Thursday, December 11, 2008

U.S. Extended Deterrence to Israel

According to Fox News and Haaretz, the coming Barack Obama administration may offer Israel a nuclear guarantee vis-à-vis Iran. The proposal amounts to the offer of "extended deterrence" to Tel Aviv, and a key problem with such guarantees is the credibility of commitment: Would the U.S. go to war over an Iranian first-strike nuclear attack on Israel? If so, the outbreak of hostilities in a localized Middle East conflict would turn into a global one. Other nuclear powers, such as Russia and China, would move to full battle readiness, particularly Moscow which may see its vital national interests threatened by the real-time extension of U.S. strategic power in his geopolitical backyard.

Richard Fernandez offers an interesting analysis as to rational motivations behind a potential U.S.-Israel nuclear allliance:

From a certain point of view the only thing worse than an Iran with nuclear weapons is the prospect of an Israeli retaliation to an attack, which however justified, could only create eternal enmity with its neighbors. But if the retaliation could be left to America, that might have the virtue of preventing Israel from retaliating, thereby preventing other regional nuclear powers (who presumably emerge in response to a nuclear Iran) from explaining to their outraged populations why they ought not punish the Jews for using atomic bombs. Maybe there is the belief that an American retaliation to an Iranian strike would be more politically acceptable than an Israeli one. With an American deterrent in play Israel could be cut out of the deterrent process — and this would be desirable from a political point of view.

But does it make strategic sense? The downside to this reported proposal is that America undertakes to automatically involve itself in a regional nuclear exchange between atomic powers; thereby creating the risk of going straight from a regional nuclear war to a global one. If an attack on Israel is automatically followed by retaliation from America, what role do Israeli nukes play? From a certain point of view the proposal may actually increase the risk of nuclear war in the Middle East. A combination of tacitly accepting an nuclear-armed Iran and reposing deterrence in Washington could make the Ayatollahs more willing to run the risk. What are the odds that the West can bring itself to enter into a nuclear exchange with Iran if it could not muster the will to prevent Teheran’s acquisition of those weapons in the first place? The Ayatollahs may interpret this proposal as meaning that the West will be a party to any Israeli decision to retaliate for an nuclear attack on its soil, undertaking to attack in lieu or veto the retaliation. It adds one more step in the process of pulling the retaliatory trigger. That can only reduce the certainty of retribution in Teheran’s eyes.

It is far from clear that this proposed policy — acquiescing to a nuclear Iran while reducing the certainty of retaliation — helps anybody. It may hurt everybody.
That's a fascinating discussion.

To some extent, the issue seems kind of moot. At the height of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, the U.S. moved to DEFCON 3 (near-crisis stage of military-strategic readiness) in anticipation of a possible Soviet deployment of troops to Egypt to assist Cairo. I doubt the U.S. government, with a presidential administration of either party, would refuse to come to Israel's assistance in the event of an impending or actual nuclear exchange. For the Obama administration, perhaps this all about clarifying the new administration's credibility of commitment, as well as establishing a reputation for firmness in the face of Tehran's international revisionism.

In any case, while we're on the topic, the
Wikipedia page for ICBM's has some interesting related information, for example:

To comply with the START II most U.S. multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, have been eliminated and replaced with single warhead missiles. However, since the abandonment of the START II treaty, the U.S. is said to be considering retaining 800 warheads on 450 missiles.

MIRVed land-based ICBMs are considered destabilizing because they tend to put a premium on
striking first. If we assume that each side has 100 missiles, with 5 warheads each, and further that each side has a 95 percent chance of neutralizing the opponent's missiles in their silos by firing 2 warheads at each silo, then the side that strikes first can reduce the enemy ICBM force from 100 missiles to about 5 by firing 40 missiles at the enemy silos and using the remaining 60 for other targets. This first-strike strategy increases the chance of a nuclear war, so the MIRV weapon system was banned under the START II agreement.
See also, Abe Greenwald's discussion, "Obama’s Nuclear Pledge to Israel."


