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Tag: "nukes"

Does Jesus Love Nukes, or Does He Merely Tolerate Them?

[ 76 ] August 16, 2011 |

As a mild-mannered atheist and a harsh critic of the Air Force, you might expect me to be up in arms regarding the use of Christian just war theory in a USAF PowerPoint presentation to missile jocks.  Really, though… not so much.

If you reject the idea that the United States Air Force should prepare young men and women to fire nukes at China and Russia, then the religious versus secular content of missile training is largely irrelevant.  There are a fair number of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists who hold to the position that preparing to destroy a city full of people, much less actually pushing the button, is wrong in an absolute sense.  This is an entirely reasonable belief, and is completely compatible with a wide variety of interpretation of major religious and non-religious doctrines.  However, people who hold to the belief that firing nuclear weapons is always going to be wrong, regardless of how sensible that belief may be, probably shouldn’t seek secular careers in which the firing of nuclear weapons is a significant part of the job description.  There’s an obvious parallel to pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or Plan “B”; if you want to be a pharmacist licensed by the state, your secular role requires you to set aside certain religious beliefs.

Understood in these terms, I think that what the Air Force presentation is really doing is putting forth an interpretation of Christianity that makes it possible for missile jocks to set aside their religious beliefs in favor of doing their secular job.  The presentation is pretty clearly NOT arguing that there is a Christian or Jewish duty to launch nukes at the Russians or the Chinese.  Rather, it’s arguing that launching nukes is compatible with Christian religious belief.  These two claims are very different, and I don’t think that from a secular point of view the latter is objectionable.  I also think that the case for nuclear weapons in the cause of Christian just war is a good deal more complicated than is discussed here. While on the whole I’m inclined to agree that Christians should abhor nuclear weapons, the body of just war theology is immense and complex, and plausible-ish arguments for at least the preparation for defensive or retaliatory use of nukes can be made.

Another objection to the presentation is that it does focus very heavily on  Christian and Jewish moral principles, to the exclusion of Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, etc.  On this point, I’m inclined to bow to the needs of practical necessity.  If the Air Force had lots of Muslims or atheists who were sketchy on the prospect of wasting Moscow, then the PowerPoint might have a few more slides.  I’m also genuinely curious as to the content of similar presentations in Russia and China.  I don’t doubt that a certain wariness about incinerating millions of people is a problem common to nuclear armed military organizations, but I do doubt that a Soviet course on the morality of nukes focused on Russian Orthodox just war theory.


Heritage Lost… This Time

[ 21 ] December 23, 2010 |

While I would like to believe the argument made here by Max Bergman, I’m afraid I’m a good deal less optimistic regarding the influence of Heritage:

The hard right Heritage Foundation, one of the pillars of the conservative movement, made defeating START one of its top institutional priorities. Yet 13 Republican Senators ended up bucking Heritage and voted to ratify the START treaty. Heritage ended up so far to the right that it was unable to convince any significant number of Republicans to follow its nonsensical substantive attack on START that the treaty would lead to massive nuclear proliferation and eventually to a nuclear war…

Yet despite all this effort, a quarter of the Republican caucus bucked Heritage’s advocacy campaign and its lobbying efforts to support the treaty. As the facts came out and it became increasingly clear that none of their anti-treaty arguments held any water, Republicans increasingly relied on process complaints to oppose the treaty, rather than substance. In the end, few Senators, with the exception of Jim DeMint, really embraced the Heritage line. The pressure they exerted on Republican members was in the end outdone by the coalition of progressive groups that pressed to ratify the treaty.

There are two issues worth revisiting.  The first is that conservative Republican opposition to arms control isn’t something particularly new or unusual. Right wing Republicans denounced Reagan, after all, for pursuing arms control with the Soviet Union.  The split within the Reagan administration is very similar to the split in the contemporary GOP, except that opponents of arms control have probably grown stronger since the 1980s.  A notional President McCain may have pushed for New START, and if he had pushed would probably have gotten more than 71 votes, but “we need to deny Obama a victory” isn’t the only motivation for Republicans on this issue.

The second is that the arms control opponents appear to be winning the battle within the GOP.  The New START debate over the last month has been held largely under the assumption that the treaty would die if it wasn’t ratified during the lame duck session.  I suspect that this assumption is accurate.  Moreover, the two most important potential GOP presidential candidates have “authored” op-eds that are essentially collections of Heritage Foundation talking points.  Finally, the GOPsters who supported the treaty are mostly (although not all) old and outside of the GOP mainstream.

