Some political wonks and academic analysts have a tendency to create problems where none exist in order to justify the Wonk Full-Employment Opportunity Act. It’s sort of like the bankruptcy lawyer who rubs his hands with glee when the economy goes in the tank. But in this case, the consequences are far more weighty than mere financial ruin.
Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli national security advisor and academic analyst wrote a recent report aptly titled, The Armageddon Scenario: Israel and the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism, for the Begin-Sadat Center which advocates bombing back to the Stone Age any Muslim group or nation which announces the intention of acquiring a nuclear weapon and which Israel views as a threat. He views usual suspects like Iran as such a threat. In fact, if Freilich’s advice were adopted by the current government, Teheran would now be a smoking ruin.
But he widens the scope to include Al Qaeda and even Hezbollah as potential culprits. Freilich advocates full force not just against the group or nation that threatens Israel, but against any other party or nation which offers nuclear technology or assistance in the pursuit of WMD capacity.
The rhetoric of this report must be read to be believed. It’s pure Gothic horror show:
Potential perpetrators of nuclear terrorism must be convinced that the US and Israel will retaliate devastatingly. For Israel, this means a “shoot first, no questions asked” policy. Both those clearly responsible for an attack (if any) and those reasonably suspected of involvement must be held accountable. There will be no room for diplomacy, and Israel must respond with all capabilities at its disposal, without waiting for the results of nuclear forensics.
In the event of a declared nuclear terrorist capability, a stated intention to acquire one, or an advanced suspected one, the known or suspected perpetrator and host country should be attacked with overwhelming and if necessary devastating force, in the attempt to prevent the threat’s materialization. As things stand today, and unless virtually irrefutable and immediate evidence exists to the contrary, Israel should adopt a declared retaliatory policy which holds Iran and/or al-Qaeda responsible for any nuclear attack, regardless of who may or may not have carried it out.
If the source of a terrorist nuclear attack against Israel is unknown, or if it is known to originate with al-Qaeda or Iran, Israel should make it clear that its response will be unlimited and include not just major population centers, but all sites of value, including those of major symbolic importance for the Muslim world. A declaratory policy such as this might be highly inflammatory and further exacerbate the religious dimension of the US and Israeli confrontations with the Muslim world. This policy should therefore not be announced officially, as part of Israel’s declared retaliatory posture, but should be made “known,” much as the international community “knows” that Israel has nuclear weapons, whether they do or do not in fact exist. The policy can be “leaked” in a variety of manners.
It feels here as if Freilich is channeling Curtis LeMay and Dr. Strangelove. The real danger here is that if Israel were to adopt even 1/10 of the analyst’s recommendations it would take the Middle East that much closer to nuclear conflagration.
Note well too that Freilich is not talking about retaliation AFTER an attack against Israel, he’s talking about a pre-emptive attack BEFORE a Muslim nation even gets a nuclear capability. He’s also talking about Israeli willingness to use every weapon in its arsenal, including nuclear weapons one must presume. And he’s talking about Israel bombing not just major populations centers like Teheran, but religious shrines. He acknowledges faintly that this might “exacerbate the religious dimension” without coming face to face with the fact that he’s advocated provoking a religious holy war against Islam.
Talk about thinking the unthinkable. There are reasons why some thoughts and ideas are taboo. There are reasons why humanity clings desperately to a few basic values and rules of civilization. It’s so that lunacy like this does not take hold and drive us like lemmings over the cliff and to oblivion. If Prof. Freilich wants to jump by all means let him. But don’t take the rest of us with you on the way down, thank you.
Let’s also remember that Al Qaeda has shown no ability to carry out a nuclear attack on anyone. Hezbollah hasn’t even said it would be interested in such a heinous act. So to anticipate the likelihood of this happening is again to create a problem where none exists. And this is the modus operandi for the Israeli nationalist right and U.S. neocons. It was what got us into the Iraq war via Saddam’s supposed WMD. It’s what could lure Israel into its next military misadventure.
When I first read about this report I was hoping that it was authored by a typical right-wing nut job whose ranting could be safely ignored. But Freilich’s report was prepared for the widely respected Begin-Sadat Center. He’s been a fellow at Belfer Center of the JFK School of Government at Harvard. He’s served in senior positions in the Israeli defense ministry, the UN mission, and been deputy national security advisor. He writes regularly for the centrist Bitterlemons website. He seems to have gravitas. And that’s what scares me.
If this is what serious Israeli analysts are thinking Israel’s in a whole heap of trouble. And not just Israel. The fallout of such Israeli bellicosity will surely suck the U.S. into the maelström. Do we want that?