Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Off topic: EU Offers False Hope for Ukraine

It’s in Europe, and it’s huge – after Russia and the top five EU members, it has Europe’s largest population, and twice as many inhabitants as all the Scandiavian countries put together – but Ukraine isn’t a nation we often think of in the West, except when, as in recent days, it’s in the midst of a crisis. It has spent most of its history being conquered and brutalized by its more powerful neighbors, and in the last century underwent one savage chapter after another: 1.5 million people died in the civil war that ended with its absorption into the USSR; millions more died in Stalin’s deliberately engineered famine in 1932-33; during World War II, Hitler slaughtered an additional three million in what was intended to be the first stage of a program of exterminating two-thirds of the country’s population and enslaving the rest.
Today, unsurprisingly, Ukraine is a basket case of a country, riddled with corruption and living in the shadows of its historic horrors. It’s also a linguistically and philosophically divided land, torn between a western chunk whose people speak Ukrainian and identify with Europe and an eastern chunk whose people speak Russian and still feel an attachment to their massive neighbor to the east.
Viktor Yahukovych, the corrupt, autocratic president who disappeared last weekend in the face of mounting public unrest, is a Russiophile whose fatal error was his decision to strengthen bonds with Moscow (which coveted Ukraine as a key ally in a new Eurasian Union) and to turn down a free-trade agreement with the EU; most of the rioters who sent him packing are Europe-oriented types, the majority of whom are eager to see Ukraine become a Western-style democracy free of Putin’s influence, but some of whom, it should be noted, are neo-Nazis who look westward to Germany for the least attractive of reasons.
Most of the Ukrainians who favor European ties also want to see their country join the EU – which, in their eyes, as one Swedish newspaper put it the other day, is “above all…a symbol of a society free of corruption.” Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was sprung from prison on Saturday after Yahukovych took it on the lam – and whose own years in office (ending in 2010) were far from corruption-free – told the Kiev crowds shortly after her release that she’s “sure that Ukraine will be a member of the European Union in the near future and this will change everything.”
Change everything! What is it that makes presumably liberty-loving Eastern European politicians talk about the EU as if it were a magic freedom elixir, a miracle cure for former victims of tyranny?
I suppose part of the explanation is that these politicians travel to the great cities of Western Europe and take in the relative freedom, the relative prosperity, and the relative lack of corruption and thuggery, and assume that all this has something to do with the EU. And part of it, naturally, is the ceaseless stream of pro-EU propaganda poured out by the Western European media and, not least, by the Western European politicians whom the likes of Tymoshenko consort with when they visit the West. Yet how odd that the superstate’s economic woes haven’t put a dent in the magic for people like Tymoshenko. How odd that even the merest glimpse of the way things work in Brussels – where corruption is, needless to say, very much alive and well, even though it doubtless falls far short of Ukrainian levels – doesn’t give them pause. And how odd that when they witness the arrogance that’s characteristic of virtually all Brussels bigwigs – their habit of responding to any reasonable criticism of the EU not with cogent arguments but with vicious ad hominem attacks  they don’t immediately recognize that they’re observing tyrants in the making, the sort of folks that you’d think they’d had more than enough of over the centuries, thank you very much.
Take European Council president Herman van Rompuy, that colorless, Politburo-style mediocrity, who in a 2011 speech blithely ignored the essentially undemocratic nature of the EU, describing it – outrageously – as “the fatherland, or the motherland of democracy.” Or take European Commission president José Manuel Durrão Barroso, who started his political career as a Maoist, and who in 2012 argued that the EU’s democracy deficit isn’t a bug but a feature:
“Governments are not always right. If governments were always right we would not have the situation that we have today. Decisions taken by the most democratic institutions in the world are very often wrong.”
Or take halfwit EU Foreign Affairs honcho Catherine Ashton, whose 2011Guardian article lecturing Hosni Mubarak on the need for democracy in Egypt was widely (and rightly) ridiculed as the work of someone who, as Brendan O’Neill neatly put it in the Telegraph,
“has never once bothered the ballot box, never once ventured into the rowdy arena of public opinion to win the masses’ backing, and who was elevated to her current position as the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs through backroom wheeling and dealing.”
Noting Ashton’s enthusiasm, in her Guardian piece, for what she called “deep democracy,” O’Neill explained that “she doesn’t mean deep as in profound – she means bureaucracy, the grey and unaccountable sphere that she haunts, the removed realm of experts and unelected high representatives” – a phenomenon Ashton contrasted (favorably, of course) with mere “surface democracy,” the undesirable, old-fashioned sort of system in which elected officials actually seek (horrors!) to honor their constituents’ wishes.
Even a cursory look at the careers and pronouncements of these unelected demigods, these self-regarding technocratic hacks, is to recognize them as people who itch to rule an empire and who are, quite simply, outraged at anyone who dares to stand in their way for a moment. Given the transparency of their lust for monolithic power – a power, moreover, utterly liberated from any notion whatsoever of responsibility to an electorate – it’s baffling that so many observers can actually take the EU seriously as a formula for European peace rather than for European autocracy.
What Europe has in Barroso, Ashton, & co., after all, is a pack of men and women who have done their level best to impoverish real political debate, to blunt its impact, and to make it seem obsolescent, counterproductive, and in every way undesirable. Former Czech president and staunch EU critic Václav Klaus asked in his 2011 book Europe: The Shattering of Illusions:
“Do we have real politics in Europe today – the political conflict of opinions – or have real politics been in fact eliminated by reducing the weight and importance of the nation states and by the self-confessed apolitical ways of Brussels?”
Which is another way of saying that Brussels isn’t a city of politicians who have different political philosophies and who come together to debate ideas and hammer out compromises; it’s a city of technocrats who share an ideology and who work together as a team to translate that ideology into policy – never mind what the rabble think. (Or, as Klaus put it even more bluntly: “the European Union is no longer the symbol of democracy it pretends to be.”)
Klaus has coined the term “Europeism.” It’s a useful word, because it places the unreflecting, reality-defying enthusiasm for Europe in the category it belongs to, along with other, earlier European isms. Among much else, Europeism views the free market as uncivilized and anarchic, places collective rights above individual rights, and strives, as Klaus excellently puts it, “for a homogenized, ‘decaffeinated’ world (with no flavour, aroma, and smell).” Europeists, he writes,
“do not believe in spontaneous, unregulated and uncontrolled human activity. They trust the chosen ones (not the elected ones), they trust themselves or those who are chosen by themselves. They believe in a vertically structured and hierarchized human society (in the Huxleyian Alpha-Pluses and in Epsilons serving them). They want to mastermind, plan, regulate, administer the others, because some (they themselves) do know and others do not. They do not want to rely on spontaneity of human behavior and on the outcomes resulting from this spontaneity because they think that rationalistic human design is always better than an unplanned result of interactions between free citizens, constructed and commanded by nobody. Even though we thought that after the collapse of communism all this was a matter of the past, it is not so. It is around us again. Europeism is a new utopism and, I add, it is an extremely naive and romantic utopism.”
Above all, writes Klaus, Europeism “is based on the idea that states, more precisely the nation states, represent the Evil – because they were once the cause of wars among other things – while the supranational, continental and global entities represent the Good, because they – according to eurocrats – eliminate all forms of nationalist bickering once and for all.” This understanding of things, he adds, “is obviously childish, yet it is generally accepted in Europe.” Yes, it’s accepted because millions of today’s Europeans have been brainwashed into thinking that national feeling – patriotism – was the root of all of the worst things that happened to the continent in the twentieth century. No,ideology was the root – ideology in the form of Nazism, fascism, and Communism. And Europeism – which, by the way, has multiculturalism and fanatical environmentalism built into it – is the twenty-first-century heir of those wretched systems of thought.
Which brings us back to the latest developments in Ukraine. Tymushenko’s speech on Saturday night was followed on Sunday by the news that the EU – notwithstanding its own massive financial difficulties – is now ready to hand over bushels of cash to the newly Europe-friendly government in Kiev. To be sure, some EU nations, cognizant of the expenses such a move would impose on them, are hesitant to welcome Ukraine into the EU fold too quickly; but the powers that be in Brussels are plainly drooling over the prospect of landing this big fish – if not as an immediate new member, then as an obedient client state and keen member-in-waiting. Olli Rehn, the EU’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, appeared to be summing up the sentiments in the Brussels corridors of power when he said the following on Sunday: “From a European point of view it is important that we provide a clear European perspective for the Ukrainian people who have shown their commitment to European values.” The word European three times in one sentence – that’s EU rhetoric at its most Europeist! But the fundamental point is this: as Reuters helpfully explained, “’European perspective’ is EU-speak for a membership prospect.”
So there we are. Note to Ukrainians: accepting the EU’s money is one thing. Go for it. But why this longing, on the part of Tymoshenko or anyone else in your country, to board the Superstate Express? Set aside, if you wish, the economic downside of the whole project, the looming disaster that is the eurozone, and just ask yourselves this: after spending most of your history taking orders from far-off imperial capitals, most of the twentieth century living under the nightmare of Communism, and most of the greater part of the generation that followed under the gravitational pull of post-Soviet Kremlin despotism, why be so desperate to subordinate yourselves to yet another set of haughty, high-handed foreign rulers? Why slip away from being under one thumb only to voluntarily place yourself under another?
Ukraine, here’s one simple piece of unsolicited advice: vote for sovereignty. Vote for freedom. Take the money and run.
Stay out of the EU.