I’m afraid that I have to concur with Mary Beth Sheridan’s account; Heritage failed, but demonstrated its strength within the GOP caucus. The anti-arms control faction of the GOP was much more careful and serious about developing a network of institutional support than the pro-arms control faction, and at this point the latter is on life support.

Grass Greener, etc.

[ 22 ] December 21, 2010 |

I just want to draw everyone’s attention to the comment thread of this post.  The post itself isn’t particularly interesting, but the comment thread is fascinating in that it reads almost as a direct mirror image of dozens of comment threads that you’d find on progressives blogs decrying the latest “surrender” by Democratic office holders.  I find it fascinating because beliefs in the incompetence of the Democratic party, and a set of related beliefs about the political ruthlessness of the GOP, simply aren’t shared by movement conservatives; they believe that the GOP is full of weak-kneed traitors kneeling before Reid/Pelosi/Obama and willing to surrender its most cherished principles etc. etc. etc.

To be sure, I’m not surprised by this; the GOP faithful have demonstrated an admirable (?) willingness to destroy any politician who wanders, however briefly, into “moderate” territory.  What’s interesting is that the subjective interpretations of both progressives and movement conservatives regarding their Congressional delegations are almost identical.  Moreover, New START isn’t even really an issue where we would expect that oligarchic centrist village corporate duopoly etc. etc. to have a strong set of opinions.

…I should note that if you read this post and think that I’m assigning any kind of moral equivalence to progressives and movement conservatives, ur doing it wrong.  What I’m interested in are the structural/psychological dynamics of blame; who it’s assigned to, and what the character of that assignment is.  In this case, I find it fascinating that both progressives and conservatives assign key blame for failure on their own party, and that the character of that assignment is dispositional rather than situational (weak, spineless Rep/Dems, etc.).

The Symbolic Power of Unilateral Disarmament

[ 3 ] December 16, 2010 |

Now this is very interesting:

US concern about the future of Trident had first surfaced a few weeks earlier, before Brown’s speech to the UN, when British media carried unattributed political briefings which suggested the Labour government intended to defer crucial Trident replacement decisions.

The nuclear-armed French, like the Americans, initially believed this news was significant, with one French official telling the US: “The UK is starting to seem really convinced that disarmament is possible, since it may abandon its Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile programme.”

The French were so upset they protested to US diplomats that Labour ministers were acting like “demagogues”. Brown’s stance that nuclear weapons in general were immoral was, by implication, threatening “an essential part of French strategic identity”, they complained. British civil servants said the hints of disarmament were confined to the Cabinet Office.

The context is a Wikileaks cable indicating that the Labour government was serious about maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent, public statements notwithstanding. The French reaction is very interesting indeed; the French appear to have understood a decision to reduce or eliminate the UK’s nuclear force as a danger to France’s own nuclear capabilities. Presumably, the threat would come from activists and political actors within France, who would leverage British de-nuclearization in arguments against the maintenance of France’s own deterrent.

This suggests that France and the UK, even prior to their recent defense agreement, understood their nuclear deterrents to be symbiotic rather than competitive, even in a symbolic sense. The British and French nuclear arsenals have never threatened each other in anything other than a symbolic sense; the sole possession of nuclear weapons could conceivably suggest military and political leadership of Europe. I had long believed that the persistence of the French nuclear arsenal was the most important reason that Britain would not de-nuclearize, but I had assumed that this was because giving up Britain’s nukes might be perceived as a concession of French military and political predominance. What I didn’t expect was that the French would put direct (if discreet) diplomatic pressure on the United Kingdom out of fear that they might lose the rationale for their own arsenal.

This suggests that British nuclear disarmament might indeed send a powerful diplomatic message. Of course, France and the UK are the most similar of the nuclear powers, and it would be a reach to suggest that India, China, etc. would feel the same pressure to disarm as France. Nevertheless, that the French take the symbolic power of the message so seriously is very interesting indeed.

Libyan Uranium

[ 8 ] November 27, 2010 |

One lesson I take from this is the US-Russian cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation is altogether a good thing:

In November 2009, six years after the government of Libya first agreed to disarm its nuclear weapons program, Libyan nuclear workers wheeled the last of their country’s highly enriched uranium out in front of the Tajoura nuclear facility, just east of Tripoli. U.S. and Russian officials overseeing Libya’s disarmament began preparations to ship this final batch of weapons-grade nuclear material to Russia, where it would be treated and destroyed.

