Israel-Iran Tensions Could Lead to Dangerous Escalation of Arms Race

ANALYSIS

 @https://twitter.com/dantovrov
on November 04 2011 8:17 AM
Prime Minister Netanyahu
Prime Minister Netanyahu Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are reportedly trying to convince the cabinet to approve a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Suspecting that Iran is developing nuclear weapons that could be used against Israel, they are adamantly prepared to destroy the threat before it materializes.

A nuclear Iran would pose a terrible threat on the Middle East and on the entire world. And of course, it poses a great, direct threat on us too.... A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone. It must also include offensive capabilities, which is the very foundation of deterrence, Netanyahu said on Oct. 31.

Iran is probably years away from having nuclear strike capabilities, and a report on the country's nuclear program from the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to be released early next week. Netanyahu and Barak's plan is to stop Iran from ever developing such weapons, either by sending out an air-strike or using the recently tested Jericho missiles on nuclear facilities.

The seriousness of Netanyahu's intentions has been up for debate, but what's clear is that it's not an unpopular proposal. A new poll from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz showed that 41 percent of Israelis approve of either a military attack on Iran or international intervention, while 39 percent oppose an attack on nuclear facilities.

Historically, an attack on Iran would not be unprecedented. Israel bombed an unfinished nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981, and is also thought to be behind a 2007 strike on a nuclear reactor in Syria.

But Iran is a different, and unpredictable, story.

From an Israeli standpoint, the possibility of Iran having nuclear weapons goes in the category of an existential threat against their society, said William Martel to International Business Times.

Martel is associate professor of International Security Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston, Mass.

If Iran does come to possess nuclear weapons, it would create [a] profound shift within the Middle East. It would cause great military instability among the other powers in the region, Martel added.

If Iran successfully develops nuclear weapons, it could ignite a regional arms race, with other countries scrambling to develop sufficient nuclear weapons that would withstand an Iranian attack. This would cause a serious and unstable situation with global implications.

It will also accelerate efforts to develop ballistic missile defenses that could intercept any incoming rockets.

Israel has already given its Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system a live test. Last weekend, the Iron Dome shield shot down a number of Grad rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza.

Even then, Netanyahu suggested that the Iron Dome could be used an as offensive tactic to fight militants.

Our defense strategies cannot be based on defensive measures alone, he said. It has to include an offensive capability as well. That is the foundation of our deterrence.

While an Israeli strike may not be imminent, a nuclear Iran is such an unacceptable outcome that it has already sparked a public debate on the justifiability of pre-emptive action that will only escalate over the next few years.

The tenor, rhetoric and discourse in the Middle East will approach levels comparable to the Cold War, Martel said.

Beyond the Middle East, Iran also poses a threat to the rest of the world, especially Israel's allies. The U.S. has military installations throughout the region, and there is always the possibility that weapons will disappear out of Iran and reappear in the wrong hands.

Tehran believes Israel would attack it only with an American green light. Since the IAF [Israeli Air Force] would be using American-supplied jets and bombs, the Iranian argument cannot be dismissed lightly, the Brookings Institutes' Bruce Riedel said in The Daily Beast.

Iranian Military Chief of Staff, General Hassan Firouzabadi, told Fars news agency on Wednesday that the country is prepared to punish the United States should there be a military attack by the Zionist regime [Israel] against Iran.

Additionally, Iran already has missiles that can hit American bases in Israel and the Middle East, as Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizade happily pointed out in June. Iran's next step will be increasing those missiles' range and accuracy. As this happens, more countries will be at risk, first in Eastern Europe, then Western Europe, and eventually the United States could be a legitimate target, Martel notes.

That scenario is years, if not a decade, down the road, but is really dangerous, really serious stuff.

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