I could not resist posting this excellent article by Bruce Bower

For those interested in Stalin’s deliberately engineered famine in Ukraine in 1932-33 they should read Vasily Grossman's  Everything Flows

Vasily Grossman

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dry Bones: US Policy Makers

I realize that I have at least one Dry Bones cartoon per month in my blog.   He so well captures the essentials of the bizarre policies of the Obama administration that I have no choice but to include his cartoons.  The question is what can be done to make Americans more aware of the danger ahead?  I can keep quoting Bernard Lewis, Winston Churchill and George F. Kennan    --  alas, Americans live in a bubble and don't care.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Can Israel and a Nuclear Iran Coexist?

by  Prof. Louis René Beres
Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 10:29 PM
Two scorpions in a bottle?

I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. (Bhagavad-Gita)

On July 16, 1945, upon witnessing the first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert, American physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoted somberly from the Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred book of the Hindus. "I am become death," recited the head of the Manhattan Project, "the destroyer of worlds."

At that time, quite understandably, Oppenheimer must have felt that the sheer magnitude of destruction afforded by splitting the atom would make any derivative weaponry inherently dangerous and destabilizing. Yet, subsequent history may actually have suggested otherwise, and there is now ample reason to believe that the post-War condition of superpower nuclear duopoly, or as more commonly known, nuclear bipolarity, effectively prevented a third world war. If true, this would mean, at least in principle, that two nuclear powers could conceivably live alongside each other like "two scorpions in a bottle." This discomfiting image had been Oppenheimer's own preferred metaphor to describe and understand U.S.-Soviet coexistence

But what if there were more than two "scorpions," a situation that plainly already exists?  And what if there were substantial asymmetries between the "scorpions," including assorted basic differences on the matter of "rationality?" In international relations theory, of course, rationality always means an identifiable hierarchy of preferences in which national survival is valued above all else. More technically, a rational state is one whose decision-makers always value such survival more highly than any other single preference, or combination of preferences.

What, we may ask, might Oppenheimer have predicted about a steadily nuclearizing Iran, a state which, in the past, has expressed openly annihilatory sentiments toward Israel? Would he have suggested that Israel do everything possible to somehow "live with" a nuclear Iran? Or would he have even been able to imagine any such scenario, at a time, in the late 1940s and 1950s, where foreseeable nuclear deterrence could only seem possible between two overwhelmingly dominant superpowers?

From a purely historical perspective, these questions are intriguing, but, at least in policy terms, they are essentially beside the point. For now, what really needs to be understood are the specifically expected dynamics of nuclear deterrence between an already-nuclear Israel, and a soon to be nuclear Iran. Would these two adversarial states, when both are more-or-less nuclear, be able to replicate the impressive strategic stability of the earlier Cold War?

This question still needs to be asked after the November 23, 2013 Geneva Interim Agreement between the P5+1 states, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Inevitably, whatever the intentions of U.S. President Barack Obama, and Secretary of State John Kerry, this agreement will fail to prevent Iran from "going nuclear."
Shortly, Israel will need to ask this critical question, and then make some very difficult eleventh-hour decisions. Either preempt against Iran's pertinent nuclear assets and infrastructures, thereby incurring (with high probability) more-or-less substantial (non-nuclear) military reprisals, or decide against such preemption, in favor of long-term nuclear deterrence. Israel's final decision in this matter will depend upon its antecedent answers to certain core psychological questions.

Is the Iranian adversary expectedly rational,? they will need to inquire in Jerusalem, valuing its national survival more highly than any other preference, or combination of preferences?

It is also possible, Israeli analysts will take note, that authoritative Iranian decision-makers could expectedly be neither rational nor irrational, but mad. In such unlikely, but especially daunting circumstances, deterrence would no longer serve any conceivable Israeli strategic purpose. At that point, Jerusalem's only effectively remaining policy choice would be: (1) to hope desperately for clerical regime change in Tehran (not just a change in secular authority), but otherwise passively await Israel's destruction, or (2) to strike first itself, preemptively, whatever the global outcry, and irrespective of the anticipated military consequences.

