Thank God for realists. And I just wish there were a few more of ’em within the Bush Administration’ and the Shin Bet and IDF military intelligence. Ephraim Kam of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies released a report earlier this month on the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel, A Nuclear Iran: What Does It Mean, What Can Be Done (pdf). If you’ve been reading the bellicosity of folks like Dick Cheney and the Israeli government rattling their sabers for war, you’ll be amazed at the sanity and level-headedness of this study. Would that Israeli policymakers read it and memorized it.
I should make clear that these are not wild-eyed radicals claiming that Iran poses no threat to Israel. They make clear that they believe it may pose a threat. And for that reason they support preparing a military option–just in case. But here are the rest of their judgments as reported by Haaretz:
As Iran formulates its nuclear policy, it will have to decide on one of three options:…b) to adopt a policy of nuclear ambiguity – to produce nuclear weapons, but to avoid making their existence public and testing them, in the hope of averting further pressure on Tehran; and c) to produce nuclear weapons, announce their existence and possibly also to carry out a test.
The study suggests that Iran will prefer the second option “which appears most likely, at least in the first stage.”
The third option is the “most problematic one for Iran,” say the researchers. The tendency of the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to challenge the international community…and the chance that Iran could be influenced by the North Korean example…may, however, lead to the last, more threatening possibility.
The researchers warn about the dangers of pursuing the military option against Iran:
…This is a very problematic and complex operation that involves many risks including an open-ended Iranian response. Moreover, a military operation is not guaranteed. At this stage the political conditions are also not ripe for an operation, so long as the diplomatic efforts continue.
While the Jaffee study concedes that a nuclear Iran will pose unique and unprecedented dangers to Israel. It also suggests:
…That one must assume that a nuclear Iran will act logically, rationally evaluating the price and risks involved in its actions, and will not act out of religious-ideological motives. If one makes this assumption, then one appreciates that Iran’s motives for acquiring nuclear weapons “are defensive, [and to be used protectively] against Iraq in the past and against the U.S. today.”
This is perhaps the most telling conclusion of the document:
“It is reasonable to assume that also in the future Iran will opt to retain this type of weapons as a final card to use against extreme threats, and that the elimination of Israel is not considered to be an essential interest worthy of using such weapons.”
The report also assumes that the likelihood that Iran will transfer nuclear arms to terrorist organization is minimal.
In other words, Iran is worried much more about dangers on its own border (and about a U.S. attack) than it is about eliminating Israel.
Instead of pursuing a military first-strike against Iran, Kam suggests:
Making a clear and convincing message that if Israel is attacked by nuclear weapons, it will still retain a counter-strike capability “with severe consequences.”
There you have it. The voice of reason in case anyone wants to hear it. Would that reason trumped ideology and illusion.