February 20, 2007

Can't They Just Sit On Them?

One thing the Grumpy Old Man does not seem to understand is how much the US policy in the Middle East is dictated by the fear that the Israelis will use their nukes. As the Chieftain of Seir points out, America never gave much in the way of military aid to Israel until they had the bomb. Then we started shipping over just about everything they wanted.

For a while this policy worked pretty well at keeping Israel’s finger away from the little red button. As long as Israel was confident that their conventional arms were enough to guarantee their safety, the US did not have to worry about Israel setting the whole Middle East alight. If Iran gets the bomb, that will all change….

--The Ape Man
This is an intriguing notion, although one I don't know the record supports. Give them enough tanks and F-16s and they won't be crazed enough to drop the Big One.

I do believe the Egyptians came to the peace table because they knew that Israel could destroy the Aswan High Dam, after which the Nile would wash away the inhabited part of Egypt.

My simian friend also suggests, and I don't disagree, that a nuclear exchange in the Middle East would be a matter of grave concern to us. Presumably that's because a taboo against the use of nukes has persisted for 62 years (since Nagasaki), and once it is broken, detonation of these devices might become commonplace.

That's a substantial risk, but I'm not sure it warrants a preemptive strike against Iran, especially when serious diplomacy seems not to have been tried, and I know that such a strike poses substantial risks, not to speak of moral (just war) questions.

As I commented on his blog, although one can do everything with bayonets except sit on them, the only thing one can do with nuclear weapons is sit on them.


Chieftain of Seir said...

It is not a matter of being crazed. If the US or France was in the position that Israel was in during the Yom Kippur war, we would have been arming our nukes as well.

It is a known fact that Israel's armed their nuclear weapons during the Yom Kippur war. They let the US know that they were doing it and they basically gave us a choice: Help us win the war conventionally or we will win it unconventionally.

The same thing more or less happened during the First Gulf War. Although some people think that Israel went on nuclear alert during the First Gulf War just to pressure the US into doing a better job hunting down the scuds.

I don't think that characterization is fair. Any nation being hit by scud missiles from a known possessor of biological and chemical weapons would have gone on nuclear alert.

There is cliff note version of my essay on the subject along with supporting links over at Ape Man if you are interested.

Grumpy Old Man said...

"Crazed" is probably snarky. The Israelis, and especially their cheering section safe in the U.S. push their verbal panic button so often and so hard (and sometimes so absurdly) that one forgets this simple fact:

The neighborhood is dangerous, the neighbors hostile, and sometimes the danger has been mortal.

I'd be interested in the source for the two nuclear alerts mentioned.

Grumpy Old Man said...

OK, I read the Chieftain of Seir piece, which is the first thing I've read on Israel military issues in a long time that says anything new. Lots to ponder.

I understand that Israel does have, or soon will have, three German submarines with nuclear launch capability, presumably offering some second strike potential.

Are we in the paradoxical situation of hoping that if the Iranians do get nukes, they get enough to ride out a first strike?

The world has been lucky since Nagasaki. How long will the luck hold?

Chieftain of Seir said...

I don't know if you still want sources for the claim that Israel went on nuclear alert during the Yom Kippur war and the First Gulf War now that you have read my essay on the subject.

But if you do, a good place to start would be to read THE THIRD TEMPLE'S HOLY OF HOLIES: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR WEAPONS by Warner D. Farr, LTC, U.S. Army. This paper references just about every unclassified source before year 2000 and it is footnoted so you can check his sources for yourself. Not a lot has changed in terms of public knowledge since then as far as I know. The whole paper is online and it is well worth taking the time to read if you are interested in the subject.

I have read a lot of other stuff on the subject besides Farr's paper, but he basically references everything that I have read and then some. There is not much out there for the public to read.

The one problem I have with Farr is that he is too uncritical of his sources. But the question of what sources are to be trusted on this subject and why is an essay in and of itself.

I quoted Farr on the subject of Yom Kippur alert in my essay so you have presumably already seen that. He also mentions the First Gulf War saying…..

Israel went on full-scale nuclear alert again on the first day of Desert Storm, 18 January 1991. Seven SCUD missiles were fired against the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa by Iraq (only two actually hit Tel Aviv and one hit Haifa). This alert lasted for the duration of the war, 43 days. Over the course of the war, Iraq launched around 40 missiles in 17 separate attacks at Israel. There was little loss of life: two killed directly, 11 indirectly, with many structures damaged and life disrupted.[98] Several supposedly landed near Dimona, one of them a close miss.[99] Threats of retaliation by the Shamir government if the Iraqis used chemical warheads were interpreted to mean that Israel intended to launch a nuclear strike if gas attacks occurred. One Israeli commentator recommended that Israel should signal Iraq that “any Iraqi action against Israeli civilian populations, with or without gas, may leave Iraq without Baghdad.”[100] Shortly before the end of the war the Israelis tested a “nuclear capable” missile which prompted the United States into intensifying its SCUD hunting in western Iraq to prevent any Israeli response.[101] The Israeli Air Force set up dummy SCUD sites in the Negev for pilots to practice on—they found it no easy task.[102] American government concessions to Israel for not attacking (in addition to Israeli Patriot missile batteries) were:
• Allowing Israel to designate 100 targets inside Iraq for the coalition to destroy,
• Satellite downlink to increase warning time on the SCUD attacks (present and future),
• “Technical parity with Saudi jet fighters in perpetuity.”[103]
All of this validated the nuclear arsenal in the minds of the Israelis. In particular the confirmed capability of Arab states without a border with Israel, the so-called “second tier” states, to reach out and touch Israel with ballistic missiles confirmed Israel's need for a robust first strike capability.][104] Current military contacts between Israel and India, another nuclear power, bring up questions of nuclear cooperation.[105] Pakistani sources have already voiced concerns over a possible joint Israeli-Indian attack on Pakistan's nuclear facilities.[106] A recent Parameters article speculated on Israel's willingness to furnish nuclear capabilities or assistance to certain states, such as Turkey.[107] A retired Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Amnon Shahak, has declared, “all methods are acceptable in withholding nuclear capabilities from an Arab state.”[108]

The numbers are Farr's footnotes…