These are not frivolous or contrived descriptions of presumed Iranian leadership orientations. The resultant wisdom of any considered Israeli preemption will ultimately depend upon choosing correctly, and on reliably anticipating Iranian judgments over an extended period of time. For genuine safety, Israel must prepare to make decisions that are subtle, nuanced, and of protracted utility.

More than likely, Iran is not a mad or "crazy" state. Although, it is true, at least doctrinally, that Iran's political and clerical leaders could sometime decide to welcome the Shiite apocalypse, and even its associated destructions, these enemy decision-makers might still remain subject to certain different sorts of deterrent threats. Faced with such extraordinary circumstances, conditions wherein an already-nuclear Iran could not be effectively prevented from striking first by threatening the "usual" harms of retaliatory destruction, Israel would need to identify, in advance, less-orthodox, but still promising, forms of reprisal.

Such eccentric kinds of reprisal would inevitably center upon those preeminent religious preferences, and institutions that remain most indisputably sacred to Shiite Iran.

For Israel, facing a rational adversary would undoubtedly be best. A presumably rational leadership in Tehran would make it significantly easier for Jerusalem to reasonably forego the preemption option. In these more predictable circumstances, Iran could still be more-or-less reliably deterred by some or all of the standard military threats available to states, credible warnings that are conspicuously linked to "assured destruction."

But it is not for Israel to choose the preferred degree of enemy rationality. Moreover, there are other pertinent considerations here, factors that could portend grave hazards even from an altogether rational Iranian nuclear adversary. These noteworthy factors would bear upon certain issues of Iranian nuclear command and control; issues of stability of Iranian strategic decision-making, during periods of crisis, or mounting tensions; and issues of Iranian leadership capacity to decipher a rapidly changing and presumably more threatening strategic environment. This last issue would involve Tehran's incremental assessments of expectedly ramped up U.S. and/or Israeli responses to an unhindered Iranian nuclearization.

Unless there is an eleventh-hour defensive first strike by Israel, a now- improbable attack that would most likely follow an authoritative determination of actual or prospective Iranian "madness," a new nuclear adversary in the region will make its appearance. For Israel, this perilous development would then mandate a prudent and well thought out plan forcoexistence. Then, in other words, Israel would have to learn exactly how to "live with" a nuclear Iran.

There would be no reasonable alternative.

It would be a complex and problematic education. Forging such a requisite policy of nuclear deterrence would require, among other things,(1) reduced ambiguity about particular elements of Israel's strategic forces; (2) enhanced and partially disclosed nuclear targeting options; (3) substantial and partially revealed programs for improved active defenses; (4) certain recognizable steps to ensure the perceived survivability of its nuclear retaliatory forces, including more or less explicit references to Israeli sea-basing of such forces; (5) further expansion of preparations for both cyber-defense and cyber-war; and, in order to bring together all of these complex and intersecting enhancements in a coherent mission plan, (6) a comprehensive strategic doctrine.

Additionally, because of the residual but serious prospect of Iranian irrationality, not madness, Israel's military planners will have to identify suitable ways of ensuring that even a nuclear "suicide state" could be deterred. Such a uniquely perilous threat could actually be very small, but, if considered together with Iran's Shiite eschatology, it might still not be negligible.

Steadily, Israel is strengthening its plans for ballistic missile defense, most visibly on the Arrow system, and also on Iron Dome, a lower-altitude interceptor that is designed to guard against shorter-range rocket attacks from Lebanon and Gaza. Iron Dome, of course, was used with considerable success in Operation Pillar of Defense. Unavoidably, however, these defensive systems, including certain others which are still in the development phase, would have leakage.

Because system penetration by even a single enemy missile carrying a nuclear warhead could be intolerable, by definition, their principal interception benefit could not reasonably lie in added physical protection for Israeli populations. Instead, any still-considerable benefit would have to lie elsewhere, that is, in potentially critical enhancements of Israeli nuclear deterrence.

If still rational, a newly-nuclear Iran would require incrementally increasing numbers of offensive missiles. This would be needed to achieve or to maintain a sufficiently destructive first-strike capability against Israel. There could come a time, however, when Iran would become able to deploy substantially more than a small number of nuclear-tipped missiles. Should that happen, all of Israel's active defenses, already inadequate as ultimate guarantors of physical protection, could cease functioning as critically supportive adjuncts to Israeli nuclear deterrence.

In the improbable case of anticipated Iranian decisional "madness," a still timely preemption against Iran, even if at very great cost and risk to Israel, could prove necessary. Yet, at least in itself, this plainly destabilizing scenario is insufficiently plausible to warrant defensive first-strikes. Israel would be better served by a bifurcated or two-pronged plan for successful deterrence. Here, one "prong" would be designed for an expectedly rational Iranian adversary; the other, for a presumptively irrational one.

We already know what Israel would need to do in order to maintain a stable deterrence posture vis-à-vis a newly-nuclear Iran.  But what if the leaders of such an adversary did not meet the characteristic expectations of rational behavior in world politics? In short, what if this leadership, from the very start, or perhaps more slowly, over time, chose not to consistently value Iran's national survival as a state more highly than any other preference, or combination of preferences?

In such acutely threatening circumstances, Israel's leaders would need to look closely at two eccentric and more-or-less untried nuclear deterrence strategies, possibly even in tandem with one another. First, these leaders would have to understand that even an irrational Iranian leadership could display distinct preferences, and associated hierarchies or rank-orderings of preferences. Their task, then, would be to determine precisely what these particular preferences might be (most likely, they would have to do with certain presumed religious goals), and, also, how these preferences are apt to be ranked in Tehran.

Second, among other things, Israel's leaders would have to determine the likely deterrence benefits of pretended irrationality. An irrational Iranian enemy, if it felt that Israel's decision-makers were irrational themselves, could be determinedly less likely to strike first. Years ago, General Moshe Dayan, then Israel's Minister of Defense, urged: "Israel must be seen as a mad dog; too dangerous to bother."With this possibly prophetic warning, Dayan had revealed an intuitive awareness of the possible long-term benefits, to Israel, of feigned irrationality.

Of course, pretending irrationality could also be a double-edged sword, frightening the Iranian side to a point where it might actually feel more compelled to strike first itself. This risk of unwittingly encouraging enemy aggression could apply as well to an Iranian adversary that had been deemed rational. In this connection, it is worth noting, Israel could apply the tactic of pretended irrationality to a presumptively rational Iranian leadership, as well as to an expectedly irrational one.

On analytic balance, it may even be more purposeful for Israel to use this tactic in those cases where Iran had first been judged to be rational.

There is, however, a relevant prior point. Before Israel's leaders could proceed gainfully with any plans for deterring an irrational Iranian nuclear adversary, they would first need to be convinced that this adversary was, in fact, genuinely irrational, and not simply pretending irrationality.