The plan was to load the uranium onto a massive Russian cargo plane, one of the few in the world specially equipped to fly nuclear materials. On November 20, the day before the plane was to leave for a nuclear facility in Russia, Libyan officials unexpectedly halted the shipment. Without explanation, they declared that the uranium would not be permitted to leave Libya. They left the seven five-ton casks out in the open and under light guard, vulnerable to theft by the al-Qaeda factions that still operate in the region or by any rogue government that learned of their presence.

For one month and one day, U.S. and Russian diplomats negotiated with Libya for the uranium to be released and flown out of the country. At the same time, engineers from both countries worked to secure the nuclear material from theft or leakage, two serious dangers that became more likely the longer the casks sat exposed. On December 21, Libya finally allowed a Russian plane to remove the casks, ending Libya’s nuclear weapons program and with it the low-grade game of nuclear blackmail they had been playing.

Read the rest. The downside of letting the hacks at the Heritage Foundation call the tune on GOP nuclear policy is that relatively small, little known moments like this become precarious. Pretending that we can dictate to Russia, and that Moscow’s preferences matter for naught, is extraordinarily dangerous.


[ 9 ] November 21, 2010 |

This is news:

North Korea showed a visiting American nuclear scientist earlier this month a vast new facility it secretly and rapidly built to enrich uranium, confronting the Obama administration with the prospect that the country is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal or build a far more powerful type of atomic bomb.

Whether the calculated revelation is a negotiating ploy by North Korea or a signal that it plans to accelerate its weapons program even as it goes through a perilous leadership change, it creates a new challenge for President Obama at a moment when his program for gradual, global nuclear disarmament appears imperiled at home and abroad. The administration hurriedly began to brief allies and lawmakers on Friday and Saturday — and braced for an international debate over the repercussions.

The scientist, Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford professor who previously directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in an interview that he had been “stunned” by the sophistication of the new plant, where he saw “hundreds and hundreds” of centrifuges that had just been installed in a recently gutted building that had housed an aging fuel fabrication center, and that were operated from what he called “an ultra-modern control room.” The North Koreans claimed 2,000 centrifuges were already installed and running, he said.

American officials know that the plant did not exist in April 2009, when the last Americans and international inspectors were thrown out of the country. The speed with which it was built strongly suggests that the impoverished, isolated country, which tested its first nuclear device in 2006, had foreign help and evaded strict new United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed to punish its rejection of international controls.

The summary touches on the interesting bits, which to my mind are the questions of foreign assistance, North Korean motivation, and US intelligence gathering capabilities. On the first point, if it’s determined that North Korea had substantial help (and from this initial report it appears likely), then either the Proliferation Security Initiative has serious holes, or China is signaling lack of interest in constraining North Korean weapons development. On the second, it’s hard to say what precisely the point of revealing the plant is beyond a demonstration of 1) North Korean resistance, and 2) the desire for additional US economic assistance. I wonder whether North Korea is picking up cues from the deterioration of security relations between the PRC and the US/Japan, and has decided to take advantage of those tensions. I’m also kind of curious what role Russia could play in this. Finally, if we really didn’t have any idea that a large enrichment facility was being built over the course of a year in one of the most surveilled countries in the world, it really opens up some serious questions about our intelligence gathering capabilities. To my mind, it also reaffirms the utility of on the ground inspections.

Finally, the chances that conservatives will use the North Korean revelation as ammunition against the wholly-unrelated New START are roughly 100%.

…see also Lewis and Kimball.

This is a Man Who Knows His Nuclear Annihilation…

[ 2 ] November 1, 2010 |

I kinda wish a Democratic elected official would say something like this:

Well, let me just tell you that the most excited I’m about is — and I’m asking Congress to pass –is the agreement to reduce our nuclear weapons. This, I think, is the most important thing, because we can talk from here to eternity —  We can talk from here to eternity about doing business together but if there’s an accident, a nuclear accident of someone pulling something — as you know, there are still a huge amount of missiles that are pointed at each other for no reason.

But everyone is trying to — every country is kind of concerned about how do you get — how do you reduce that? Because there are those in America that are trying to flex their muscles and pretend they’re ballsy by saying, “we’ve got to keep those nuclear weapons.” That’s very rugged, when you say that.  It’s not rugged at all; it’s an idiot that says that. It’s stupid to say that.

It’s got everything. Recognition of the problem that START is designed to help remedy, diagnosis of the faux masculinity of rejectionist talking points, and willingness to call out opponents as the morons that they are.

