According to reports, the United States is about to offer Israel
a nice nuclear umbrella. It is very pretty and colorful. It comes with a vinyl carrying case. The offer was first broached by Hillary Clinton in April 2008 in the Democratic primary campaign.
Well, thanks but no thanks, dear Uncle Sam. We are in an embarrassing position here. It is a bit like a Jew
who gets a greeting card from a well meaning neighbor: "Happy Tisha B'av." (Fast day commemorating the destruction of the temples). Well meant perhaps, but not appropriate.
What can be bad about a nice pretty colored nuclear umbrella, you say? After all, NIE report to the contrary notwithstanding, it becomes more and more obvious each month that Iran is constructing nuclear weapons
- lock stock and implosion mechanisms.
How could a nuclear umbrella be bad?
This umbrella is not exactly going to be a gift. Umbrellas are a bit expensive these days, especially nice new nuclear ones, and Uncle Sam is short of cash, so if America is giving one way, there must be a price tag. The down payment is an Israeli guarantee not to attack Iran in order to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Additional payments will include Israeli amenability to American requests not to annoy Iran too much by, for example, attacking Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is legitimate after all, if America is providing a nuclear umbrella, that it should also have a say in Israeli policy. For example, if Iran demands that Israel must hold democratic elections to determine the future of the state, with the participation of 6 or 8 million Palestinians, the EU and the United States might be especially predisposed to get Israel to accept such generous conditions, as an alternative to nuclear war.
Then there is the matter of getting Iran to believe that the US will really make good on its nuclear umbrella promise. The Mullahs of Iran can read history. They know that in 1956, the United States gave Israel a guarantee that they would enforce Israel's right to free navigation in international waters. At least, that is what Israel understood, and that is what everyone else understood. In 1967, this was put to the test, and the United States found every which way possible to wriggle out of its commitment, resulting in the Six Day War
. That was when there was a real live Israel asking for help. The "help" was low risk - a superpower convoying some ships through the straits of Tiran. Who is going to believe that the United States will start a nuclear war in order to keep a promise that was made to a state of Israel that has been destroyed by Iranian nuclear weapons? It is conceivable that the US would ignore Arab and Muslim pressure and "teach Iran a lesson" if Iran starts a nuclear war against Israel. But even that possibility would diminish greatly when Iran has intercontinental ballistic missiles that can target Europe or satellite launched devices that could hit anywhere in the world.
It is not, in any case, likely that Iran would directly target Israel, because Israel is the home of over a million Muslims, as well as the site of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Too much odium would attach itself to Iran. However, Iranian nuclear technology can and would be used in other ways. For example,what if, by coincidence, the Hezbollah
group were to somehow (we cannot imagine how, can we?) get hold of a bomb put it in a ship in New York harbor and insist that Israel must do X, Y and Z?
A nuclear umbrella can work two ways. Evidently, Ms Clinton also forgot the original meaning and use of the umbrella. The nuclear umbrella was first provided by the Americans for Western Europe. It was not a commitment to respond to nuclear war with nuclear war. Following World War II, the USSR had a huge military encampment in Eastern Europe. Thousands of tanks and dozens of soviet infantry divisions could roll over Europe with nothing to oppose them other than symbolic US forces. To discourage such ambitions, the United States adopted a policy whereby a Soviet attack would be met by an American nuclear strike. Iran can offer a similar nuclear umbrella. What if Hezbollah were to stage an armed takeover of a country, and Iran were to threaten nuclear retaliation against any country that tried to interfere?
A nuclear Iran will pose threats far more complex than those in fact, because it will displace the United States as the first power in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. That is the real threat that American policy must meet. A nuclear umbrella for the entire Middle East
might be a part of that policy, but it would not be sufficient in itself. A nuclear Iran would create a mini-cold war, or worse in the Middle East. It is best for everyone if this nightmare can be avoided entirely.
The nuclear umbrella is something between a useful gesture and a gimmick. If it is offered as a partial solution to the problem of Iran, it is premature, because Iran does not have nuclear weapons yet. If it is offered in place of a serious effort to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, it is an ominous sign that the Obama administration doesn't understand the geopolitical implications of Iranian nuclear weapons. Ami Isseroff
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