Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Updating the Threat

Amir Oren, Ha'aretz:
On the eve of Yom Kippur, when the surprise for which Israel is vigilant is no longer an Egyptian and Syrian air and armor attack, but Iranian missiles and Islamic terrorism, the common denominator of Israel and American policy is the rejection of the war of attrition which adversaries are trying to impose. READ MORE

American policy since September 11, 2001, has been a reaction to the attrition efforts being fomented by errant organizations and regimes and, if there must be attrition, to wage the war far from home, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and maybe also in Syria and Iran, but not in New York or Los Angeles.

Israeli policy in the period after the Gaza disengagement can also be described in terms of rejecting attrition. The bombs and the targeted assassinations in Gaza, together with the large-scale arrests of Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists in the West Bank, illustrated the preference for the threat of escalation, and also its realization, over prolonged bloodletting.

Sources in the General Staff and in Southern Command say that a significant change between the period of the former chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, and his successor, Dan Halutz, is the breathing space that Halutz gives the air and ground forces to complete an operation instead of stopping it on the brink of success.

As long as Hamas and Islamic Jihad enjoy Iranian and Syrian patronage, Israel will not succeed in containing the campaign against the organizations in its territory. For similar reasons, U.S. President George Bush is also so determined to lay down the law to the regimes in Damascus and Tehran, both of which face a sharp choice: to change their policy in the nuclear sphere and the support of terrorism, or to absorb an American military blow.

A first, or even tenth, nuclear bomb in the Iranian arsenal is not comparable to the thousands of warheads at the disposal of the United States; but thanks to the deterrence they will accord, the terrorist organizations that are abetted by Iran are liable to perpetrate attacks that are more impertinent and lethal than ever.

When it comes to preempting Iran's nuclearization, Israel prefers an American operation but the question of the identity that will do the job is preceded by a question of information: how far along is Iran in obtaining fissionable nuclear material, developing surface-to-surface missiles that can carry nuclear warheads, and weaving all these efforts into an operation force that will also be based on sophisticated command and control systems.

When this question is put to research officers in Israel's Military Intelligence, who rely also on other intelligence gathering agencies, notably the Mossad, they have two different replies, which refer to different layers of the Iranian activity.

The relatively reassuring reply is that Iran is still two and a half years away from nuclear power. The years pass, the diplomatic pressure generates passing delays, and this answer does not change. Military Intelligence, invoking the language of clients' payments to suppliers, is talking about "current plus 30" in this case, not 30 days but 30 months.

The more worrisome reply addresses the domestic nuclear technology for which the Iranians are striving, because once they have it, they will be able to move ahead toward their final goal without dependence on external elements.

The outgoing director of Military Intelligence (MI), Major General Aharon Ze'evi (Farkash), was one of the blandest intelligence chiefs Israel has ever had, but he and the head of his Research Division, Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser, also made no pretense of being intelligence magicians, like some of their predecessors. They strengthened the sections of the Research Division in the form of expertise in both the target states and in professional spheres. The section that deals with Iran, for example, includes technological knowledge. In 1973, the separation between the different branches of MI / Research was (along with other problems) disastrous.

After the conversation between U.S. President John Kennedy and deputy defense minister Shimon Peres in 1963, the standing Israeli formula has promised that Israel "will not be first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East." That statement is not enough in the era of Iranian threshold nuclearization: Israel has to reach a situation which will enable it to also declare that it "will not be the last to absorb an attack of weapons of mass destruction." That is the deterrent side, but the deterrence depends on MI, and since there is no certainty that MI will not fail again in its evaluations, as it did in 1973, it is worth remembering that the supreme responsibility for deploying to minimize the damage caused by the mistake devolves on those who are in charge of the intelligence chiefs the government and the chief of staff.