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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Countdown to nuclear war? The arms race in the Middle East

A nuclear exchange was the ultimate nightmare during the Cold War, when East and West have held their nuclear knifes at each other’s’ throats. With more than 20,000 nuclear arms, one little mistake or misinterpreted radar signal would have been enough to eradicate all mankind from the surface of the earth, and to turn the entire globe into a massive radiated graveyard.

We thought that with the international disarmament regime and the end of the Cold War the menace of a nuclear war would have been eliminated. But this assumption was rather premature. Instead, the danger of a nuclear war has not decreased, but increased – specifically in the regional level

With the Iranian nuclear programme still on the way, and the Israelis speeding up their arms race in the Middle East through submarine trades with Germany, and more and more aggressive rhetoric attacks from Jerusalem against Tehran, it is evident that the Middle East will be the immediate nuclear war zone.

Strategically and tactically, Israel is in a rather delicate position. Being entirely surrounded by enemies, it would not be able to defend itself in a conventional manner, without their own territory being completely overrun by enemy troops. However, since Israel is currently the only nuclear power in the region, no one would dare to attack Israel without having achieved a more or less equal striking capabilities with WMDs, no matter if nuclear, biological, or chemical.
However, even if its territory would be overrun, Israel would still have a highly effective second strike capability, which would, in fact, imply a nuclear first strike, possibly without risking a similar counter attack by its adversary. At least, as long as none of the adversaries strikes back either with biological or chemical weapons.

Being aware that Israel keeps its nuclear arsenal as a constant threat against them, any other country in the Middle East focuses on building up a similar level of “defensive arsenals”. However, Iran is currently the only one which could achieve this level in the future, as long as it keeps up the speed for its nuclear programme and no foreign actor intervenes in any way. Evidently, Israel is the one attempting to prevent Iran from even getting close to it.

As Canadian military historian Gwynne Dyer perfectly states in his 1983 “War” miniseries, the most dangerous moment (parallel to the arms race between the USA and the USSR during the Cold War) will come when the side without nuclear weapons (Iran) will approach a level in which it is close to develop or complete an effective nuclear striking capability of its own, leading the other side already possessing these nuclear striking capabilities (Israel) to be the first one to launch an attack – even in the tempting case of a pre-emptive strike.

This would not be the first time, it already happened once. In 1981, the Israeli air force destroyed an Iraqi nuclear facility. Back then it was relatively safe, because Iraq was still far from developing a remotely effective level of nuclear technology. But in the case of Iran, its level is far more advanced, and it is questionable if the Ahmadinejad regime will drop its programme in the view of a potential threat by Israel.

Sooner or later, both sides will face a moment in which, in case of an armed confrontation, they will be forced to use all of their nuclear capabilities, before the other side manages to destroy all of them on the ground. So rather than risking to lose them, they will use them.

Taking a look at the heated mood on both sides, there is reasonable concern for mutual irrational decisions, which will in the end lead to a catastrophic domino effect of a conventional warfare in the first place. From there it is just a small step to an uncontrolled nuclear exchange.  With aggressive tones from both sides, Israel’s determination to defend itself at all costs, and Iran’s will to soldier on with its nuclear programme and its not less aggressive rhetoric against Israel, the initial flash-point might be caused by accident, when any rational judgement will be overwhelmed by shear fear and mutual hatred.

From there, it is just a very small step until the first one turns its keys – the consequences for the entire region are not imaginable.

Goodbye Tehran, goodbye Damascus, goodbye Jerusalem.

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