Via Sigger.

Where are My Missiles?

[ 12 ] October 27, 2010 |

So, the Air Force is still having problems with its nuclear weapons:

The Air Force swears there was no panic. But for three-quarters of an hour Saturday morning, launch control officers at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming couldn’t reliably communicate or monitor the status of 50 Minuteman III nuclear missiles. Gulp.

Backup security and communications systems, located elsewhere on the base, allowed the intercontinental ballistic missiles to be continually monitored. But the outage is considered serious enough that the very highest rungs on the chain of command — including the President — are being briefed on the incident today.

A single hardware failure appears to have been the root cause of the disruption, which snarled communications on the network that links the five launch control centers and 50 silos of the 319th Missile Squadron. Multiple error codes were reported, including “launch facility down.”

Whatever the specific cause of this incident, the wider pattern speaks to an organization no longer particularly interested in this mission. ICBMs are no longer sexy; the best officers go into other fields, training and recruitment suffer, and maintenance becomes a problem. Further incidents like this are inevitable.

Moreover, I fail to see the logic of this:

The incident comes at a particularly tricky time for the Obama administration, which is struggling to get the Senate to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. In conservative political circles, there’s a distrust of the nuclear cuts — and a demand that they be matched with investments in atomic weapon upgrades. Saturday’s shutdown will undoubtedly bolster that view.

Really? The failure of the Air Force to maintain control over 50 ICBMs will bolster the view that the United States needs to invest in a new generation of nuclear weapons? You’ll excuse me if I fail to see how we get from A to B on that one. The nuclear warheads atop the missiles did not fail; communications to the delivery systems did. Having the spiffiest RRW in the whole darned world wouldn’t have mattered a bit, and indeed would have been a profound waste of money if the missiles hadn’t fired. I wasn’t aware that we had to buy into the “This is excellent news for John McCain!” trope every time the Air Force screwed up. New START opponents may well invoke this incident, but there’s no reason that sensible people should pretend to take them seriously.

Always in the Last Place You Look…

[ 15 ] October 15, 2010 |

This could potentially have been a sitcom-worthy awkward situation. Tom Ricks and Hugh Shelton’s memoirs:

First, he reports, a bit mysteriously, that late in the Clinton administration, the president’s authorization codes to use nuclear weapons strike were lost. He doesn’t really explain what happened or who knew about it, except that the guy who was supposed to make sure once a month that an aide to the president had the codes kept getting the runaround, and putting up with it. It turned out that an aide to the president had misplaced the codes, and had no idea where they were. The situation only came to light when it was time to collect the old codes and replace them with new ones, and the aide apparently confessed. Shelton tells the story a bit oddly — I had to read this section a few times. I am guessing that the story is about the nuclear “football” that a military aide carries. It made me wonder what happened to that aide. Also, what would have happened if the president had decided to launch a nuclear strike? (392-393)

What happens to you after you lose the nuclear launch codes? I appreciate that a President doesn’t need them often, but they seem like the sort of thing that’s really, really important to have on hand.

The US and the British Nuclear Deterrent

[ 10 ] October 6, 2010 |

My first column at World Politics Review argues that the United States should nudge the UK towards dumping the Trident replacement:

Clearly, the United States cannot dictate British defense policy. Overt efforts to influence British decision-making might backfire, and in any case would seem inappropriate and heavy-handed. Nevertheless, the United States has an interest in both the size and composition of the British defense budget, and Britain’s nuclear ballistic missile submarines do not contribute to the security of either the United States or NATO. By contrast, British soldiers, aircraft, surface warships, and aircraft carriers can contribute to international stability, disaster relief, and the defense of the Western alliance. The government of the United Kingdom should realize this, and adopt an appropriate budgetary policy. But if it doesn’t, the United States should gently and carefully try to guide the U.K. in the right decision.

The column (dubbed “Over the Horizon”) will appear at WPR every Wednesday…

The Long Play

[ 17 ] August 13, 2010 |

I’m not terribly interested in the project of calling Jeffrey Goldberg out as a propagandist; he’s Jeffrey Goldberg, so of course he’s a propagandist. As I suggested yesterday, I don’t find the claims put forward in the article particularly new or revelatory. Essentially the same argument was put forth in a “major” article in the January 2007 New Republic by Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi. I’d rather read Oren directly than have Goldberg as a mediator, but whatever. What I’m more interested in is the Israeli strategic mindset that Goldberg depicts. The two article have the same central argument: Iranian nukes pose an indirect threat to the long term survival of Israel, and the United States should do something about that.

