Netanyahu On Iran

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 1, 2009

The new Israeli Prime Minister tells Obama to put a stop to Iran’s effort to gain nuclear weapons technology . . . or Israel will.

“With what,” I wonder. The IDF is capable of some pretty amazing feats, but Iran has learned from the Israeli attack on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactors in Osirak in 1981. Iran relies on centrifuges below ground in its effort to gain nuclear weapons technology and the centrifuges are spread out. This presents a nightmarish logistical problem for any country seeking to take out the Iranian centrifuges. Not only does the attacking country have to bomb lots of territory, the bombs must be powerful enough to destroy centrifuges buried deep below ground. Iran’s new centrifuges enrich uranium 2.5 times faster than earlier models, which means that the window of opportunity–assuming that one even exists–is tremendously short. Netanyahu’s advisers are far more confident than I am in their ability to reach the centrifuges and believe that the main problem is not logistical, but political. According to the Prime Minister’s advisers, if sufficient political will is drawn up, matters can be taken care of. I am not privy to Israeli military secrets but I just don’t see how this is possible.

What is valuable, however, is the sense of urgency that the Israelis bring to the table when it comes to this issue. Quite frankly, everyone should have their minds as concentrated as the Israelis do. To be sure, I can easily envision a day in which the international community can trust Iran with nuclear weapons–though proliferation concerns mean that the international community will not like it if nuclear weapons capability is attained by any country. But Iran has no experience living under any nation’s nuclear umbrella, and as such, her leaders have not familiarized themselves with nuclear deterrence theory through classes, conferences, exercises, or wargames. This is a tremendous concern–as is the apocalyptic rhetoric that comes from Tehran when it comes to the projected use of nuclear weapons; amazing how tough it is to forget promises to wipe Israel off the map, isn’t it? Netanyahu is wrong to state that Iranian society hasn’t suffered as a consequence of the bloody, eight-year long Iran-Iraq war. But the leadership class has not joined the population in lamenting its loss of blood and treasure, and that is a legitimate source for worry.

I disagree with the Prime Minister when he says that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, the Arab states would ally themselves with Iran. This analysis neglects the deep suspicion and dislike that has historically existed between Arabs and Persians. However, the Middle East will likely see a dangerously escalating arms race break out if Iran gets nuclear weapons. The Saudis will go for nuclear capability, and other countries will follow. This, in many ways, is even more worrisome than the Prime Minister’s scenario.

But whatever my particular disagreements with the Prime Minister’s analysis, he raises the proper alarms and he shows that he has been thinking about the pertinent issues. I recognize that Benjamin Netanyahu may not be Barack Obama’s cup of tea–Avigdor Lieberman certainly isn’t mine–but the President could do worse than to work closely with the new Israeli Prime Minister. If the Obama Administration feels that it has to restrain the warmongering instincts of the Israeli government, it can do so. In return, Netanyahu can work to restrain the naïveté of the White House.

Here’s to a happy medium.

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