Sunday, January 07, 2007

Israel, Iran, and the nuclear plan

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From The Sunday Times:

ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.

Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters”, according to several Israeli military sources.

The attack would be the first with nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb.

Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open "tunnels" into the targets. "Mini-nukes" would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

"As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished," said one of the sources.

There's already been a good deal of reaction in the blogosphere to what at first glance looks like an imminent Israeli plan to use nuclear weapons against Iran. See, for example, at-Largely, CorrenteWire, Wizbang, Power Line, Brilliant at Breakfast, Blue Crab Boulevard, and The Astute Bloggers.

But is there anything to the story beyond sensationalism? I wonder. After all, one must consider the motivation behind the leak of the existence of such a plan. Who leaked? And why? Furthermore, anyone with a nuclear weapon -- and we know that Israel is a nuclear state -- has a plan, or multiple plans, for its use. That only makes sense. The U.S. surely has detailed plans, many of them, involving its nuclear arsenal.

I wouldn't necessarily put anything past Israel -- given its historical emphasis on offensive self-defence, it may indeed see no other way out of the Iranian nuclear crisis than a nuclear strike that would cripple Iran's nuclear program -- but it would suffer perhaps irreparable damage to its already damaged image and reputation in the international community. And there's no way the international community would support a nuclear strike against Iran. It would even be difficult for Israel's allies -- the U.S., the U.K., Canada, etc. -- to support such a strike. Surely Israel isn't that stupid. For more, see Blogs of War.

As Joe Gandelman puts it at The Moderate Voice, what we have here is a story that isn't deserving of "breathless reporting" and "screeching headlines". But that's what we've got, and the leaker(s) likely leaked in order to send a message both to Iran and to the U.S. And the media are playing along. Israel clearly wants to send a warning to Tehran that a military strike of some kind might be on the way and a warning to Washington that it had better act soon or else Israel itself will take the lead in taking out Iran's nuclear program. Again, Israel isn't stupid. It knows what it's doing. The report in The Sunday Times even notes that "the nuclear-tipped bunker-busters would be used only if a conventional attack was ruled out and if the United States declined to intervene". But the U.S. may intervene and any intervention will almost certainly be conventional.

I may be overly optimistic in my assessment of this situation, but it seems to me that the nuclear option just isn't a likely option here. The aggressor in any nuclear confrontation, even one directed at a potential nuclear threat like Iran, would face significant and perhaps overwhelming worldwide condemnation. The story of Israel's nuclear plan is sensational, to be sure, and it may get the attention it seeks, but that's likely -- hopefully -- all it is.

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