First on timelines. Goldberg writes:

I have been exploring the possibility that such a strike will eventually occur for more than seven years… The reasoning offered by Israeli decision makers was uncomplicated: Iran is, at most, one to three years away from having a breakout nuclear capability (often understood to be the capacity to assemble more than one missile-ready nuclear device within about three months of deciding to do so)

Allowing that Goldberg emphasizes the period since July 2009, I have to wonder how long Israelis have been telling him that Iran is 1-3 years away from a bomb. To put it as delicately as possible, Israel has a robust history of either a) being wrong, or b) lying about Iran’s progress on a nuclear weapon. Assuming that Iran actually has a nuclear weapons program (and I believe it does, even if I don’t believe it represents justification for war), it has progressed at a rate far slower than that predicted by the Israelis. Since I don’t believe that Israeli intelligence is really that bad, I have to conclude that the Israelis have consistently been lying about their estimates of Iranian nuclear capability. For example, the 2007 Oren and Halevi article asserted that “according to Israeli intelligence, Iran will be able to produce a nuclear bomb as soon as 2009.” I’m not naive; this is the international system, and even friends lie. There’s no injunction, however, to believing those lies or failing to call them out. What the nature of these lies indicate, however, is that the key purpose of these articles is to convince the United States to do something.

One of the key points of both the Goldberg and the 2007 TNR articles is that while Israelis are happy to tell the rubes in the United States that Iran is planning to commit national suicide by lobbing a nuclear warhead at Tel Aviv, they don’t actually seem to believe it:

The challenges posed by a nuclear Iran are more subtle than a direct attack, Netanyahu told me. “Several bad results would emanate from this single development. First, Iran’s militant proxies would be able to fire rockets and engage in other terror activities while enjoying a nuclear umbrella. This raises the stakes of any confrontation that they’d force on Israel. Instead of being a local event, however painful, it becomes a global one. Second, this development would embolden Islamic militants far and wide, on many continents, who would believe that this is a providential sign, that this fanaticism is on the ultimate road to triumph.

“You’d create a great sea change in the balance of power in our area,” he went on. An Iran with nuclear weapons would also attempt to persuade Arab countries to avoid making peace with Israel, and it would spark a regional nuclear-arms race. “The Middle East is incendiary enough, but with a nuclear-arms race, it will become a tinderbox,” he said.

Other Israeli leaders believe that the mere threat of a nuclear attack by Iran—combined with the chronic menacing of Israel’s cities by the rocket forces of Hamas and Hezbollah—will progressively undermine the country’s ability to retain its most creative and productive citizens. Ehud Barak, the defense minister, told me that this is his great fear for Israel’s future.

“The real threat to Zionism is the dilution of quality,” he said. “Jews know that they can land on their feet in any corner of the world. The real test for us is to make Israel such an attractive place, such a cutting-edge place in human society, education, culture, science, quality of life, that even American Jewish young people want to come here.” This vision is threatened by Iran and its proxies, Barak said. “Our young people can consciously decide to go other places,” if they dislike living under the threat of nuclear attack. “Our best youngsters could stay out of here by choice.”

Three observations. First, I think it’s plausible that the Israeli strategic leadership really believes this. Although there’s good reason to believe that they’re exaggerating these claims in order to convince the United States to go to war, it’s hard to say something like this over and over again without coming to believe it. Second, by publicly making outsized claims regarding the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, they actually make the situation worse; if the problem is that people will believe the Iranians are insane and thus leave, then talking about how insane the Iranians are all the time doesn’t help the perceptual problem. Third, the belief that an Iranian nuclear weapon can destroy Israel by osmosis is palpably insane, regardless of how firmly Netanyahu believes it.

This last clearly bears elaboration. First, the actual mechanism of how the Iranian bomb is supposed to destroy Israel without being dropped are deeply suspect. I discussed the violence this argument did to reality back when the Halevi and Oren article came out, and nothing has changed since then. There isn’t the faintest reason to believe that any of the mechanisms that the Israelis discuss (more rockets, more terrorism, etc.) will actually be affected by the presence of an Iranian nuke.  The stability-instability paradox (the idea that high level nuclear stability produces low level conventional instability) is important, but doesn’t preclude response to conventional provocation by proxies.  The United States, after all, waged open war against several Soviet proxies during the Cold War.  I expect that the Israelis will promptly bomb the bejeezus out of Hamas and Hezbollah as soon as Iran goes nuclear, just to reinforce perceptions of “resolve” and “credibility.”

