Category Archives: Israel

Nuclear Holocaust, Crazy State

I’ve thought three times before posting this. Four times. It’s so bleak that it’s difficult to digest. But it gives too much insight into the regnant Israeli view of nuclear deterrence to withhold comment.

The recently published “interview with Uzi Arad”: by Ari Shavit in _Ha’aretz_ includes this passage about nuclear deterrence failure:

bq.. [Arad] On the face of it, what is the point of this? Why execute the enemy after deterrence has failed? But according to Dror, it is important to ascertain that the deterrence will work, even if you yourself have been destroyed. He sees this as a contribution to the repair of the world (tikkun olam).* When we say “never again,” this entails three imperatives: never again will we be felled in mass numbers, never again will we be defenseless and never again will there be a situation in which those who harm us go unpunished.

[Shavit] Is the Holocaust relevant to our strategic thought in an era of a nuclear Middle East?

[Arad] Look at the way memory guides people like Netanyahu, who refers time and again to the 1930s. Bernard Lewis also said a few years ago that he feels like he is in the late 1930s. What did he mean? On the one hand, an imminent threat, rapidly approaching, and on the other, complacency and conciliation and a cowering coveting of peace. When I visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem) not long ago, I could not bear the psychological overload and left halfway through. I don’t think there is an Israeli or a Jew who can be insensitive to the Holocaust. It is a painful black hole in our consciousness.

[Shavit] When you look around today, what is your feeling? Are we alone?

[Arad] We are always alone. Sometimes we have partners and lovers and donors of money, but no one is in our shoes.

p. (*This is an unusual interpretation of “tikkun olam”:, to say the least. Usually it means something like “social justice” and suggests making the world a better place. At least in the present context, it might be understood as meaning “cosmic justice.”)

The “Dror” to whom Arad refers must be Yehezkel Dror, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He may be better known for his “work on public policy”: “and the social sciences”:, but in 1971, he produced a small book published in English as “Crazy States: A Counterconventional Strategic Problem”:

Lacking a copy at hand, I’ll turn to the summary in Barry Wolf, “When the Weak Attack the Strong: Failures of Deterrence”: As part of his discussion of “highly motivated” attackers, Wolf provides this sketch of Dror’s idea:

bq.. A “crazy state” culture may also result in a cost-benefit calculus that is difficult for outsiders to comprehend. The term “crazy state” has been used by Yehezkel Dror to refer to such groups as “the Christian Crusaders or the Islam Holy Warriors… anarchists… contemporary terrorist groups… Nazi Germany; and–to a more limited extent–Japan before the Second World War.” Although Dror’s concept is multidimensional and cannot be easily defined, the historical examples he uses tend to be groups with an extremely strong commitment to nonrational (by contemporary Western standards) ideologies and a willingness to use force to realize their goals. It is important to remember that the term “crazy state” is used to identify states whose cost-benefit calculus may be extremely difficult for a contemporary Westerner to understand; the term is not a judgment that the state’s values are “crazy” in an absolute or universal sense.

Many states that have attacked substantially stronger counterparts certainly could have been “crazy states,” the Jewish zealots who revolted against Rome being an especially likely example. Both Iran and Libya can arguably be considered states of this type, and a “crazy state” cost-benefit calculus seems likely to have contributed to their attacks against U.S. forces. A weak “crazy state” led by a psychopathological leader may have particularly great potential to take actions that appear to defy logic; Adolf Hitler’s Germany occupied the Rhineland at a time (1936) when France’s army was substantially stronger than Germany’s. Although Hitler in that case read Allied intentions correctly, perhaps no wholly sane leader would have taken this risk because the consequences of failure would have been so terrible. As Hitler himself said, “A retreat on our part would have spelled collapse.”

p. This post has gone on long enough already, and it’s not my intention to revisit the not-so-great “rationality debate”: here. Suffice it to say that there’s not a person alive, let alone a nation-state, that conducts its affairs in keeping with the “von Neuman-Morgenstern axioms”: Vague objectives, impulsivity, and gross errors are altogether commonplace. The worst outcomes are rare, but we are condemned to live with uncertainty.

So let’s conclude with one last snippet from Arad, who insists that Israel must “must not be militant, but we must entrench our defense and security prowess and act with wisdom and restraint and caution and sangfroid.” That much, I think, is hard to argue with.

There They Go Again

Should the _New York Times_ op-ed page introduce fact-checking? Given recent trends, it really couldn’t hurt.

A couple days ago, the _Times_ ran an “op-ed by John Bolton”: For reasons known only to the author, he chose to revive a “canard about Obama strong-arming Israel into the NPT before it is ready to join”:

I mention this only because it’s in my pet rock collection. It was just one of a series of “questionable representations” “catalogued and dissected at the PONI blog”: earlier today. Among other things, PONI locates “an Israeli account”: of the substance of the Obama-Netanyahu exchange on nuclear opacity. I’ll quote it in full:

On another issue, Obama told Netanyahu at their meeting on Monday that Washington has no plans to change its policy on Israel’s nuclear program, according to an Israeli source.