The importance of an early sequencing for this vital judgment cannot be overstated. Because all specific Israeli deterrence policies must be founded upon the presumed rationality or irrationality of prospective nuclear enemies, accurately determining precise enemy preferences and preference-orderings will have to become the very first core phase of Iran-centered strategic planning in Tel-Aviv.

Finally, as a newly-nuclear Iran could sometime decide to share some of its fissile materials and technologies with assorted terrorist groups, Israel's leaders will also have to deal with the prospect of irrational nuclear enemies at the sub-state level. This perilous prospect is more likely than that of encountering irrationality at the national or state level.

Soon, if it has already decided against preemption, Israel will need to select appropriately refined and workable options for dealing with two separate, but interpenetrating, levels of danger. Should Iranian leaders be judged to meet the usual tests of rationality in world politics, Israel will then have to focus upon reducing its longstanding nuclear ambiguity, or, on taking its bomb out of the "basement."  It will also need to operationalize an adequate retaliatory force that is recognizably hardened, multiplied, and dispersed.

Recognizability is critical, because the only reality that will be real in its deterrence consequences is perceived reality. In the language of philosophy, we would call this a "phenomenological," as opposed to a "behavioral" or "positivist," perspective.

 This visibly second-strike nuclear force should be made ready to inflict "assured destruction" against certain precisely-identifiable enemy cities. In military parlance, therefore, Israel will need to convince Iran that its strategic targeting doctrine is plainly "counter value," not "counterforce." It may also have to communicate to Iran certain partial and very general information about the sea-basing of selected Israeli second-strike forces.

Ironically, an Iranian perception of Israeli nuclear weapons as uniformly too large, or too powerful, could weaken Israel's nuclear deterrence posture. For example, Iranian perceptions of exclusively mega-destructive Israeli nuclear weapons could effectively undermine the credibility of Israel's nuclear deterrent. Although counter-intuitive, Israel's credibility in certain confrontational circumstances could vary inversely with the perceived destructiveness of its nuclear arms

Sometimes, in complex military calculations, truth is counter-intuitive.

In essence, the persuasiveness of Israel's nuclear deterrent vis-à-vis Iran will require prospective enemy perceptions of retaliatory destructiveness at both the low and high ends of the nuclear yield spectrum. Ending nuclear ambiguity at the optimal time could best allow Israel to foster precisely such needed perceptions. This point is very important.

Whether Israel's leaders conclude that they will have to deter a rational or an irrational enemy leadership in Tehran, a leadership now in control of at least some nuclear weapons, they will have to consider Moshe Dayan's injunction. What would be the expected strategic benefits to Israel of appearing to their Iranian foes as a "mad dog?" And what would be the expected costs?

Together with any such consideration, Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, both civilian leadership and military, will need to determine: (1) what, exactly, is valued most highly by Israel's Iranian enemies; (2) how, exactly, should Israel then leverage fully credible threats against these core enemy preferences.

Under international law, war and genocide need not be mutually exclusive. In the best of all possible worlds, Israel might still be able to stop a nuclear Iran with cost-effective and lawful preemptions; that is, with defensive first strikes that are directed against an openly-belligerent and verifiably lawless Iran. Fully permissible, as long as they were judged to conform to the Law of Armed Conflict (humanitarian international law), such discriminating and proportionate strikes, observably limited by rules of "military necessity," could still represent authentically life-saving expressions of anticipatory self-defense.

But this is not yet the best of all possible worlds, and, soon, Israel's Prime Minister will almost certainly have to deal with a nuclear Iran as a fait accompli. With this in mind, all early critical estimations of Iranian rationality will need to be correlated with appropriate Israeli strategies of defense and deterrence. Even in a "worst case" scenario, one in which Israeli military intelligence (Aman) would determine a compelling risk of enemy irrationality, a thoughtful dissuasion plan to protect against Iranian nuclear weapons could still be fashioned.

This binary plan would seek to deter any Iranian resort to nuclear weapons, and, simultaneously, to intercept any incoming weapons that might still be fired if deterrence should fail. While the warning is now often repeated again and again that Shiite eschatology in Iran could welcome a cleansing or apocalyptic war with "infidel" foes, such a purely abstract doctrine of End Times is ultimately apt to yield to more pragmatic calculations. In the end, high-sounding religious doctrines of "Final Battle" that were initially trumpeted in Tehran, will likely be trumped by vastly more narrowly mundane judgments of  both personal and geo-strategic advantage.

 The primary goal of Israel's nuclear forces, whether still in the "basement," or partially disclosed, must always be deterrence ex ante, not preemption or reprisal ex post. If, however, nuclear weapons should be introduced into a conflict between Israel and Iran, some form of nuclear war fighting could ensue. This would be the case as long as: (a) Iranian first-strikes against Israel would not destroy that country's second-strike nuclear capability; (b) Iranian retaliations for an Israeli conventional preemption would not destroy Israel's nuclear counter-retaliatory capability; (c) Israeli preemptive strikes involving nuclear weapons would not destroy Iranian second-strike nuclear capabilities; and (d) Israeli retaliations for Iranian conventional and/or chemical/biological first strikes would not destroy Iran's nuclear counter-retaliatory capabilities.

From the critical standpoint of protecting its security and survival, this means that Israel should now take proper steps to ensure the likelihood of (a) and (b) above, and the corresponding unlikelihood of (c) and (d). It will always be in Israel's interests to avoid nuclear war fighting wherever possible.

An Israeli nuclear preemption against Iran is highly improbable, and effectively inconceivable. In principle, however, there are still certain residual circumstances in which such a strike could still be perfectly rational. These are circumstances wherein (1) Iran had already acquired and deployed nuclear weapons presumed capable of destroying Israel; (2) Iran had been open and forthright about its genocidal intentions toward Israel; (3) Iran was reliably believed ready to begin an actual countdown-to-launch; and (4) Israel believed that non-nuclear preemptions could not possibly achieve levels of damage-limitation consistent with its own physical survival.

Before such an argument on the logical possibility of preemption could be rejected, one would necessarily have to assume that ensuring national self-preservation was somehow not Israel's highest priority. Such an assumption, of course, would be incorrect on its face.

What's next for Israel in the recognizably existential matter of a steadily nuclearizing Iran? The answer will necessarily be contingent upon Jerusalem's antecedent judgments concerning Iranian decision-making on core strategic matters. Whether Israel should choose a last-minute preemption, or opt instead for a policy of long-term nuclear deterrence and corollary active defense, will depend upon what Prime Minister Netanyahu and his senior advisors may expect from enemy leaders in Tehran - rationality; irrationality; or madness.
The Israeli side will also need to look very closely at Tehran's expected reliability of nuclear command and control (judgments of such unreliability could heighten any Israeli incentives to preempt), but it is unlikely that such a look would prove equally determinative.

