It's Possible to Live With Iran

The cabinet will have to choose one of four options for addressing the Iranian threat, or a combination: active defense, passive defense, attack and deterrence.

One of the most urgent strategic issues the new government will have to deal with is Iran. The cabinet will have to choose one of four options for addressing the Iranian threat, or a combination: active defense, passive defense, attack and deterrence. The significance of the choice will be seen in the huge budgets that will have to be directed to the options chosen.

The choice of one or more of the first three options is liable to turn out to be a major strategic mistake. Unfortunately, such a choice has already been made, because for the time being Israeli policy is based on active defense. The only justification offered by defense officials for the continued large investment in the Arrow missile defense system, which will increase with the development of the next-generation Arrow 3, is that this is the way to defend Israel from Iran's nuclear missiles.

Hopefully the cabinet will be presented with the strategic doctrine developed in the United States during the Cold War and adopted by the Soviet Union, whereby countries must not rely on active defense. After all, it is enough for two nuclear missiles to hit the greater Tel Aviv area for the price to be unbearable. Since no defense system can promise a hermetic defense, and a number of missiles can be expected to trickle through, a defense system becomes irrelevant in the face of a nuclear threat. What American defense secretary Robert McNamara understood more than 40 years ago they are refusing to internalize here.

Passive defense, which means building nuclear shelters in Israel, is not a realistic option. It would cost so much that it would be an unreasonable investment. Another problem is that many people would not reach a shelter in time in a sudden attack. This option, too, was abandoned by the United States four decades ago because it was unrealistic.

Some defense officials preach the implementation of the "attack option," which would, according to them, delay the Iranian nuclear program by a number of years. Some of these people also say that a military action could help undermine the regime in Iran. The ministers should hear about this plan.

They would find out that many of the targets are buried very deep underground and the air force's bombs would not be able to destroy them. They would also learn that there is not enough intelligence on Iran's nuclear sites, and it's possible that other sites exist that we don't know about, so it's impossible to attack them. If the ministers study the data closely, they will find that the air power Israel would be able to deploy over Iran is quite limited relative to the number of targets it would have to attack. As for undermining the regime, the time has come to learn from experience, most recently in the Gaza Strip. An Israeli attack only strengthens support for the regime attacked.

What remains is the fourth option, which is conditional on the reliability of foreign sources: deterrence. There is a need to invest in this, though not a lot. According to foreign sources, Israel has managed to build up a deterrent capability, including a second-strike capacity from submarines. Only deterrence will prevent Iran from using its nuclear weapons. Only the knowledge that Iran's cities will become heaps of rubble if a single rocket is launched at Israel will dispel from the minds of Iran's leaders the thought of a nuclear strike.

The choice of the correct option will not only save a lot of money, it will ensure Israel's security.