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Israel Iran Nuclear Balance

One of many places Israel is itching to bomb.

Washington (UPI) Jan 05, 2006
The most dangerous strategic nuclear arms race in the world today is the one between Israel and Iran -- far more complex than almost anyone realizes and vastly more dangerous.

Ironically, the number of weapons involved on both sides are miniscule, not only by the standards of the U.S-Soviet/Russian Cold War nuclear balance, but also even compared with the much more limited strategic nuclear stand-offs centering around North Korea or India and Pakistan today.

But that does not really matter: Far more important is the fact that the margin for error or miscalculation on either side is vastly smaller than in any other potential nuclear conflict in the world. And the danger that either party may react catastrophically to the fear that the other will attempt a devastating preemptive first strike is consequently far greater.

I! srael today has a far greater proportion of its population protected by state-of-the-art ballistic missile defense systems than any other country in the world. But since Israel is so small and since such a disproportionately large part of its population is vulnerably concentrated in a single thermonuclear kill zone in and around Tel Aviv, that speaks less to the Jewish State's undoubted military and technological strengths than to its geographic and demographic vulnerabilities.

As Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and an influential adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told UPI recently, 70 percent of Israel's total population and 80 percent of its infrastructure is concentrated in the Tel Aviv region. No other modern industrial nation has its population and key infrastructure so densely packed into such a small area, he noted.

Ironically less than 60 years after the founding of the state in 1948 the Zionist dr! eam, far from creating a state where large numbers of Jews were safer and more secure than anywhere else in the world, has created one where millions of them are now at more immediate risk of nuclear incineration than anywhere else in the world.

The reason for this is not merely Iran's relentless drive to acquire its own nuclear weapons and the delivery systems to carry them. It is the extreme rhetoric and truly unpredictable behavior of the new government in Tehran.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. He has questioned the historic veracity of the Holocaust, the genocidal mass killing of six million European Jews by the Nazis through World War II. And at the same time, he has embarked on the systematic purging of the Iranian government and armed forces of more moderate officials.

The combination of Israel's physical vulnerability with Iran's political extremi! sm has, therefore, produced a balance of terror that is now on a hair- trigger alert.

No one knows for sure if Iran yet has any nuclear weapons of its own. The best available assessments suggest it is not yet in a position to make them and won't have them for a few years yet, but no one knows for sure. And there is also the very real possibility that the CIA cannot confirm but cannot rule out either that Iran may have acquired at least four nuclear warheads some years ago illegally from stocks decommissioned and inadequately guarded following the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.

There is no doubt that Iran already has nuclear-capable delivery systems capable of inflicting a first strike that could kill millions of Israelis, perhaps over the half the population in a single attack. Its Shehab-3 intermediate range missile has been successfully tested and is being continually upgraded. It is certainly reliable.

Also, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has confirmed that under the previous regime of President Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine quietly sold 12 nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran. They are far slower than the Shehab ballistic missiles but their computer-guided, ground-hugging unpredictable flight paths could make them far more dififcult to intercept and shoot down.

To guard against these threats, Israel has already developed or bought a formidable BMD arsenal. Its Arrow system anti-ballistic missile interceptor, co-built with Boeing, is the most advanced system of its kind in the world and was recently successfully tested against a simulated Shehab-3 attack. Israel also has acquired many batteries of the Patriot PAC-3 system from the United States.

Ironically, early Patriots got a raw deal in the press after they performed very impressively in defending Tel Aviv from Iraqi-launched SCUD missile attacks in the 1991 Gulf War. So! me U.S. analysts believe that this was encouraged by Israel to try and get more funding for the Arrow. But there is no doubt that for close-in ABM defense the Patriot remains the best interception system by far in the world.

The Israelis are also aided by the limited amount of air space they have to defend.

Still, like the Americans and the Soviets before them in the 1950s and '60s, the Israelis have come to the conclusion that no defense succeeds better than deterrence. As long as their own nuclear facilities -- the Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert and Zacharias air force base south of Tel Aviv -- are limited in number and clearly known to their enemies, and since their main population is so concentrated and vulnerable, recent Israeli governments have recognized their need for a secure, survivable second-strike capability to guarantee a devastating response to any first strike, and they have deployed one.

It e! xists in the form of three German-built and supplied diesel-engineered submarines, or U-boats, that carry nuclear-capable cruise missiles. Israel seeks to ensure that at least one of these vessels is on patrol at all times. Indeed, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government is seeking to broaden and deepen this second-strike force by acquiring two more submarines to add to it.

The concept has impressed giant India so much that it has adopted it too as a second-strike deterrent against neighboring Pakistan. In India's case, the submarines are French-built Scorpenes.

Will it be enough? Against any rational national government, the answer would be certainly "yes." But with Ahmadinejad, the jury for obvious reasons is still out.

Ironically the Israelis and their strong friends in the Bush administration could yet prove to be their own worst enemies. For if there is one scenario where even previously rational national leade! rs, let alone extreme ones, might be tempted to press their nuclear launch buttons, it is when they are convinced that they are going to be attacked anyway and have therefore nothing to lose.

Judged from this perspective, Israel's previous exercises carrying out mock air attacks against a scale model of Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor in the Negev desert, and the tough moves of the Bush administration to confront Iran on the nuclear issue, clearly run the risk of provoking the very thermonuclear nightmare they are meant to prevent: They could convince the government in Tehran that it is under imminent threat of U.S. or Israeli attack and thereby panic it into launching any nuclear weapons it already has.

In that case, Israel's ultimate line of defense would be its Arrows and its Patriots. There is no doubt that operationally they will work well: The as-yet-untested question is whether they will work flawlessly with only seconds to spare an! d no margin for error whatsoever. The lives of millions will be on the line.

Source: United Press International

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Western Agencies Say Iran Out To Build Nuclear Missile
London (AFP) Jan 05, 2006
Iran has been scouring Europe for nuclear bomb technology, a British newspaper said Wednesday, citing a report by Western intelligence agencies.

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