Libby said...

donald, this is not something i even want to start thinking about...thank God there are other people who do this!

dave in boca said...

My guess is that the Arab regimes now in power in the Middle East hate Iran and its cat's paw auxiliaries like Hezbollah and the Hamas nut-jobs much more than Israel, which is dependable and run by a rational [keeping in mind the diminished standards for the region] leadership which answers attacks in a measured way [again, compared to regional standards].

When Mubarak of Egypt inveighs against Iran, he strikes a chord that Sunni Muslims resonate to more deeply than any attacks on the Yehudi.

And as an aside, I sincerely doubt that any Iranian nuclear device would be any more dependable than the N. Korean dud which imploded a year or so ago...

And I wonder how said device would be delivered to Israel to wreak havoc without being intercepted and destroyed somewhere over Syria.

Van Zan said...

I do not doubt for a second that any administration would respond to a nuclear attack on Israel, or any other ally for that matter, with whatever measures were deemed militarily productive - which may or may not involve nukes.

For the Iranian leadership to think otherwise would require a degree of irrationality that would mean they'd be capable of anything anyway, and there would be no clinical distinction in their eyes between Israel and America as to who launched the nukes.
The offer of committed American nuclear counterstrike renders void a risk-laden Iranian hope that a preemptive attack by Iran could somehow neutralize Israel's own nuclear response.
It's a clear message of "you can't win" to Iran, even if you turn Israel to ashes.

It also clarifies some levels of escalation.... Israeli mounts conventional responses, as it has in the past, and America will step in if the conflict becomes high-intensity. Everyone knows where they stand.

It's hard to be sure what Russia and China would do in the face of such "extension of U.S. strategic power", but in the face of a rogue state firing nuclear weapons one would hope all other onsiderations would seem secondary to the immediate cessation of nuclear exchange, given they themselves are not yet under attack. If that cessation required the end of the Iranian state, that might well be the least unacceptable proposition and they would thus give off-the-record non-public tacit support to the American response... provided they have a say in what happens next.

None of which means that it wouldn't be a complete mess and a horrific set of circumstances.

I am missing a argumentative link here somewhere, however...
Where has Obama said that he will acquiesce to a nuclear-armed Iran? as this appears to imply ?
Obama has said he will not.
Israel would be breathing fire all over the media now if he had, or if they believed he was even thinking of it.

Van Zan said...

Israel defends itself.
America supports that right.
A nuclear attack anywhere is ultimately a threat to everyone, and should not pass without a response.

Hussein is a common name.
Your point?

JBW said...

Actually, it's the most common name in the Muslim world after Mohammad and Ali, but I suspect that Philippe's use of it is meant as more of an insult than a mere comment. And on that note: come on, Philippe; you make some good points here at times and puppy killer, while semi-funny on a third-tier comedic scale, is an OK jab (although the reference, if there is one, is lost on me) Adolph Fidel is just a nakedly partisan and intellectually lazy thrust. At least bust out some Pol Pot or Ivan the Terrible references so as not to seem so much of a hack, Frenchy.

JBW said...

Really? Really!? Philippe, please don't make me denigrate you to the depths of Grace and Norm, to one of the mindless, cockless Christian Catholic jackasses that inhabit this site. The only reason I even plead for your sanity is because you make sound points every once and a while from across the pond.

But Hussein and the AntiChrist: OK, I concede your delusional jackassery. Please keep proving the folks on my side of the divide correct. Your stupidity will be dualy noted in the book of truth.

Van Zan said...

Ah... and the evil one saw fit to announce his presence with one of the most common names in the world... not very clever of him.
Or is every one of the millions of Husseins on the planet the Antichrist?

There's man down the road from me called Hussein. Should I smite him?
He's 86 years old... so perhaps I should hurry.

Anonymous said...

It is typical of the left, and people like JBW, that lack the intelligence for reasoned debate to resort to their only real capability, name calling. Note how most ignore this rather childish approach.
I have had my say and now it is time for the rather unintelligence response from the left, name calling, change the dialogue or make it about them. If it was not so predictable it would be tragic that people like this actually graduated from schools in this country.

