Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review of Israel vs Iran: The Shadow War by Yaakov Katz and Yoaz Hendel

The Shadow War is an excellent and broad compilation of info on the war Iran has been waging against Israel and the US on multiple fronts for the last twenty years, and Israel's and US reaction.  It is the result of a collaborative effort of a military correspondent and a military historian, men who are familiar with the ins and outs of Israeli society and therefore some of the bits and pieces of info are not necessarily the result of their journalist/historian inquiry but may well be their personal experiences as well.  

The emphasis is on the lessons Israel had learned from the Second Lebanon War and how the IDF had already applied them during Operation Cast Lead in December 20008 which was much more successful than the Second Lebanon War,  and the successful bombing  of the Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007. It becomes clear that Iran is the mastermind behind all these conflicts, with North Korean involvement in the Syrian nuclear reactor case. 
Most of the information in the book is available in open sources or declassified from interviews with different IDF officers, particularly from Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin who used to be the chief of Aman  (military intelligence) and one of the 8 fighter pilots who participated in the  bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. (First row, left, in the famous photo of the 8 pilots in the Rodger W. Claire's Raid on the Sun).  Skillfully put together the book is very readable, informative and a page turner. I read it in two days.
However, the one aspect which is important but remains unclear is the magnitude of the Iranian threat.  The crux of the issue is - can Iran be deterred?
The book mentions Prof. Rene Beres and his involvement in Project Daniel:
"After two years of meetings, mostly in conference rooms in New York and Washington, the team had completed its report and submitted it o Prime Minister Sharon in 2003. A grand strategy on how Israel should defend itself and prevent its enemies from obtaining nuclear weapons, the report's basic conclusion was that a policy of mutual assured destruction , which had prevailed between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War, would never work between Israel and Iran."
and  …
"Professor Rene Beres, and expert on nuclear policy who chaired Project Daniel ( see  chapter 7) says Israel would likely need to alter its policy of ambiguity in the event that Iran obtains a nuclear weapon.  Beres stresses that Israel would not necessarily need to open its nuclear facilities to inspectors from the International  Atomic Energy Agency, but it could succeed in bolstering its deterrence by revealing more about the weapons  it possesses.  "Israel does not need to start disclosing secrets ,"  he said . "it could be enough to lift the ambiguity by indicating the availability and capability of the weapon" 
The question that immediately comes to mind is  - what deterrence?  If Iran cannot be deterred and  MAD does not work ( conclusion of Project Daniel), it becomes irrelevant whether a policy of nuclear ambiguity or a policy of nuclear transparency is pursued. 
The opinion that Iran cannot be deterred is being  voiced by the leading scholars of Islam Prof. Bernard Lewis of Princeton University and Prof. Raphael Israeli of Hebrew University.   Bernard Lewis in his just published book  Notes on a Century  - Reflections of a Middle East Historian, page 333,  in an email to President Bush's  National Security Adviser  Stephen Hadley, writes :
              " Particular importance should be attached to the policies, and perhaps still more the attitudes, of the present rulers of Iran, who seem to be preparing for a final apocalyptic battle between the forces of God [themselves] and of the Devil [ the Great Satan--the United States].  They see this as the final struggle of the End of Time and are therefore undeterred by any level of slaughter and destruction even among their own people . "Allah will know his own" is the phase commonly used, meaning that among the multiple victims God will recognize the Muslims and give them a quick pass to heaven.

                In this context, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, namely M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) , would have no meaning.  At the End of Time, there will be general destruction  anyway.  What will matter is the final destination of the dead-- hell for the infidels, and the delights of heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement...

Prof.  Raphael Israeli in his article in the Jerusalem Post  MAD deterrence is being foiled by mad leaders, wrote:
"This brings us back to our original discussion of nuclear weaponry and the resulting MAD formula that prevented nuclear annihilation during the Cold War: So long as the possibility to hasten the return of the Imam exists, someone as clinically mad as Ahmadinejad may very well decide to use his nuclear program to this end - regardless of the costs or the global consequences. After all, in the post-apocalyptic world, only the omnipotent Imam will have the power to redress the errors made by human leaders."
I believe that opinions of these scholars should have been taken into account in the analysis of the options Israel has in facing Iran.