Israel, Iran Should Stop Worrying And Learn to Love Deterrence

Article Summary
Contrary to "end-of-the-world" scenarios in the style of the movie Dr. Strangelove, no nuclear war erupted between the United States and the Soviet Union, writes Yehuda Judd Ne’eman, a film director and professor who suggests that Israel and Iran could learn from that. The balance of terror has been shown to work.

Once the nuclear facilities in Iran are hit, at the moment of attack, bombs will come crashing down on one side, while on the other side barrages of missiles will strike. People will be killed. People will be injured. Now, a moment before the attack, it's time to discuss another option, that of a balance of terror, for instance, just like the balance of terror between the United States and the [former] Soviet Union during the Cold War – a balance of terror at the prospect of nuclear war [and mutual destruction].

"And the land had rest forty years,"  [(Judges Chapter 3, Verse 11) more or less] since the Korean War [which lasted from June 1950 to July 1953 and was the first Cold War military confrontation] until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 [which symbolized the end of the Cold War]. The same as in the current crisis over Iran's nuclear program, during the Cold War, too, there were moments when the tension peaked and the world seemed to be on the verge of a flare-up. This was the case, for example, in 1962, when, by courtesy of Fidel Castro, Soviet missiles were deployed in Cuba, facing the United States' shores. However, the leaders of the two super powers at the time, [then-U.S. President John] Kennedy and [then-USSR Premier Nikita] Khrushchev, found a way to contain the confrontation. Subsequently, the "red telephone", the hotline linking the White House and the Kremlin, was set up for [just such] emergency cases.

Contrary to "end-of-the-world" scenarios in the style of [Stanley Kubrick's black comedy film] Dr. Strangelove [or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb], no nuclear war erupted between the United States and the Soviet Union. The balance of terror between two sides, each equipped with an arsenal of nuclear weapons, provides a security net of checks and balances that prevents both sides from putting their nuclear weapons to use. It may sound paradoxical, but the fact is that nuclear weapons were never used in the [Cold War-era] military conflicts between the Eastern and Western blocs – not in the Korean War nor in the Vietnam War. A balance of terror has been maintained for years now between India and Pakistan and in the past, such balance of terror existed between India and China.

The balance of terror is based on the "second strike" and "third strike" doctrine. According to foreign sources, the nuclear arsenal and launching means at the disposal of Israel are capable of landing an effective second strike that would wipe out most of the big cities of any country in the region that would drop a nuclear bomb on Israel. However, so they say, Israel is a small country and it thus cannot allow itself the risk of a first strike. So that the "second strike" doctrine cannot be applied in this case. [Hence,] Israel will never allow Iran to get the nuke.

On the other hand, it should be borne in mind that the Masada scenario [where the siege by troops of the Roman Empire led to the mass suicide of the Jewish zealots who barricaded themselves in the fortified Judean Desert site] is not applicable to peoples and states — they are no suicides; [at the most,] they just give up and surrender. Israel's second-strike capability, which threatens Iran, is a perfect "check" safeguarding us against nuclear attack. So, why not opt for a balance of terror between Tel Aviv and Tehran? Why let [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi [Netanyahu] and [Defense Minister] Barak "reassure" us that there are going to be "only a couple of hundred people killed?" Why let them scare us with talk of a second Holocaust? We, in Israel, are all too familiar with intimidations of this kind. They were employed, for instance, by the [then-Prime Minister Levi] Eshkol government in the [three-week interval known as the] waiting period, before the outbreak of the [1967] Six-Day War. The same scare tactics were used by the Golda [Meir] – [Moshe] Dayan government in the [1973] Yom Kippur War, when the threats of "the destruction of the Third Temple" and "doomsday weapons" were invoked.

Or it may well be that other motives altogether are coming to play here. After all, a Tel Aviv-Tehran balance of terror may limit Israel's freedom of action. No longer would Israel be able to launch wars like the first [1982] Lebanon war or the second [2006] Lebanon war, nor would it have the latitude to mount operations in the style of Cast Lead [the 2008-2009 Gaza War]. No more cast lead nor even hollow lead. Could it actually be that all that Holocaust talk is mere hollow talk? Could it be indeed that we are watching the horror show of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man? Could it be that The Wizard of Oz is hiding away somewhere in Tehran, scaring to death the Cowardly Lion? When it comes to our Holocaust fears, all the parties involved are liable to pay dearly.

True, Israel cannot survive even the first strike of a nuclear attack. However, by the same token, Israel would not be able to withstand a counterstrike of hundreds of missiles from Tehran and the Hezbollah Lebanon. The atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima comes to mind in this context. However, Tokyo was burned to the ground by conventional bombing, and the number of fatalities there was far greater. Common sense tells us that a war between Israel and Iran is unlikely. This is one of the options. The other option is precisely the same.

Yehuda Judd Ne’eman is a movie director and producer, professor emeritus at the Tel Aviv University Department of Film and Television and the 2009 Israel Prize winner for film.

Found in: us, strategy, israel, iran, benjamin netanyahu, barak

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