Today, more than sixty-eight years after the Manhattan Project, Israeli decision-makers should be reminded of Oppenheimer's second relevant metaphor, the perplexing image of nuclear adversaries as "two scorpions in a bottle."  Unless Israel can still find a way to somehow remain as the only genuine nuclear power in the Middle East, it will have to determine, as an unavoidably residual strategy, just how to coexist with an expectedly hostile "scorpion." 

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue 
University.  Chair of Project Daniel  (Israel, 2003), he is the author of many major books and articles on nuclear strategy and nuclear war, including publications in International Security (Harvard);World Politics (Princeton); The Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Nativ (Israel); The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs (Israel); Parameters: The Professional Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare (DoD); Studies in Conflict and Terrorism; Strategic Review; International Journal; International Relations; Jerusalem Journal of International Relations; Contemporary Security Policy; Armed Forces and Society; Virginia Journal of International Law; Israel Affairs; Comparative Strategy; The American Journal of Jurisprudence; The Hudson Review; The Brown Journal of World Affairs; Policy Sciences; The Policy Studies Journal; Cambridge Review of International Affairs(UK); The Stanford Journal of International Studies; Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law; The American Political Science Review; Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law; and The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. Professor Beres’ monographs on nuclear strategy and nuclear war have been published by The Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel); The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies (University of Notre Dame); The Graduate Institute of International Studies (Geneva); The Monograph Series on World Affairs (University of Denver); and the Herzliya Conference Working Paper Series (Israel).His columns have appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times; The Washington Times; The Washington Post; The Christian Science Monitor; Neue Zurcher Zeitung(Switzerland); Boston Globe; Chicago Tribune; Los Angeles Times; Ha’aretz(Israel); The Jerusalem Post (Israel); Israel National News (Israel); The Atlantic; and U.S. News and World Report. He has lectured, in Israel, at the National Defense College (IDF); The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies; The BESA Center for Strategic Studies; and the Dayan Forum.
Dr. Louis René Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945.


This article needs a few readings, but basically my objections are:

Israel's military planners will have to identify suitable ways of ensuring that even a nuclear "suicide state" could be deterred. 

This looks like an oxymoron 

This binary plan would seek to deter any Iranian resort to nuclear weapons, and, simultaneously, to intercept any incoming weapons that might still be fired if deterrence should fail. While the warning is now often repeated again and again that Shiite eschatology in Iran could welcome a cleansing or apocalyptic war with "infidel" foes, such a purely abstract doctrine of End Times is ultimately apt to yield to more pragmatic calculations. In the end, high-sounding religious doctrines of "Final Battle" that were initially trumpeted in Tehran, will likely be trumped by vastly more narrowly mundane judgments of  both personal and geo-strategic advantage. 

In essence ,  Louis René Beres   does not believe that Iranian Twelvers are committed to their faith  to actually  do what they believe in.  He does not believe what  Bernard Lewis says:

" For most of the Iranian leadership MAD would work as a deterrent, but for Ahmadinejad and his group with their apocalyptic mindset mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, it's an inducement "  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Singapore Airshow: Rafael launches Iron Beam

An artist's impression of the Iron Beam's twin HEL units engaging an inbound projectile. Source: Rafael

Gareth Jennings, Singapore - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

10 February 2014

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has unveiled its Iron Beam high-energy laser (HEL) system designed to defeat rockets, mortars, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at short ranges.

The land-based system, which was unveiled at the Singapore Airshow on 11 February, uses a pair of multi-kilowatt solid-state lasers to defeat incoming projectiles out to a range of about 2 km, a company official told IHS Jane's .

The mobile Iron Beam battery is comprised of an air defence radar, a command and control (C2) unit, and two HEL systems, Senderovits Ezra, deputy general manager of marketing and business development at Rafael, explained. The company-supplied imagery of the truck-mounted battery shows these various components housed in ISO shipping containers, although the actual configuration of the Iron Beam would depend on the customer's requirements.

"It is currently a truck-mounted system that is being used as a testbed, but it could just as easily be fitted to an armoured vehicle or some other configuration", Ezra said.

Once the Iron Beam's air defence radar (any radar will suffice, Ezra noted) acquires an incoming projectile, a thermal camera takes over the tracking until it is engaged simultaneously by two HELs. The system uses two lasers to provide the power needed to overcome atmospheric interference and physically destroy the target, which it does by focusing the beams on an area "about the size of a coin", Ezra said.

Ezra declined to give specific power levels for the HELs, except to say that they are currently working with "tens of kilowatts", but expects to move into the "hundreds of kilowatts" in the future. Rafael does not produce the lasers itself, but sources them from several unnamed suppliers.

As Ezra noted, Iron Beam is still a development programme and is not yet a finished product. "We are currently focused on understanding the technology, and we are at the beginning of a very long road," he said, adding: "We are waiting for more powerful lasers, but the investment from the [Israeli] government right now is limited."

While Ezra would not be specific, he did say that tests conducted to date have met with "a very good" success rate. He noted that about 100 firings have so far taken place.

According to Ezra, the HEL-based Iron Beam has a number of advantages over the more conventional missile-based systems. "Missile defence systems are hugely expensive," he said. "But with Iron Beam each shot costs almost nothing, and there are no real limits on the number of shots you can take." He also noted that, unlike missile-based systems, the Iron Beam cannot miss its target and cause collateral damage.

As the system is still in development, it has not yet been determined how it might fit into Israel's multi-tiered missile defence system that includes Iron Dome, David's Sling, and Arrow 3. Ezra noted that this is a decision for the government take at the appropriate time, but he added that it might be deployed as a stand-alone system to protect particular high-value assets.

With Iron Beam being a defensive system, Ezra said he expects it to be offered for export and he noted that Rafael has received interest from a number of potential customers. "There is definitely a market [for Iron Beam], and that market is growing. The number of threats is growing, and not everything can be dealt with by missiles."

Monday, February 10, 2014

Secretary ScarJo

Actress Scarlett Johansson in SodaStream's 2014 Super Bowl ad

What the actress could teach John Kerry about courage and clarity.


Last month the Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic blew himself up as he tried to open an old booby-trapped embassy safe. When police arrived on the scene, they discovered a cache of unregistered weapons in violation of international law. Surprise.
Then the real shocker: After prevaricating for a couple of weeks, the Palestinian government apologized to the Czechs and promised, according to news accounts, "to take measures to prevent such incidents in the future."
As far as I know, this is only the second time the Palestinians have officially apologized for anything, ever. The first time, in 1999, Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha, accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary Clinton was there. Palestinian officialdom mumbled its regrets.
In other words, no apology for the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the MunichOlympics. No apology for the 1973 murder of Cleo Noel, the U.S. ambassador to Sudan, and his deputy, George Moore. No apology for the 1974 massacre of 25 Israelis, including 22 schoolchildren, in Ma'alot. No apology for the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, where 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were killed.

