Prepare for the Day Iran Goes Nuclear, for Eventually It Will


By Martin van Creveld

Published November 21, 2007, issue of November 23, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

President Bush’s time in office is running out, and so far he has been unable to convince the Pentagon, Congress or the American people of the need to leap into the Iranian lake before he can get out of the Iraqi puddle. Of course, Israel may carry out a strike against Iran on its own. However, given the formidable intelligence and operational problems it would involve, such a strike does not appear very likely at the moment.

The time has come, therefore, to prepare for the day when Iran joins the nuclear club. That is likely to happen in a year, or two, or three. A few experts, basing themselves on what Iran could have done with the aid of the old American-built reactor it possesses, believe that it may have happened already.

Whatever the date, a public announcement is very unlikely. After all, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has consistently denied any intention to weaponize his country’s nuclear program; an announcement, let alone a test, would make him look like a liar to all the world. Hence Iran’s most probable course will be to follow the longstanding Israeli policy of keeping a bomb in the basement. There will be no fanfare, no threats.

Iran’s neighbors around the Persian Gulf have more reason to worry about a nuclear Iran than Israel does. They’ll have to look after themselves. As for Israel, there are a number of steps it ought to take to prepare for the day when Iran does go nuclear.

First, construct a national command and control center capable of riding out an Iranian nuclear attack and continuing to function. During the Cold War, every one of the great nuclear powers built such a center. Detailed plans to safeguard the head of state and those closest to him were drawn up and rehearsed.

Many of the details are classified. However, the broad outline is known, and models for what can and must be done are readily available. If international media reports are to be believed, Israel has already started work on the facilities in question.

Second, make sure that Israel’s own nuclear forces can survive anything Iran may throw at them. Since the early 1970s, according to the international media, Israel’s deterrent has consisted of its air force as well as Jericho surface-to-surface missiles based in the Judean Hills. As long as the other side did not have nuclear weapons, Israel’s forces could easily ride out any enemy attack. However, as nuclear weapons enter the equation in the Middle East, this ability may well be lost.

To compensate, Israel has reportedly acquired three missile-launching submarines from Germany. Over the next few years it is due to receive another three, which will enable two subs to be on patrol at all times. Israel has reportedly also developed cruise missiles capable of being launched from mobile launchers. Assuming all these forces, along with the necessary command and control apparatus, are properly deployed, then Israel’s deterrent will be as survivable as it can be made.

Third, continue developing the country’s anti-missile defenses. Currently Israel is the only country in the world whose skies are defended by an operational anti-missile system, the Hetz, or Arrow. Not everybody agrees that its construction was a good idea, and even those responsible for it admit that it is incapable of providing full protection. Still, now that billions have been sunk into it and it does exist, it should be put to the best possible use.

That use would consist of convincing the leadership in Tehran that if they decide to attack Israel, their missiles may not get through. And if the missiles don’t get through, just as if they do, Iran will open itself to “awesome and terrible retaliation,” as Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir once put it.

And lastly, Israel ought to reexamine its nuclear doctrine. Since Israel has never admitted to possessing nuclear weapons, next to nothing is known about any nuclear doctrine it may have developed. Whether a secret doctrine is a good thing is debatable, but it is certain that it is better than no doctrine at all.

The purpose of Israel’s nuclear doctrine, like those of other countries, should not be to try and foresee every eventuality that may arise. Rather, it is to save decision-makers the need to think out everything from the beginning at the most unsuitable moment — namely, when Iran makes threatening noises, or when Iranian missiles are actually on their way. Israel doubtless has the experts capable of developing such a doctrine, but it remains to be seen whether key decision-makers will take the time to study and absorb their counsel.

To deter a war, one must be able to fight it. Given the enormous uncertainties involved, preparing for nuclear war is an extraordinarily difficult enterprise that will require the best minds, as well as plenty of money. Chances are, however, that the enterprise will succeed and that a stable balance of terror will develop.

After all, the world has learned to live with a nuclear North Korea. The same applies to a nuclear Pakistan, a nuclear India, a nuclear Israel, a nuclear China, a nuclear France, a nuclear Britain, a nuclear Soviet Union and even a nuclear United States. Add to that another 30-40 states that could go nuclear almost as soon as they make the decision to join the club. The world has learned to live with countries going nuclear, and it will learn to live with a nuclear Iran, too.

Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is the author of “The Changing Face of War: Lessons of Combat, From the Marne to Iraq” (Presidio Press).

Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.