, which might make even a shallow underground facility, like that in Natanz, impermeable to the best hard-target munitions in Israel’s possession. And that would certainly be true for Fordow, which is beneath a mountain.
The second reason is that Israel would need to complete its operations nearly as soon as they began. A slow-motion conventional aerial assault would almost certainly not be successful, because Israel would be subjected to “brutal political and military blowback” by nearly the entire world, led by “an enraged American president.”
And third, part of that blowback would come in the form of a missile attack by Hezbollah, which possesses minimally 60,000 missiles, many of them fitted with precision guidance for which Israel’s current air defenses are not designed. Israel could not afford to have most of its air force deployed over Iran and not available to counter a Hezbollah missile barrage.
There is a lot of other technical stuff about electro-magnetic pulse or high-power microwaves that might be used to destroy Iran’s nuclear science infrastructure. But it is unlikely that too many readers will find Bosma’s conclusion soothing: “Nuclear preemption becomes attractive to a nation in extremis, where Israel is now.”
ONE DAY after the appearance of Bosma’s article, John Bolton published “Facing Reality on Iran” in National Review. Bolton was America’s chief nuclear proliferation negotiator under president George W. Bush and subsequently US ambassador to the UN, and is as well-versed on the issues involved as any man alive. Though he does not mention Israel employing nuclear weapons, the choices he sees facing Israel remain stark and unattractive.
Bolton makes short work of the fantasy that sanctions might work their magic to stop Iran from going nuclear. The sanctions that were imposed were neither comprehensive enough nor enforced rigorously enough to bring Iran to heel. Even Gen.
James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence, admits that as of the partial lifting of sanctions in 2013, they had not succeeded in convincing Iran to slow its pursuit of nuclear weapons and its support of terrorism. Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, Clapper estimated, was willing to endure a level of privation equal to that Iran suffered during the Iraq-Iran War, and the sanctions never came close. Far more comprehensive sanctions failed to move Saddam Hussein from Kuwait prior to the First Gulf War.
The reality, then, is that Iran will have the bomb, probably sooner than later, unless someone bombs Iran. That such military action might be politically unpalatable to Western leaders, Bolton wisely observes, does not mean that we “can imagine an alternative reality into existence.” Clearly that someone won’t be the US under Obama. The advanced weapons being offered the Gulf states by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter are a surefire indication that the United States has adopted a containment strategy.
That leaves only Israel, then, in the role of that someone to bomb Iran. Israel cannot do the job nearly as well as the US could have, Bolton admits, but it can do it well enough. He does not mention the Russian S-300s or any of the other difficulties pointed to by Bosma.
But if Israel acts, we will bear the brunt of Iran’s wrath. Bolton’s assessment is that Iran would not provoke the US either by a direct attack or mining the Straits of Hormuz, thereby risking most of its military and oil production and refining capacity.
Rather, it would unleash Hezbollah and Hamas missiles and rockets at Israel’s civilian population, and force Israel to bring overwhelming force to bear to protect the civilian front.
An Israeli attack would entail increased risks to the West from Iranian sleeper terrorist cells. But whatever that increased risk, the dangers “would be far higher and permanent when Iran acquires deliverable nuclear weapons,” in Bolton’s estimation.
The Vienna deal has already “struck a mortal wound to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but a fully nuclearized Middle East would be a global strategic catastrophe,” he writes. That nuclear arms race is already under way as a consequence of the Saudis’ fears of a nuclear Iran.
Whether the West or the US would acknowledge the advantage of setting back the Iranian nuclear program, however, is highly doubtful, inasmuch as the Vienna deal could have been concluded only by studiously ignoring the magnitude of the Iranian threat.
The choices facing Israel are bitter and unpleasant ones, Bolton acknowledges. But they are the same ones that have been facing the West for 15 years. Making those choices, however, is still preferable to a nuclear Iran.
I OFFER these reflections first and foremost to provide some indication of the magnitude of the choices confronting Israel’s leaders. But their decisions are only so weighty because the lives of each and every Jew in Israel could well depend on them.
If that does not create the requisite fear of the judgment on Rosh Hashana and propel us toward real repentance, what will?
The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.