Preparing for the Military Option

The practical negation, or significant delay, of the Israeli option for action against Iran may have existential implications for the State of Israel.

Israel cannot reconcile with the notion that a regime, ideologically commited to its destruction, will hold nuclear weapons. One of the central lessons of the Holocaust is that we should not ignore the mix of hatred of Jews and enormous military power.

Military action is not the preferred option but the final choice. First the option of serious economic sanctions must be exhausted, the kind of sanctions that can undermine the Iranian regime, or force it to relinquish its efforts to develop nuclear arms. The most effective sanction may be preventing the sale of refined petroleum products to Iran, particularly gasoline for cars. Currently, half the gasoline consumed in Iran is imported, mostly from India, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands. This is a very powerful tool. The problem is that states, even those who have given up on diplomatic niceties, and those who have learned the hard way about Iran's skill at maneuvering and buying time, are in no rush to impose real sanctions.

Israel must assume the worst - that real sanctions will not be imposed on Iran. The United States has two other options: actively encouraging the toppling of the regime of the Ayatollahs by the Iranian people or independent military action. As far as the first option is concerned, the U.S. is interested but has forgotten how to do it; the latter option it can carry out, but it does not wish to do so for political reasons.

In the event no one stops Iran on its way to the bomb, a military option for Israel must still "be kept on the table." This, of course, while remaining aware of all the reservations and shortcomings relevant to such an option, and by viewing it as "the final option" in which only a nuclear Iran is worse. In the absence of such an option there is little chance that other countries will take action. Even if they attempt to pressure Iran economically and politically, it will have no reason to give in if it knows that nothing bad will happen to it. No one will treat Israel with the necessary seriousness if it makes do only with complaining about the Iranian threat, without showing determination to do something about it independently.

There are two basic conditions that must be met in order for an Israeli operation against Iran to be possible: effective protection of the home front against missiles and rockets, thousands of which are already aimed at Israeli cities, some capable of carrying warheads with chemical payloads; and the technological means, and long-range operational capabilities. The overall cost for defending against chemical warfare and missiles, of upgrading the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system and developing beyond the horizon capabilities is estimated at NIS 5 billion. The cost can be spread over a five-year period. The production and acquisition must be expedited to take place over a two- to three-year period. This is not an impossibility for a country ranked high in the world in terms of GNP - and certainly when the issue at hand is existential.

The aforementioned projects have already been approved in principle by the prime minister and the defense minister; some have even met with security cabinet approval. Some of them have been alloted only part of the promised budget, and that was delayed. The Brodet Committee's conclusions, recently accepted by the government, forbid alloting special funding to unusual defense-related matters. As such, it is doubtful whether the necessary budget will now be made available for the urgent implementation of these programs. The practical implication can be that Israel will not have the option of dealing with Iranian nukes. The time for taking decisions against the Iranian nuclear threat will probably be during the tenure of the next government. In no way does the current government have the right of stripping the future governments of the ability to act, and by extension, the ability to make decisions.

The practical negation, or significant delay, of the Israeli option for action may have existential implications for the State of Israel.