Five questions, five answers: Israel and the Iranian Nuclear Progam

Five questions to Dr. Reuven Pedatzur

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Recently, a new report about the Iranian nuclear program, published by the International Atomic Energy Agency, resulted in a new international discussion about the growing tensions between Israel and Iran. In the framework of our new series “Five questions, five answers”, we asked Dr. Reuven Pedatzur, academic director of the „S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue, Netanya Academic College” for his assessment of the current situation:

Dr. Pedatzur, The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran will be able to build its own nuclear bomb within a few months’ time. In the last days, this subject has dominated the whole Israeli media. The political leadership in Israel seems to get ready for an attack on Iran. According to several media reports, Netanyahu and Barak are trying to gain the approval of the majority of the Knesset for such an attack. Is this only a show of saber-rattling in order to bully Ahmadinejad or is Israel really getting ready for an attack?

Although the public debate in Israel on the military option in Iran was intensified, it is too early to say that “Netanyahu and Barak trying to gain the approval of the majority of the Knesset for such an attack.” Anyway, if the two of them will decide to support an attack, they will probably will not bring it to the Knesset to approval but to the “forum of eight senior ministers,” or to the forum called “the security cabinet”.
Regarding the question: The prime minister believes with all his heart that the mission he is charged with is to save the people of Israel, maybe even the entire free world. The Iranian issue has been preoccupying him much more than the agreement with the Palestinians, relations with the Arab world and even his relationship with the American administration. When Netanyahu compares the Tehran regime to the Nazi regime and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler, he really means it.

Barak, in contrast, has said more than once that a nuclear Iran may constitute a threat, but dismissed attempts to compare this situation with Nazi Germany. The defense minister has even alluded on occasion to Israel's deterrence capability. Nonetheless, due to considerations probably stemming from personality and political calculations, Barak is conveying to those around him that he may support a military operation in Iran.

The Israeli military is warning that a possible attack on Iran might cost thousands of lives among Israeli citizens. The majority of Israelis believes that an attack on Iran is most likely to cause a regional conflagration. Nevertheless, according to recent polls, more Israelis are in favor of an attack than against. How do you explain that?

The explanation lies on two reasons:
1. The success of the politicians, especially Netanyau to scare the public from a nuclear Iran. Netanyau and others warn that nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranian regime will be an existential threat to Israel. On the other hand, the politicians hint that an attack on Iran will put an end to the Iranian nuclear program. So, when the public has to choose between the Iranian response and the attack, it prefers the attack even if it will lead to a lot of casualties in Israel.
2. The Israeli public has no real information on the chances of success of an Israeli attack. In this case most of the Israelis prefer to believe that the IDF could destroy the Iranian nuclear program.

International voices in the West advise against an attack. On the one hand, many still believe in a diplomatic solution. On the other hand, they fear the destabilization of the whole region. In the case that Israel decides in favor of an attack, what impact will such an attack have on the diplomatic relations between Israel and the Western countries?

An attack against a sovereign state that had not declared war on Israel, and had not engaged in belligerent activities, is liable to lead to international pressure on Israel and even to the imposition of various sanctions. It also could lead to a pressure on Israel in the nuclear issue and to pressure join the NPT. Israel would be blamed by the Western countries of the sharp increase of the oil price, that will be the result of an Israeli attack.

An attack on Iran by Israel doesn’t only endanger the security of Israeli citizens but also that of American soldiers in Iraq and the Persian Gulf. The USA are worried that Israel might unilaterally attack Iran without advanced warning. Additionally a US military official lately announced that America will not join such an attack. Will Barak Obama be able to persuade Israel not to attack Iran if Israel believes it is the right thing to do?

If Netanyau will arrive to the conclusion that the only way to save Israel is to attack, there is a possibility of an Israeli attack without American approval.

You belong to the Israelis who are against attacking Iran. You recently said that sooner or later Israel needs to prepare for a nuclear Iran because there is no possibility to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb on the long run. This means that the Israeli public needs to accept to live with the Iranian nuclear bomb. Will they be able to do so?

Consequently, the starting point for Israeli policy makers must be the assumption that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons before long. With that as a premise, it appears that an express policy of nuclear deterrence is the most reasonable and effective option for Israel to adopt toward a nuclear Iran. Just as the two superpowers came to recognize that only mutual, open, and credible deterrence would prevent the use of nuclear weapons, Israel, too, will have to adopt such an approach.
The most effective way of deterring Iranian policy makers from using nuclear weapons would be the unambiguous and credible statement of the catastrophic consequences that Iran would suffer should it fire missiles at Israel.
One of the Israeli government’s tasks should be the socialization of the Israeli public, in order to convince it that it is possible to live under the Iranian nuclear threat. The socialization should be focus on the comparison between the situation in the USA during the cold war and the situation in Israel in the case of a nuclear Iran. Unfortunately, what the Israeli decision makers do is the opposite. They continue frightening the Israelis from the Iranian existential threat.

Thank you very much, Dr. Pedatzur.

The questions were asked by Annika Khano


Annika Khano


Israel, November 21, 2011

Reuven Pedatzur