Norm said...

The entire premise of an Iranian nuclear missile attack on Israel is
incorrect. Iran is not that stupid. If Iran wished to attack Israel with a nuclear device it would be brought into Gaza or the West Bank in pieces
by suicide martyrs, put together, and then smuggled into Israel. This would allow Iran the "I dunno what happened" defense.

Secondly, Obama and his left wing progessives will never use military force against Iran. They know that Israel is the main target of Iran, not the US. Obama
will pursue peace negotiations that
pressure Israel into taking "risks for peace"

Israel does not need an American nuclear umbrella. This is a big joke. The basis of the American ABM system, successfully tested last week, is the Israeli Arrow system. American radar systems are more sophisticated, but Israeli
Arrow and David's Sling systems are more advanced.

Just a few hours ago Admadineajad announced once more that soon Israel will be erased. We must not appease this man. Fascists understand only power and back off only with a fist to their nose. Israel should not be fooled by Obama and his left wing idiots.

Van Zan said...

I agree that nuclear terrorism would make more sense than an overt nuclear strike except that Israeli intelligence services and border security are not exactly lax.

The world knows who can build a nuclear weapon and who can't. There's no plausible deniability and again we are talking nuclear weapons so 100% proof wouldn't even be asked for. It's too serious for that, however unreasonable that would sound in a comfortable courtroom context.

America itself does not need to be the target for an attack to made on American interests. Ask the families of the men killed on the USS Cole.

And this is no normal bomb we are talking about.. this is a nuclear weapon. No administration would let a nuclear attack on anyone pass without extreme reaction.

Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...
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Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I wouldn't bat an eye if Israel was nuked.

Biblically 'Israel' is Christianity, not the brood of vipers and money changers that is the modern nation of 'Israel'.

All this "beast666 will betray the jews" is heretical nonsense for apostate former Christian Shabbos Goy Noachides. God does not recognize the jews as his people. "Grace Explosion", I do not recognize your kind as Christian, quit the act.

Rich Casebolt said...

Van Zan ... given the size/shape of Israel and the proximity to the West Bank and Gaza, would they even have to bring the weapon past Israeli border security? Could they do enough damage to justify the strike just by setting it next to the border, and detonating it?

JBW said...

Dennis, you blather about name calling and how you're so above such methods yet you contribute nothing to the discussion. On top of which, you give a name with no connections. Coward.

Norm, you know what I think of you and your jackassery.

Philippe, I'm glad you like my sense of humor (it was not meant that way but hey, you're European so I'll cut you some slack). And I agree with you that yes, Obama did indeed spend more time selecting his dog than McCain did a running mate (I know Don will dislike this assessment but it's the truth).

Grace, keep spewing scripture (I'm not sure if that's what you're doing because from what I've read of the bible it seems slightly more coherent than yourself but who am I to judge?; oh yeah, I'm smart and you're not: that's who). If this is the Apocalypse, I can take solace in knowing that I'm about to be taken to an altogether different plain of existence than yourself.

Just kidding! I neither believe in the Apocalypse nor do I care whether you and your ilk care what I say. You just keep misspelling elementary words while you fume about my cursing (is baby Jesus OK?) and I'll continue to laugh at whatever you write in this space as you pretend to play with the big kids.

JD said...

The US should neither have nor make any alliances with Israel. We have nothing to gain from such dalliances.

Van Zan said...

Rich Casebolt,

Yes, you have a point there. They could just detonate it at the border if they felt there was enough symbolism in it.

Irrational minds love symbolism, like names spelt backwards and numbers associated with imaginary "beasts".


I have no personal attachment or affection for Israel. There is much about Israeli policy that is questionable, and many Israelis would question it too.
Whether America has anything to gain from the alliance is a debate that would go on forever, but how can America be seen to be a country of justice if policy is framed only on what serves narrow American interests ? - assuming for a moment that Israel and American interests don't overlap.

Anonymous said...