And so on and on—straight to the present. In December, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas posthumously bestowed the "Star of Honor" on Abu Jihad, the mastermind of the Coastal Road attack, as "the model of a true fighter and devoted leader." Dalal Mughrabi, the Palestinian woman who led the attack itself, had a square named after her in 2011. In August, Mr. Abbas gave a hero's welcome to Palestinian murderers released from Israeli jails as a goodwill gesture. And Yasser Arafat, who personally ordered the killing of Noel and Moore, is the Palestinian patron saint.

I mention all this as background to two related recent debates. Late last month Scarlett Johansson resigned her role as an Oxfam "Global Ambassador" after the antipoverty group condemned the actress for becoming a pitchwoman for the Israeli company SodaStream.  Oxfam wants to boycott Israeli goods made—as SodaStream's are—inside the West Bank; Ms. Johansson disagrees, citing "a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement.
The second debate followed rambling comments on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from John Kerry at this month's Munich Security Conference. Israel, he warned, faced a parade of horribles if talks failed. "For Israel there's an increasing delegitimization campaign that's been building up," he said. "People are very sensitive to it. There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things."
So here is the secretary of state talking about the effort to boycott Israel not as an affront to the United States and an outrage to decency but as a tide he is powerless to stop and that anyway should get Israel to change its stiff-necked ways. A Secretary of State Johansson would have shown more courage and presence of mind than that.
But Mr. Kerry's failure goes deeper. How is it that Mr. Abbas's glorification of terrorists living and dead earns no rebuke from Mr. Kerry, nor apparently any doubts about the sincerity of Palestinian intentions? Why is it that only Israel faces the prospect of a boycott? When was the last time the U.S., much less the Europeans, threatened to impose penalties on Palestinians for diplomatic or moral misbehavior?
In 2011 the Palestinians defied the U.S. by making a bid for statehood at the U.N.; then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice warned there would be "adverse negative consequences" for the Palestinians. Of course there were none, and the administration fought behind the scenes to make sure there wouldn't be any. Type the words "Kerry condemns Abbas" or "Kerry condemns Palestinians" into a Web search and you'll get that rare Google event: "No results found."
No wonder one Israeli government minister after another has taken to calling the secretary "insufferable," "messianic" and "obsessive"—and that's just what they say in public. The State Department has reacted indignantly to these gibes, but this is coming from the administration that likes to speak of the virtues of candor between friends. Its idea of candor is all one-way and all one-sided.
This is a bad basis for peace. If one expects nothing of Palestinians then they will be forgiven for everything. If one expects everything of Israel then it will be forgiven for nothing, putting the country to a perpetual moral test it will always somehow fail and that can only energize the boycott enthusiasts. It all but goes without saying that the ultimate objective of the BDS movement isn't to "end the occupation" but to end the Jewish state. Anyone who joins that movement, or flirts with it, is furthering the objective, wittingly or not. One useful function of an American diplomat is to warn a group like Oxfam that it is playing with moral fire.
Instead, the job was left to Ms. Johansson. How wonderfully commendable. "One gorgeous actress with courage makes a majority," said Andrew Jackson—or something like that. We could do worse with such a person at State.
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Hypocrisy and hope: How the media fools itself about Iran

Matthias Kuntzel

Last week I attended a discussion with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javed Zarif and witnessed his ability to mesmerise his listeners. The event took place at the German Council of Foreign Affairs in Berlin.
Mr. Zarif succeeded in dazzling his audience – about 250 foreign policy experts — with commonplace sentences such as: “global security is indivisible”, “dialogue is necessary” or “war is not a good option.” He came across as an Iranian Gorbachev, a good-hearted reformer defying the powers of darkness.

Yet a few days earlier he had bowed his head before the grave of a particularly sinister figure — Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh who was not only responsible for the 1983 suicide bombing that killed 241 U.S. soldiers in their barracks building in Beirut, but is also considered the “inventor” of Islamist suicide bombing.

This was not mentioned in Berlin. Zarif presented his country instead as “a status quo power” and an island of moderation within a sea of extremist violence. “We do not support terrorists,” he claimed with a mischievous smile. “We do not fund them.” “We will never start a military operation against anyone.” The audience hung on Zarif’s lips, nobody laughed. The fact, that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards interfere in Iraq and Lebanon and recruit and instruct Shiites from all over the world to conduct military operations in support of Assad was obviously forgotten.
The Berlin audience preferred to believe what Zarif claimed. It willingly surrendered to Zarif’s smile and sonorous bass and rewarded him with applause.
“You have built up today a lot of trust,” stated Paul Freiherr von Maltzahn, the Secretary General of the German Council of Foreign Affairs in his closing words of thanks.
This atmosphere of trust was strengthened not only by the German but also the Israeli media. My first example deals with the Holocaust. Consider this remarkable disclaimer, published by Fars News the other day: “Some Israeli media … have misquoted the Iranian foreign minister as saying that the Holocaust should not happen again’”. Regrettably, the Iranian news service was right.

In an interview with the German TV station Phoenix, Zarif avoided mentioning  the Holocaust, the Shoah or the murder of Jews. He instead referred in general terms to “a horrifying tragedy” “which should never occur again.” Nobody knows if he meant the Holocaust or not. Media in Germany and elsewhere, however, produced headlines such as: “Iran calls Holocaust a horrifying tragedy” – headlines that were more an expression of wishful thinking than a reflection of what the Foreign Minister actually said.
The Phoenix interview was conducted and broadcast in English. Nevertheless, another “misunderstanding” occurred. On February 3, the Times of Israel published an article with the headline “Iran FM: We may recognize Israel after Palestinian deal” and quoted a remark made by Mr. Zarif in the Phoenix interview: “After the problem with the Palestinians is resolved, the conditions that will enable recognition of the State of Israel will be established.” Though ToI deleted this sentence shortly after publication, it spread like wildfire.

The alleged quote was repeated on Feb 4 Algemeiner and Al-monitor. Al-Monitor acknowledged the same day that a “mistranslation” had happened. That did not prevent the New York Times from quoting the sensational news again on Feb 6, combined with the advice of a pundit who considered “Mr. Zarif’s remarks about an Iranian decision regarding relations with Israel” as “a first in itself” and as “unprecedented.”

The catch is that these words were never spoken, as the Phoenix video reveals.
Here are the words of the interview that so many misunderstood:
Phoenix TV: If the Palestinian question can be solved between Israel and the Palestinians, would then Iran be willing to recognize the state of Israel?

