Why Israel might nuke Iran to prevent Tehran from going nuclear. Seriously.

NOVEMBER 25, 2013
Foreign Policy.com

This weekend’s interim Joint Plan of Action between the P5+1 countries and Iran over its nuclear program was met with skepticism and hostility from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. The divergence of the Israeli leadership’s perception of the nuclear agreement from that of its close U.S. ally is understandable and expected given the differing threat perceptions the two countries hold over a prospective Iranian bomb. Subsequently, these officials emphasized three points in their public reactions: the agreement is, in Netanyahu’s words, a “historic mistake” that makes the world a “much more dangerous place”; Israel is not obligated to accept its terms; and Israel retains the right to attack — as Netanyahu’s spokesperson termed it — “the Iranian military nuclear program,” with all of Israel’s military capabilities.

Like many other national security analysts, I have followed the developments in Iran’s civilian nuclear program closely for the past two decades, parsing the comments of Iranian and U.S. officials and combing through leaked or declassified intelligence assessments and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly reports. I have witnessed or participated in war games that simulate a political/military crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, and I’ve interviewed planners about how the U.S. military envisions a range of joint U.S.-Israeli or unilateral moves and contingencies with Iran that might be triggered, escalated, or culminated. (All of this supplemented, of course, with countless op-eds and analytical pieces from wonks, academics, and former officials.)

What never ceases to amaze in these discussions is the total omission of Israel’s nuclear weapons in U.S. policy debates about confronting Iran. There is an unspoken understanding that Israel’s bombs are an option best left off the table, even as Israeli officials routinely hint at missions where they would be used — specifically for deterrence or to threaten deeply buried targets in Iran. This tacit agreement within Washington policy circles of focusing on Iran’s nonexistent nuclear bombs, while consciously ignoring Israel’s actual nuclear arsenal (which is itself directly pertinent to discussions about Iran), should be retired, especially as a more comprehensive solution between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom — plus Germany) is pursued in the coming months.

Israeli officials provide several theories for what Iran would do with nuclear weapons: transfer them to terrorists groups, increase its support for proxy groups, and even coerce the world with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. The most commonly asserted objective, however, was offered by Netanyahu to an American television audience in early October: “Everybody knows that Iran wants to destroy Israel and it’s building, trying to build, atomic bombs for that purpose.”

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