Our esteemed host said that I could make my own trackbacks: A totally unworkable idea.

I am as pro-Israel as anyone this side of Benjamin Netanyahu, but this notion is completely ridiculous. If Israel doesn't maintain its own nuclear deterrent, then no nuclear deterrent exists for them.

Anonymous said...

To let Iran become nuclear, and also let them nuke Israel, and only then retaliate with US nukes against Iran, is severly bad, and a clear sign of weakness, and bad national security policy, and foreign policy by the President-elect Obama.

Far better is:

(1) A US pre-emptive strike against the main nuclear facility in Iran, Natanz.

(2) A joint US-Israeli pre-emptive strike against the main nuclear facility in Iran, Natanz.

(3) A Israeli pre-emptive strike against the main nuclear facility in Iran, Natanz.

If (1) - (3) occur, more than one time if needed, then you hopefully at least will delay Iran´s nuclear ambition, and the time to act is running out as the following article in New York Times state, Iran Said to Have Nuclear Fuel for One Weapon, by William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, published: November 19, 2008, (, some quotes:

-- "They clearly have enogh material for a bomb," and "They know how to do the enrichment. Whether they know how to design a bomb, well that´s another matter." (Richard L. Garwin.)

-- "underscored that they are marching down the path to developing the nuclear weapons option." (Siegfried S. Hecker.)

-- "They have a weapons worth," "It´s a virtual milestone," and "where they´re going." (Thomas B. Cochran.)

-- "within a few months," and "Iran is progressing." (ISIS.)

-- "They´re very close," and "If it isn´t tomorrow, it´s soon." (Peter D. Zimmerman.)

-- "While it cannot be excluded that the building in question was intended for non-nuclear use," and "along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water, are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site." (I.A.E.A.)

The TIME to act against Iran is NOW, otherwise Iran will become NUCLEAR, with the future risk of severly threaten Israel, US, and the West in general.

Iran has to be stopped NOW!

Van Zan said...


To let Iran get nuclear weapons is a bad idea. Agree. I don't think anyone here has said that is an acceptable option.
That is why I said "Where has Obama said that he will acquiesce to a nuclear-armed Iran?"

JD said...

It seems that only the Zionists, and those who support the Zionists, are claiming that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. The Iranians say they are not. Even if they did possess something that India and Pakistan possess they are not foolish enough to use it.

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

44's nuke powered umbrella is a interlocking all compassing frame work for future ME policy.

1st - it is totally corrct to embrace all democracys that hang out in tough hoods. Soko, Nippon, Taiwan, not just Israel.

Umbrella is also forward thinking. Arab League for nearly 60 years has followed the retarded Khartoum Conference with the "3 No's" - No recog of Israel, no negotiations with Israel and no Peace with Israel.

All it has gained them is a resurgent enemy, a militant shia crescent from Persia to the Red and Med seas that unlike Arab League - has a track record of success in battling Little Satan and spouting up regime threatening rocket rich proxies.

Umbrella gives Arab League the impetus for officially recognizing Israel which would put HAMAS and Hiz'B'Allah in the interesting light of being pretty good at resisting - yet totally suck at anything else like running a government.

Syria would have to reconsider serious negotiations, and Arab League would have a chance to hook up, man up and stand up to protect their own regimes for Iranian hegemony.

Gates recent Gulf Security comment that changing Iran's regime's policies - rather than a regime change makes umbrella as significant as Otto v. Bismarck's interlocking alliances that created and maintained Europa's dominant power for decades

Anonymous said...

JD wrote:

It seems that only the Zionists, and those who support the Zionists, are claiming that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. The Iranians say they are not. Even if they did possess something that India and Pakistan possess they are not foolish enough to use it.

A strange argument: Iran isn't pursuing nuclear weapons, but if they really are, they have no plans for them.

We're very worried right now about the possibility of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan; that they don't have enough nuclear weapons to cause worldwide devastation is the only comforting thought. But there are some real bad actors in that theater, and the idea that one of them might choose to use nuclear weapons isnot only frightening, but realistic.