In an op-ed in today’s Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick explicitly calls for Israel to launch an air attack on Iranian nuclear installations. Glick is very knowledgeable about military and strategic matters, and has friends in high places, so we should take her seriously. I’ve summarized her argument as follows:
- New evidence indicates that Iran can build a bomb in a matter of months. Iran already has missiles that can reach Israel.
- International diplomatic efforts under way are far too little and too late to constrain Iran’s progress.
- Iran is committed to war with its enemies and Israel is first on the list.
- Iran’s nuclear capability is likely to be used in such a war.
- The US will not act to prevent an Iranian attack on Israel.
- Israel has the capability to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, even if the US opposes an attack.
- The Israeli public is prepared to accept the consequences — diplomatic and possibly military — of such an attack.
- Therefore Israel should attack Iranian nuclear installations.
I agree with all of the premises of her argument with the exception of no. 4. In order to assert this, one has to assume that Iran is prepared to accept certain Israeli nuclear retaliation, which Anthony Cordesman has estimated might take 30,000,000 Iranian lives. While some analysts think that Iranian leaders are sufficiently irrational to take this decision, it’s by no means a given.
This is not to say that possession of a nuclear weapon would not provide Iran with a ‘nuclear umbrella’ for aggression by Hezbollah and Syria, whose conventional and chemical/biological missile forces may well present as big a threat as (at least for the near future) a nuclear option.
In any case, I think the question facing Israeli strategic planners is not so much ‘what to do about the Iranian nukes’ but rather the broader one of how to deter, preempt or (worst case) respond to an Iranian attack — either direct, by means of its proxies, or combined — which will most likely be a non-nuclear missile attack.
My evaluation is that today, deterrence is holding. If the Iranian perception of the balance changes — as it might with possession of a nuclear bomb — then the option of preemption is indicated. But such a preemptive attack would have to target much more than just the nuclear facilities in Iran. The threats from Hezbollah and Syria would need to be neutralized as well.