“At the talks, Obama expressed his deep commitment to Israel’s security and his full adherence to the deep presidential understandings in this area,” the source said.

In 1969, the United States and Israel reached an understanding under which Israel would maintain ambiguity about its nuclear program and would refrain from conducting a nuclear weapons test. In exchange, the U.S. would refrain from pressing Israel to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which would require Israel to give up any military nuclear capabilities it had and place the reactor in Dimona under international supervision. These understandings, which have remained in force to this day, form the basis of Israel’s nuclear policy.

In recent weeks, Israeli commentators have expressed fear that the U.S. was planning to change this policy, after a mid-level State Department official publicly declared that Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea should all join the NPT. But this comment was actually mere routine, reflecting America’s commitment in principle to eventual worldwide nuclear disarmament, and was not aimed specifically at Israel.

During his previous term as prime minister, Netanyahu requested and obtained a written commitment from then-president Clinton that the U.S. would preserve Israel’s strategic deterrence capability – a euphemism for nuclear capability – and make sure that its arms control initiatives did not impair this capability. Netanyahu also told Clinton that Israel would not join an American initiative to draft a new treaty that would ban the production of plutonium.

The above account appeared in _Ha’aretz_ five days before Bolton’s op-ed went to print.

PONI observes that op-eds, because of their brevity,

bq. can be frustrating because they do not have to cite or explain their interpretation of facts. Maybe they should.

Roger that. Writers should at least have to justify themselves to an editor. Fact-checking is bad enough on the news side of the house. On the op-ed side, it’s nonexistent.

Another Example

Two days before the Bolton piece, the _Times_ ran an item by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann claiming in part that

bq. the Obama administration has done nothing to cancel or repudiate an ostensibly covert but well-publicized program, begun in President George W. Bush’s second term, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to destabilize the Islamic Republic.

This appears to refer to _overt_ “programs to support”: “democracy in Iran”:, whose usefulness has “come into question”: (Human rights and democracy, as “previously noted around here”:, look pretty threatening to some governments.) But these total well short of “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

If Leverett and Mann are referring to some other “well-publicized” program, it has eluded me completely. But maybe I’m not reading the _Times_ attentively enough.

Then, there is the small matter of how to “cancel or repudiate” a covert program in such a way that anyone would know about it.

So what has the Administration done with the Iran democracy programs that people besides Leverett and Mann actually know about? Mostly, they were funded by a supplemental, and never budgeted. It doesn’t appear that all the money was actually obligated (i.e., spent down). So are Leverett and Mann calling for a rescission (i.e., withdrawal of the unspent funds)? It’s not clear.

Perhaps they are expressing concern about the new and amusingly titled “Near East Regional Democracy”: program. Yes, NERD! Right now, it looks like $25 million, to be awarded “on a competitive basis.” Some of that could conceivably go to NGOs in Iran, if they choose to apply. But there is no assurance that they ever will.

Op-ed fact checking: an idea whose time has come.

Really, Really Ready

If your memories extend way back to the summer of ’06, by gum, then you might recall “”:, the Federation of American Scientists’ effort to improve on a certain U.S. Department of Homeland Security “website with a similar name”: All built by a summer intern.

The _Washington Post_ wrote it up “here”: The momentarily most famous summer intern in America wrote “her own, fuller version”: of the story, too.

You remember all this, right? Good.

p{float: right; margin-left:2px;}. !/images/100.jpg!

Well, there’s another entrant in the race for most compelling online source of emergency information: the website of Israel’s “Home Front Command”:, conveniently available in four languages. Drop-down boxes (on the left side of the page in the “English version”: lead to straightforward explanations of what to do in case of earthquake, fire, flood, terrorist attack, or ballistic missile warning. Not necessarily in that order.

Also very handy is this “map”: indicating how much time there is to reach a protected space after a missile warning, depending on locality. There’s even a version with “cheery little clip-art figures”: that you can print out, carry around, or perhaps “stick on the fridge”: All very practical.

Strategic Mortar Defense System

_Ha’aretz_ “reports”: that Israel will buy Phalanx cannons — best known as anti-anti-ship-missile systems — to defend the population of Sderot. There is apparently an anti-mortar/anti-rocket configuration used by the U.S. Army to defend fixed positions, and that’s what they’re buying.

“Earlier reports”: indicate that this has been a long time in coming.

Some possible contributing factors to the delay were “discussed here”:

Dome, Sweet Dome

“According to Anshel Pfeffer”: in _Ha’aretz_, the Israeli Defense Ministry has announced that the “Iron Dome”: short-range missile defense system will soon be up and running:

bq. Defense officials predict that the system will be up and running by next year and will protect 95% of people in the area around Sderot and Ashkelon from rockets and mortars fired from the Gaza Strip.