Zarif: You see, that is a sovereign decision that Iran will make. But it will have no consequences on the situation on the ground in the Middle East. If the Palestinians are happy with the solution, then nobody, nobody outside Palestine, could prevent that from taking place.

The ToI still summarizes this exchange as follows: “Zarif said recognition would be a sovereign decision that Iran would make.’” The foreign minister, however, did not mention a “recognition of the state of Israel”. On the contrary, he tried to evade the clear-cut question of the interviewer. It thus remained unclear which “sovereign decision” and which “solution” he meant.

The West seems intent on betraying itself. True, everybody yearns for Iran to become a “normal” country; a country that not only changes the style but also the substance of  its policy. While this longing is more than understandable it mustn’t be allowed to deafen our sensory organs and mind. That, however, is what is happening. Invented messages circulate and are uncritically trusted as long as they confirm the spirit of hope. Real stories remain unheeded as long as they might disturb the optimism.
Nobody seems to notice, for example, that Zarif threatens to acquire nuclear weapons again and again. “The only way you can ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful is by allowing it to take place in an acceptable, peaceful international environment”, he insisted back in September 2013. He repeated the message frequently during his visit in Germany, including to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Question: “How do you want to refute the fear that Iran might build the atomic bomb some day?”

Answer: “You should create a situation that makes it logical and beneficial for Iran to remain a part of the system and to not abandon the Nonproliferation Treaty.”
The Iranian threat to acquire nuclear weapons and to leave the Nonproliferation Treaty contradicts the Geneva Agreement of November 24, 2013, which in its opening sentences states that “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.”
Only two groups took this attempted blackmail seriously: the German Stop the Bomb Campaign and the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a longtime Iranian opposition movement. Anyone who wanted to attend the discussion with Zarif at the German Council of Foreign Affairs had to first get past their quite vociferous rally against Zarif and his regime.

Other posts with Matthias Kuntzel's articles:

Matthias Kuntzel - Antisemitism, Messianism and the Cult of Sacrifice:The Iranian Holy War

Surrender in Geneva

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Misleading Cold War Analogy

Don’t count on containing Iran.

