[Freemanlist2] Chuck Freilich-The Armageddon Scenario:

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The Armageddon Scenario:
Israel and the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism
Chuck Freilich
BESA Center Perspectives Papers No. 104, April 8, 2010
www.biu.ac.il/SOC/besa/perspectives104.html


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Iranian nuclear threat has obscured the possibility 
of waging nuclear terrorism against Israel. There is a clear rationale for 
employing nuclear terrorism and countering it needs calibrated policies of 
prevention and possibly US-Israeli cooperation. The time to prepare for the 
Armageddon scenario is now.

For the past 15 years, Israel's focus on the Iranian nuclear threat has been 
nearly all-encompassing, eclipsing virtually all other threats. While 
understandable, this preoccupation may have distracted Israel from a threat 
which may be no less likely and actually far more dangerous; nuclear 
terrorism. Unlike "traditional" terrorism, nuclear terrorism poses a 
catastrophic threat to the state.

Moreover, those most likely to conduct nuclear terrorism (al-Qaeda, 
Hizballah, Hamas, Iran, and others) may be fundamentally nihilistic and thus 
undeterrable. As millennial movements who believe that Israel's destruction 
is a sacred mission, they may view a nuclear attack, even assuming a 
devastating Israeli response, to be a worthy means of ushering in a 
messianic era.

A nuclear terrorist threat against Israel might be designed for:
·        Actual Use – to deal Israel a devastating blow
·        Deterrence – to counter Israel's conventional superiority and 
purported nuclear capability, to deter Israeli attacks, or to conduct 
attacks with relative impunity ·        Compellence – to exert a decisive 
influence on Israeli decision making during crises or over fundamental 
issues, holding it hostage by the threat of an attack
·        Weakening – to severely erode Israel's national resilience due to 
the ongoing need to live in the shadow of nuclear terrorism
·        Back Up – to strengthen the deterrent value of a state-based 
(Iranian or Syrian) capability
·        Decapitation – to remove the Israeli political and/or military 
leadership

The potential means of conducting nuclear terrorism against Israel would be 
similar to those applicable to other countries (sea, air, and land-based), 
with one important addition: rockets. Rockets, such as those already in 
Hizballah's possession, could be fitted with nuclear warheads. Though 
unsuited for ordinary military purposes, they could be effective weapons of 
terror.

Policy Options

Prevention

Prevention includes a variety of intelligence, interdiction, and other 
offensive measures to detect and prevent a nuclear terrorist capability from 
being developed or used. If still under development, Israel will have 
sufficient time to pursue a range of preventative options, alone and in 
conjunction with the US, from targeted to massive military operations. Once 
a capability exists, the window for action will be severely attenuated and 
preventative efforts will have to include any and all capabilities to 
guarantee success at all costs. While a unilateral Israeli operation might 
be sufficient if the capability is still being developed, the need for 
immediate and guaranteed success to thwart an operational capability may 
require American involvement. The challenges posed by detection and 
elimination of a terrorist nuclear weapon are hugely difficult.

Deterrence

Deterrence is commonly thought to be ineffective against nuclear terrorism, 
due to the presumed nihilistic nature of potential perpetrators. However, 
Hizballah and Hamas, while certainly extremist, have populations for which 
they take responsibility and have proven over the years to be deterrable. 
Although their acquisition of a nuclear capability would pose severe 
threats, such as the ability to terrorize Israel's population with relative 
impunity, it does place them in the appropriate context.

Iran would presumably be willing to suffer great losses in pursuit of 
Israel's destruction, but would have to take into account that Israel is 
considered by the international community to be a nuclear power and that a 
nuclear crisis could lead to a devastating exchange. While a precise 
assessment of Iran's cost-benefit analysis is unknowable, it does appear to 
be fundamentally rational and thus deterrable.

The biggest question mark is in regard to al-Qaeda, whose presumed nihilism 
may indeed make it undeterrable. It is questionable whether this would truly 
be the case in the face of threats of annihilation of their leadership and 
families, Muslim population centers, and sites of major importance to the 
Muslim world.

Potential perpetrators of nuclear terrorism must be convinced that Israel 
will preempt/retaliate devastatingly. For Israel, this means a “shoot first, 
no questions asked” policy. Both those clearly responsible for an actual 
attack (if any) and those reasonably suspected of involvement must be held 
accountable, and Israel must retaliate with all the means at its disposal. 
In the absence of irrefutable and immediate evidence to the contrary, Israel’s 
retaliatory policy should hold Iran and/or al-Qaeda responsible with an 
absence of irrefutable and immediate evidence to the contrary. In the event 
of a declared nuclear terrorist capability, a stated intention to acquire 
one, or an advanced suspected one, the known or suspected perpetrator and 
host country should be attacked in advance with the amount of all of the 
force necessary to prevent the threat’s materialization.

As a global power, the US will be unlikely to adopt such a “no questions 
asked” policy and will require nuclear forensics. Nevertheless, American 
determination to prevent nuclear terrorism and retaliate devastatingly 
against those responsible must be beyond question. US declaratory policy on 
the nuclear terrorist threat to Israel would not need to be significantly 
different from its posture on nuclear terrorism generally, but could be 
further elucidated.

US-Israeli Cooperation

As with so many other areas of Israeli national security, cooperation with 
the US is a primary option for dealing with nuclear terrorism. In this case, 
however, the US would only be able to provide limited assistance. “Extended 
deterrence” would have little if any value in the face of nihilistic 
terrorists. Heightened cooperative preventative efforts, while important, 
may not suffice when the US lacks a satisfactory response to nuclear 
terrorism.

Conversely, global American efforts to minimize the threat of nuclear 
terrorism might be of significant indirect benefit for Israel. These efforts 
include, inter alia: heightened diplomacy to make better international use 
of existing diplomatic tools and to adopt new ones; intensified pressure on 
states to deny terrorists assistance and sanctuary; improvements in control 
over nuclear facilities, stockpiles and personnel; strengthening the NPT; 
heightened international cooperation regarding border security, export 
controls, intelligence sharing, and interdiction; and a variety of covert 
operations.

Ending Nuclear Ambiguity

Israel is widely thought by foreign observers to be nuclear and any 
potential perpetrator of nuclear terrorism must take this into account. It 
is doubtful whether ending nuclear ambiguity would be of significant 
deterrent value.


Defensive Measures

Israel has an extensive operational homeland security system (Arrow and Iron 
Dome) and an attacker must consider the probability of interception and 
massive retaliation. However, if “only” one nuclear warhead got through, 
this would constitute unacceptable failure for Israel, rendering defensive 
measures an insufficient option.

Conclusion

To date, no terrorist group has apparently acquired a nuclear weapon or the 
materials needed to make one. Al-Qaeda has tried repeatedly, but currently 
the technical challenges are daunting. This good news comes with a crucial 
caveat; it is true only “as far as we know.” Even if the risk may be low at 
this time, the potential costs are monstrous and the threat assessment is 
likely to change significantly in the coming years. Israel must take into 
account that a nuclear terrorist threat could emerge in the foreseeable 
future and therefore devote greater attention and resources to it, in order 
to develop the necessary doctrine and undertake the preparations possible. 
The time to act is now.

Chuck Freilich is a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, an Adjunct 
Professor at New York University, and a former Deputy National Security 
Adviser in Israel. This perspective is based on a more comprehensive study 
to be published by the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.
================

BESA Perspectives is published through the generosity of the Greg 
Rosshandler Family. 

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