Unfortunately, this statement doesn’t appear to be accurate. Iron Dome can’t stop mortars — the interceptors just don’t fly out quickly enough. Some rockets also have flight times too short to be intercepted. This is part of why “thousands of houses”: “in Sderot”:, close to Gaza, are being heavily reinforced, a decision made back in February 2008:

bq. The fortification proposal approved on Sunday was based on the effective range of the “Iron Dome” anti-rocket system, which is currently under development. Recent tests found the system effective against rockets fired from more than four kilometers away, but not against those fired from closer range.

Oddly, it was Amir Peretz, a longtime Sderot resident who was then the Defense Minister, who “selected the Iron Dome system”: Perhaps it was the least bad option. Back in November 2006, a rocket from Gaza landed “right on Peretz’s street while he was at home”:,7340,L-3328341,00.html, killing a woman passing by and tearing the legs off one of the Defense Minister’s bodyguards.

Short-range missile defense has a troubled history in Israel. It’s clear that defensive systems go against the grain of the defense establishment, which is acutely conscious of the country’s lack of strategic depth, and believes strongly in hitting first. All this has been going on for years, but according to Pfeffer, development work has only recently kicked into high gear:

bq. The defense establishment recently acquired rabbinical approval for workers from Rafael, the Israel Arms Development Authority, to work on Saturdays and conducts the tests 24 hours, seven days a week.

The doctrine of carrying the battle to the enemy does much to explain why “Israeli responsibility for the alleged strike(s) in Sudan”: seems “so credible to many”:, but there’s still no short-range defense in place, despite a decade-long requirement.

Two Stories To Take With A Grain of Salt

There’s much hubbub lately about a couple of things. One is a “completely unsourced article”: in the Swiss newspaper _Neue Zürcher Zeitung_ that makes a number of sensational claims about Syria’s -nuclear reactor at al-Kibar- “secret military pencil factory”: One of these claims is that Iran financed the facility and North Korea built it.

This is “not a new claim”:,1518,561169,00.html, certainly not in the German-language press, where seemingly “unreplicable”: “reporting”: on unconventional weapons in the Middle East often seems to crop up. _Sei vorsichtig._

[Update: “Jeff has got ahold of this story”:]

The other thing is a “briefing at the CSIS website”:,com_csis_pubs/task,view/id,5337/ suggesting that Israel has conventionally armed ballistic missiles precise enough to knock out Iran’s nuclear facilities. Some of which are deeply buried, lest we forget.

Anything’s possible, right?

I’m going to go out on a limb to say that Israel almost certainly lacks this capability, because if they had it, it’s a very good bet they would have used it by now.

Deja Vu: Differences Between U.S. and Israeli Intel on Iran

Reading this _NYT_ “article”: the other day reminded me of this portion of a “piece”: I wrote about 2-1/2 years ago:

By contrast, Israeli government estimates suggest that Iran could master the enrichment process within six to 12 months and produce enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a nuclear weapon in as little as three years, according to a knowledgeable Western official.

Asked about *differences between the two government’s estimates, [then-DNI John] Negroponte said that both countries “basically operate from the same knowledge base” but that Israel will “sometimes…give you the worst-case assessment.”*

The transcript of that interview is “here”: Not that this has been going on for a while or anything…

More on Israeli Disclosure

Reacting to “this post”:, an astute reader observes that

bq. Without that taboo [of disclosure], some Israeli officials would make nuclear threats fortnightly. If you think it’s hard to deal with the Iranians now, just imagine if some Israeli loose cannon were threatening to annihilate Tehran on a routine basis.

The reader also cited a “piece”: written by Avner Cohen a couple of years back. Note the part about “away from politics”:

Israel is now uniquely distinguished among all nuclear states in its
legacy of extreme nuclear caution, keeping nuclear affairs low
profile, nearly invisible and away from politics.

One more reason why the rise of nuclear Iran is so perilous is that it threatens to change the subtle nuclear ground rules in the Middle East that were built upon the nuclear legacy of the 1967 war. This legacy is a reminder of why a nuclear Iran must be prevented. If Iran’s goes nuclear, then Israel’s reluctant style of being nuclear will no doubt be replaced by a major nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East.

I hadn’t thought much about the potential domestic Israeli implications or their ramifications. I’m still not sure that Israeli nuclear threats would result in more nuclear weapons states in the region; such threats would indeed represent a qualitative change in regional countries’ security situation, but those governments would still face some serious constraints, regardless of Tel Aviv’s actions. Also, it’s not clear that the security situation would change _so much_ that states would develop nuclear weapons; my impression is that many governments may already view Israel’s nuclear weapons as a threat.

Still, the point is very well taken. And, as I said, I don’t want this science project to be undertaken.