FEB 17, 2014, VOL. 19, NO. 22 • BY ELLIOTT ABRAMS

The Israeli debate over Iran’s nuclear program is, perhaps oddly, not yet heated. For now, the action is with the Americans: Israelis watch the negotiations nervously and without confidence, but there is little sense of impending doom—or impending war.
Opinion polls show that Israelis think Iran is building toward a weapon, not toward a “capability,” and they pay attention to Iran’s continuing acts of aggression (in Syria, for example), its support for terrorism, and the constant statements from Iran’s leaders about eliminating Israel from the map.
So why no panic? Perhaps Israel’s experiences with war and terror, facing Arab armies and more recently Hezbollah and Hamas, have immunized it from a panicked response. Perhaps there is faith in the Israel Defense Forces’ ability to stop Iran if the need arises. Or perhaps Israelis expect that in the end America will act to stop Iran from getting a bomb.
But during a recent visit I found another explanation as well—one that is more disturbing. Talking with members of what I’d call the “security establishment,” I found the occasional appearance of wishful thinking built around imagined Cold War analogies. That the Obama administration appears to harbor precisely the same hopes is no cause for comfort.
Here’s the theory: Once upon a time the United States and the Soviet Union almost came to war, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and there were decades of deep and belligerent hostility. But over time, with the growing desire among Russians for economic improvement and the good things of life and the weakening of the Communist ideology among the ruling elites, that hostility eroded. Diplomatic relations were opened between Moscow and Washington, class warfare on a global scale was replaced by “peaceful coexistence,” a hot line was established, summits proliferated, and relations got into a groove of peaceful competition and occasional cooperation. The Soviet Union became a status quo power with which America could do business. So we waited, and watched while their economy rotted and their system became unreformable, the rulers lost faith in it, and finally it fell. Without a shot being fired, as Mrs. Thatcher once said.
So, the theory continues, that’s what we need to seek with Iran. Perhaps we are at an early stage; perhaps the religious elites, at any rate, haven’t lost their fervor. But they’ve lost popular support, lost the youth and the businessmen, and have realized they need a compromise. They are willing to slow down their nuclear program. Now they are led by “moderates” like Hassan Rouhani and Javad Zarif, who recognize the need for change. Time will erode their system just as it did the Soviet system, so is a war really necessary and unavoidable? Sure, if they leap toward a bomb, if they misjudge us, we’ll have to act or you Americans will. But in Cold War terms maybe it isn’t 1962 and the missile crisis and DEFCON 2; maybe it’s the 1970s or 1980s, and maybe there’s only a decade or so to go. So maybe we just wait.
That Israelis should entertain such a theory is natural, considering the price they might pay for an attack on Iran. And while rehearsing this approach they always repeat that if at some point they see Iran jumping for the bomb, they will have to bomb Iran. Still, what is striking is how this theory—whether expounded by Israelis or by Obama administration supporters—misunderstands the Cold War and its lessons.
First, it has to be said that Mrs. Thatcher’s wonderful line about Reagan winning the Cold War “without firing a shot” is false. Throughout the Cold War we fired shots. The greatest number of American casualties came in Korea and Vietnam, but on many other battlegrounds our soldiers and CIA agents, and our proxy forces, killed and died. Containment was not a series of speeches but a military strategy designed to impose costs on the Soviets and to constrain their behavior. Moreover, defeat on those foreign battlefields weakened the USSR and its alliance system—and perhaps more importantly weakened the party’s hold at home. There is no better example of this than the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. For we understood that the way a tyranny keeps power is by tyrannizing, which defeat lessens its ability to do. It shows the populace that the rulers are not invincible, have been beaten, and may be beaten again.
From this perspective, recent American policy toward Iran is demoralizing—both to Iranians seeking freedom and to us. The American refusal to act in Syria, the unwillingness to see that the real war there is with Iran and its allies and proxies, the decision instead to permit Iranian and Hezbollah forces to fight there and keep Assad in power can only have strengthened the Islamic Republic. An Iranian elite that watched the Americans draw a red line in Syria and then back away from it can only view the red line we have drawn on their acquiring nuclear weapons as unconvincing.
In fact, if the history of the Cold War was a series of American hot wars, large and small, direct and indirect, that repeatedly confronted Soviet power, the record with Iran is the opposite. The Iranian regime has been killing Americans since the 1980s, in terrorist attacks in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and through their very active role in Afghanistan and Iraq. For all those killings they have never paid a price, even though the U.S. government knew and spoke publicly about their supplying weapons, IEDs, training, and fighters to attack us. If vigorous American containment moved Moscow toward coexistence and weakened its ideological fervor over time, the lack of such American action should suggest that Iranian elites are far from that condition.
Second, the early Cold War was a time of nuclear proliferation. Stalin wanted the bomb, and so did Mao, and, more strikingly, so did the British and the French. Consider: We were in a tight post-World War II alliance with them in NATO, we were together in governing Germany, there were ironclad American commitments to defend Europe against the Soviets .  .  . yet the British and the French both said, “Thanks, that’s great, but we need the bomb too.” The lesson may be that if Iran gets the bomb, it is inevitable that the Saudis, Turks, and others will smile at possible American offers of defense arrangements and pledges, but see them as no substitute for their own little “force de frappe.”
Third, the comparison of Soviet and Iranian elites is itself misleading, for the Islamic Republic is still led by men motivated by religious faith. It was hard enough for the West to come, finally, to an understanding of communism as a substitute faith; books like The God That Failed taught us the nature of Communist belief. But Communist ideology was a weak reed when compared with belief in one of the great world religions. While Das Kapital was written just three years before Lenin’s birth, the ayatollahs have a real faith, not a substitute one. It is true that they have perverted Shia Islam with the state takeover of religion, and true that the older quietist school still has many adherents, but that does not suggest that the clergy running the regime are beginning to second-guess themselves and are about to produce a Gorbachev.
What produced a change in Soviet behavior was the willingness of the West, led by the United States, to fight the Cold War on the ground—and the willingness to fight it ideologically. Several Israeli officials reminded me that Reagan negotiated with the Russians just as Obama is negotiating with Iran. And the United States and the USSR had diplomatic relations, constant diplomatic contacts, and even regular summit meetings. That’s true but misleading, for while the Americans negotiated they also attacked: under Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan perhaps most forcefully. Reagan, after all, did not allow his desire for negotiations to prevent him from saying the Soviet Union was an “evil empire” that would end up on the “ash heap of history.” 
The United States spent vast sums over the decades on Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and similar efforts to undermine the Soviets, harnessing intellectual candle-power from the days immediately after World War II to the campaign of support for Solidarity in Poland. The missing equivalent today would be a campaign to undermine Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and above all the Islamic Republic itself—not just by sabotaging centrifuges but by sabotaging its belief system, empowering dissident groups, and providing far wider Internet access just as during the Cold War we provided fax machines. The lesson of the Cold War is that any moves toward negotiation and coexistence on the military and diplomatic level must be matched by greater ideological clarity and aggressiveness on our side, or the message will be that we are giving up the struggle. That message will be received both by the regime, which will become more confident and more aggressive, and by the populace, whose hopes for freedom and whose willingness to struggle for it will be diminished.
Such clarity is entirely missing from the Obama administration’s approach to Iran, and has been since the Iranian people rose up in June 2009 and were greeted by American hesitancy and silence. Today we have instead what Ray Takeyh has called “the Rouhani narrative”: the administration’s explanation that Rouhani and his crowd are moderates whom we must strengthen by entering into agreements that lessen sanctions and make compromises on the nuclear file. Build them up, the argument goes, or the Revolutionary Guards and the supreme leader will get tired of them and throw them out.
The lessons of the Cold War teach that this is entirely wrong. First, there’s precious little evidence that people like Rouhani and Zarif are “moderates,” in the sense that they lean our way on human rights issues, Syria, or the nuclear weapons program. During Zarif’s recent visit to Beirut he laid a wreath at the grave of the terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, who was responsible for killing more Americans than any terrorists before 9/11. That’s moderation? Second, we do not strengthen such reformist voices as exist when we appear weak. The best argument such “moderates”—if they exist—could make is that aggressive actions in Syria or support for terror overseas or refusal to compromise on nukes are dangerous for Iran and threaten its security interests. When we act in ways that undermine this argument and suggest that we will do anything to avoid a confrontation, we strengthen the hardest of hardliners. When President Obama reversed himself on Syria, does anyone think Iranian “moderates” were strengthened—or instead the regime elements saying, “Press on, they are weak, they will get out of our way”? The best gifts Reagan gave those Russians who were really reformers were rising American defense budgets, support for rebels confronting Soviet-backed regimes in places like Afghanistan and Nicaragua, and the endless ideological warfare against communism.
The lesson is not that an American or Israeli attack on Iran is inevitable or preferable, only that the way to avoid it is clear thinking, a forceful diplomatic, economic, and ideological stand against the regime at home—and a military pushback against its adventurism abroad. Facing the Obama administration, Iran circa 2014 seems less like the Soviet Union of 1982 under the aging Brezhnev facing Reagan’s defense budgets and his ideological clarity than it does the Soviet Union acting in Angola, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan in 1979 and facing a Jimmy Carter who urged us to get over our inordinate fear of communism.
But after Carter came Reagan, the argument continues; doesn’t that teach us to wait, if necessary for another president and a new foreign policy? If we are confident Iran will not cross the nuclear finish line, perhaps. But 2017 is far away; from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the presidential election of 1980 was only 10 months. If 2017 may be too late, if Iran will reach a nuclear capability far sooner, erroneous lessons from the Cold War offer no comfort. Reagan did not wait out the Soviets, he beat them. We have no such strategy now toward Iran.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Eliot Abrams writes: “Talking with members of what I’d call the “security establishment,” I found the occasional appearance of wishful thinking built around imagined Cold War analogies.

Fortunately for us, neither the PM nor the defense minister have these illusions.


A few years ago Netanyahu held an in-depth discussion with Middle East expert Bernard Lewis. At the end of the talk he was convinced that if the ayatollahs obtained nuclear weapons, they would use them. Since that day, Netanyahu seems convinced that we are living out a rerun of the 1930s.

Netanyahu quoted Bernard Lewis in his speech to the UN General Assembly in 2012: 
“There’s a great scholar of the Middle East, Prof. Bernard Lewis, who put it best. He said that for the Ayatollahs of Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, it’s an inducement 

Iran’s apocalyptic leaders believe that a medieval holy man will reappear in the wake of a devastating Holy War, thereby ensuring that their brand of radical Islam will rule the earth.”

But the Iranians are rational, and the use of nuclear weapons is an irrational act. Like the Soviets, they will never do that.

“A Western individual observing the fantastic ambitions of the Iranian leadership scoffs: ‘What do they think, that they will Islamize us?’ The surprising answer is: Yes, they think they will Islamize us: The ambition of the present regime in Tehran is for the Western world to become Muslim at the end of a lengthy process. Accordingly, we have to understand that their rationality is completely different from our rationality. Their concepts are different and their considerations are different. They are completely unlike the formerSoviet Union. They are not even like Pakistan or North Korea. If Iran enjoys a nuclear umbrella and the feeling of strength of a nuclear power, there is no knowing how it will behave. It will be impossible to accommodate a nuclear Iran and it will be impossible to attain stability. The consequences of a nuclear Iran will be catastrophic.”