For the Israeli government, using its very robust nuclear-weapons capability for purposes of blackmailing other parties– including, certainly, the US– is nothing new. (See my 1988 World Policy Journal article– PDF— on that topic.) However, that blackmail is usually carried out in a subtle and behind-closed-doors fashion.
But now, here comes Israeli citizen Benny Morris openly expressing (and expressing support for) the most blatant form of nuclear blackmail imaginable. In this op-ed prominently featured in today’s NYT Benny writes:
- ISRAEL will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months — and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country’s nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war — either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.
I have read and re-read Benny’s piece, and it terrifies me. (It also concerns me greatly that the NYT purveys without comment this extremely crude and mendacious endorsement of nuclear blackmail.) It is terrifying for a number of reasons, including the way it so easily reproduces some quite unsubstantiated claims about the status of Iran’s nuclear program and the status of current diplomatic efforts.
- Every intelligence agency in the world believes the Iranian program is geared toward making weapons, not to the peaceful applications of nuclear power. And… everyone knows that such measures have so far led nowhere and are unlikely to be applied with sufficient scope to cause Iran real pain, given Russia’s and China’s continued recalcitrance and Western Europe’s (and America’s) ambivalence in behavior, if not in rhetoric. Western intelligence agencies agree that Iran will reach the “point of no return” in acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in one to four years.
None of these claims about what “everyone” or even just all “Western intel agencies” know or judge or agree to be the case can be substantiated, and in the case of all of them there is also some significant counter-evidence. (November ’07 NIE, Benny?)
The reason I mention Benny’s extremely sloppy (mis-)use of evidence is because he is a historian. He is not, actually, someone who has ever delved deeply into deterrence theory. So at least his historian’s skills regarding use of evidence should be of a decent caliber. But sadly, they are not.
(Personally, for me, this is all extremely sad. I’ve known Benny Morris for more than 20 years, and have liked him a lot even though in recent years we’ve disagreed more and more. But with this article he crosses a new bridge.)
But the main problem with the piece is the argument it carries, which can be broken down as follows:
- 1. Iran is, without a doubt, pursuing a nuclear-weapons program which will achieve a capacity to produce NWs “in one to four years.”
2. In an attempt to forestall that development, either the US or Israel must launch a “pre-emptive” attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, using non-nuclear weapons. He completely rules out the idea that pursuit of negotiations or other non-military means might succeed in this.
3. But the US seems unwilling to launch the necessary attack. “Which leaves only Israel.” And the period between the US election and the inauguration of the next president in January is the best time for this.
4. And Americans should support this Israeli, conventional-weapon attack on Iran, because if it doesn’t, Israel will “almost certainly” have to use its nuclear weapons against Iran.
I do not have time right now to undertake the detailed critique that Benny’s article requires at so, so many points along the way.
For now, I just want to identify his article for what it is: the crude blackmail note of someone urging the use of nuclear blackmail.
One great relief: Benny is speaking only for his own fevered mind in writing this article, and thankfully not for the Israeli government. But of course we can also wonder what kind of communications his compatriots in government are having with their US counterparts on this topic, at this time of intense consultation among them.
I also want to note the arrogance with which this Israeli citizen effortlessly brandishes his country’s long well-known nuclear-weapons capabilities. In a way, this is a breath of fresh air within the US body politic (and within the pages of the NYT.) Israel’s long-pursued posture of deliberate ambiguity regarding its extremely robust nuclear arsenal– or, large arsenal of ten-minutes-to-full-assembly nuclear weapons– has been echoed, within most of the US national discourse, by a studied ignoring of that arsenal. That has led to repeated use of such blatant mis-statements of fact in the media and elsewhere as the allegation that Iran might be about to “introduce” nuclear weapons into the Middle East, etc etc.
At least Benny Morris– and along with him, the NYT– has now blown away all that miasma of long-maintained denial and obfuscation.
As a US citizen, I also want to note the breath-taking arrogance with which he minimizes the quite predictable jeopardy into which any Israeli attack on Iran– nuclear or “conventional”– would immediately place the US’s very vulnerable troop deployments in Iraq and elsewhere near Iran’s borders.
He writes quite blithely about the Israeli strike force being “allowed the use of Jordanian and Iraqi airspace (and perhaps, pending American approval, even Iraqi air strips)…” But he expresses no recognition at all that the use of Jordanian or Iraqi airspace, all of which falls within the US’s present theater of operations in the Middle East, would under international law justify Iranian counter-attacks against the US and its numerous long and vulnerable supply lines in the region.
He has a short reference to the “likely result” of the Israeli non-nuclear attack on Iran, that,
- The Iranians will also likely retaliate by… activating international Muslim terrorist networks against Israeli and Jewish — and possibly American — targets worldwide (though the Iranians may at the last moment be wary of provoking American military involvement).
No, Benny Morris. It would not be “international Muslim terrorist networks” that would “possibly” retaliate against American targets worldwide. Much more likely, it would be the Iranian military, acting from its own homeland to respond to an attack on this homeland, that would launch a military response against the troops of Israel’s US ally that George Bush has seen fit to deploy in large numbers, in numerous very vulnerable positions that are extremely close to Iran.
And no. In the event that their homeland is attacked by members of the US-Israel alliance, the Iranians are not likely to be “wary of provoking American military involvement.” They have read the same US war-gaming reports that all the rest of us have, that say that any military attack against Iran would likely lead to consequences that would be disastrous for the US military (though also extremely costly for Iran.)
For Iranians, after all, Iran is their country. Of course, regarding the balance of interest and the balance of wills involved in any military confrontations along its borders, their will to fight and die would be 1,000 times as strong as that of the Americans. Especially given that the consequences of this war would also be devastating for the already deeply troubled world economy.
It ain’t going to happen, Benny Morris. Take your cheap but terrifying nuclear threats and stop trying to blackmail my country and the countries of all your neighbors in the Middle East.
Best of all, a note to Benny Morris and anyone else who thinks like him: there is an alternative to war. It is called negotiations. And it is starting to happen, just a little bit, right now.
So far, the US-Iranian-EU talks in Geneva are only about some details of the future negotiations over the Iran nuclear program. Talks about talks. But still, much, much better than the alternative..
In the future, the US-Iranian negotiations will need to go much further, and deal with a broad range of issues. But at the nuclear level, the single clearest way forward is to work aggressively for the creation of a Middle east that is verifiedly free of all nuclear weapons capabilities.
At that point, the world would no longer have to put up with all this tiresome and destabilizing instances of Israeli nuclear blackmail.