Second, an Israeli strike on Iran cannot solve the problem. If the issue is really a feeling of insecurity on the part of Israelis, then the very existence of an Islamic Republic of Iran with an interest in developing a nuclear weapon provides that insecurity, whether or not the weapon is ever developed. Israel could probably delay an Iranian nuclear weapon, but no one thinks that it can completely destroy the program. Barring either regime change or the annihilation of Iran (and even the former might not do the trick), the potential for an Iranian nuclear weapon would do precisely the work that Israel’s leadership claims an actual warhead will do; create uncertainty. Nevertheless, Goldberg badly misrepresents the effects of the Osirak strike, suggesting that it ended Iraq’s nuclear program when in fact it appears to have accelerated that program. What ended that program was a major war in 1991 combined with a long campaign of sanctions and bombing, followed by another major war in 2003. This is beyond Israel’s capability, which is probably why the US is being so aggressively pushed towards war. Joshua Pollack details the nonsense of the idea that an Israeli bombing campaign could permanently prevent Iran from developing a nuke. The Israelis are proposing an extremely short-term solution to what they themselves assert is a problem that will play out on the scale of decades.

Finally, this entire concept rests on the notion that Israel has enjoyed some fundamental level of existential security that will be lost if Iran finds a nuke is, to reiterate, mind-boggling insane. It’s ISRAEL, for crying out loud. The entire national myth is built around the idea of existential vulnerability, just as the myths of the 1948, 1967, and 1973 wars are predicated on the notion that if something had gone wrong, the Arabs might have pushed the Jews into the sea. The conflict with the Palestinians is invariably depicted in existential terms; Hamas cannot be negotiated with because it threatens Israel’s existence. The idea that some nebulous concern about an event that even Israel’s leaders do not believe likely will drive Jews to resettle elsewhere is absurd on its face. If the Swedes suddenly faced an existential crisis, I’d be interested in thinking about how that might affect Swedish society, immigration patterns, etc.   Israel was built around the idea of permanent existential crisis.

It’s also more than a little irritating that both the Goldberg and the Halevi/Oren articles try to construct the Iran situation as a US problem.  We are simultaneously asked to believe that an Iranian nuclear weapon poses an existential threat to the state of Israel and to the survival of the Jewish people, AND that it really, really poses a more serious threat to the United States.  The best I can say about this is that it’s incoherent; no one will be moving out of the United States because of a fear of Iranian nukes.

And this is where it would have been useful to have somebody that wasn’t Jeffrey Goldberg conduct the various interviews. While I doubt that anyone unsympathetic to the case for war could have gotten the access that Goldberg enjoyed, it nevertheless would have been nice if Goldberg had brought up these objections.  They aren’t particularly complicated or novel.   What he did manage to do was transmit Israeli propaganda to a US audience.   I preferred the propaganda when it came directly from Israeli officials.

The Revelations, They… Don’t Seem Very Revelatory

[ 9 ] August 12, 2010 |

Michael Oren and Yossi Halevi:

An Israeli assault could only delay Iran’s nuclear program, not eliminate it. That’s because Israel cannot sustain an air campaign against such remote targets for days on end. This can only be accomplished by the United States, perhaps together with NATO allies, by mounting an ongoing series of air strikes similar to the “shock and awe” campaign conducted against Iraq at the beginning of the war. Israelis, though, are divided over the likelihood of U.S. military action. Some experts believe President Bush will attack, if only to prevent being recorded by history as a leader who fought the wrong war while failing to fight the right one. Others speculate that a politically devastated Bush will leave the resolution of the Iranian crisis to his successor.

If Israel is forced, by default, to strike, it is likely to happen within the next 18 months. An attack needs to take place before the nuclear facilities become radioactive; waiting too long could result in massive civilian casualties. Still, Israel will almost certainly wait until it becomes clear that sanctions have failed and that the United States or NATO won’t strike. The toughest decision, then, will be timing: determining that delicate moment when it becomes clear that the international community has failed but before the facilities turn lethal.

The linked article was published on January 27, 2007. By my count, it’s been 25.5 months since Israel should have been “forced, by default, to strike.” While I’ll have more on Jeffrey Goldberg’s breathless account of Israeli strategic thought tomorrow, I’m thoroughly unconvinced that it’s revelatory of anything new about Israel’s Iran policy. The core of this policy, as far as I can tell, remains “try to convince the US to attack Iran.”

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