Saturday, April 12, 2008
A US Nuclear Guarantee to Israel
This much-discussed Charles Krauthammer column seems to me very much to miss the point. Krauthammer calls on the US to issue a nuclear guarantee to Israel to deter Iran from launching a nuclear attack on the Jewish state.
Is that really why the Iranians want nukes?
Consider this assessment by Anthony Cordesman, well summarized here by Martin Walker.
This would mean, Cordesman suggests, some 16 million to 28 million Iranians dead within 21 days, and between 200,000 and 800,000 Israelis dead within the same time frame. The total of deaths beyond 21 days could rise very much higher, depending on civil defense and public health facilities, where Israel has a major advantage.
It is theoretically possible that the Israeli state, economy and organized society might just survive such an almost-mortal blow. Iran would not survive as an organized society. "Iranian recovery is not possible in the normal sense of the term," Cordesman notes.
The difference in the death tolls is largely because Israel is believed to have more nuclear weapons of very much higher yield (some of 1 megaton), and Israel is deploying the Arrow advanced anti-missile system in addition to its Patriot batteries. Fewer Iranian weapons would get through.
The difference in yield matters. The biggest bomb that Iran is expected to have is 100 kilotons, which can inflict third-degree burns on exposed flesh at 8 miles; Israel's 1-megaton bombs can inflict third-degree burns at 24 miles. Moreover, the radiation fallout from an airburst of such a 1-megaton bomb can kill unsheltered people at up to 80 miles within 18 hours as the radiation plume drifts. (Jordan, by the way, would suffer severe radiation damage from an Iranian strike on Tel Aviv.) ...
Cordesman points out that the city of Tehran, with a population of 15 million in its metropolitan area, is "a topographic basin with mountain reflector. Nearly ideal nuclear killing ground."
An Iranian nuclear force would be small and inaccurate: a terror weapon, not a weapon of war to be used against an opponent able to respond in overwhelming force. Israel is not the target. So who is?
The short answer: The world oil market.
In 1986, the US waged an undeclared proxy naval war to deter Iran from attacking oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. The US won of course and Iran lacked any effective riposte. This US operation played a decisive role in compelling Iran to accept peace in the Iran-Iraq war.
And it may have prompted Iranian leaders to decide: We need an effective counter-deterrent against the US. The US would have been much more reluctant to protect Kuwaiti tankers against a nuclear Iran. An Iranian nuclear bomb would act as a "Keep Out" sign to frighten the US away from a now truly Persian Gulf.
In other words, an atomic bomb would serve Iran's hegemonic ambitions rather tha its apocalyptic fantasies. It is a useful weapon sought by rational people. That is precisely why it is dangerous and must be stopped.
04/12 12:09 PM