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Israel Replies to U.S Gen. Martin Dempsey

IDF. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Ben Yisrael: 'The Americans Know We Can Clobber Iran's Nuclear Sites Like They Can - I Think U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey Was Referring To What Happens After Israeli Strike On Iran'

'Nuclear Iran Would Not Be Capable Of Obliterating Israel Although One Iranian A-Bomb On Tel Aviv Could Kill 23,000 People'

Ambassador Michael Oren: 'One, Two, Three Years Are A Long Time In The Middle East... Diplomacy Hasn't Succeeded In Halting Iran's Nuclear Weapons Project'

Yitzhak Ben Yisrael

 Israel's unofficial reply to U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey was not long in coming - the IDF did have the capability to severely damage Iran's nuclear sites. But IDF Gen. (res.) Yitzak Ben Yisrael added: 'I think Gen. Dempsey was referring to continuous follow-up action to prevent Iran from again trying to produce nuclear weapons'. Ben Yisrael, who masterminded IDF weapons development for many years, is now a highly respected professor of strategic affairs. In two separate interviews, with Yediot Ahronot newspaper and Channel 10 TV, Gen. Ben Yisrael sized up the present situation.

 U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey made headlines in Israel when he appeared to belittle the IDF's capability to knock out Iran's nuclear sites. Gen. Dempsey had said: ' I might not be aware of all their capabilities, but I think is is a fair assessment that (Israel) can delay but not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities'. America's supreme commander had parachuted into the red-hot public debate that is now raging in Israel about whether or not to go it alone against Iran in the near future. Within twenty-four hours IDF Gen.(res.) Yitzhak Ben Yisrael replied by saying: 'The Americans know we can clobber Iran's nuclear sites like they can but I think Gen, Dempsey was referring to what happens after an Israeli strike on Iran'. An international campaign would have to be mounted to prevent Iran from trying to rebuild A-Bombs and this could be an ongoing military and diplomatic process.

Nuclear nightmare...

So how great was the threat? Did a nuclear Iran pose a threat to Israel's every existence? Gen. Ben Yisrael presented the stark nuclear facts. If the Iranians nuked the city of Tel Aviv, with the type of nuclear bomb they are known to be developing, 'it would kill 23,000 people and possibly wipe out maybe one suburb'. Although this would wreak intolerable damage, he had no doubt that Israel would survive. And obviously retaliate. Ben Yisrael then quoted an American expert on 'worst case scenarios'. If Iran attacked Israel with numerous A-bombs they might kill several hundred-thousand Israelis, but in the aftermath an estimated 20 million Iranians might die. Iran's nuclear experts had to be aware of these consequences. However, Ben Yisrael noted that on his way to the TV studio, he heard on the radio that the Iranian general in charge of civil defense had just publicly declared there was no doubt about it, 'Israel had to be obliterated'! The Israeli expert said this was unprecedented in any MAD - 'mutually assured destruction' scenarios in the past. The U.S. and the Soviet Union had never threatened to wipe the other off the map, nor had India and Pakistan and even North Korea has never declared its intention of obliterating another state.

Iranian bomb & regional proliferation...

Iranian missiles (photo: MEHR)

In the regional arena, a nuclear Iran would pose an intolerable threat to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey which could not accept living in Iran's nuclear shadow. Although the U.S. has broached the idea of a 'defensive umbrella' to cope with Iran, this would not dissuade Iran's neighbors from also seeking a nuclear arsenal. Ben Yisrael noted the numerous wars that have been waged between different states in the Middle East that had nothing to do with Israel. How long would it be before one of these nuclear armed countries would use nuclear weapons? (Syria's barbaric President Bashar Assad had tried, with North Korea's aid, to build a secret nuclear reactor that was reportedly destroyed by an Israeli air strike. Just imagine if Assad had his hands on an A-bomb today. And if anything, the Sunni - Shiite confrontation is escalating. DE).

Then there was the danger of Iran secretly supplying terror organizations with 'dirty nuclear bombs'. IDF Intelligence recently disclosed the Iranians could produce them far quicker than developing nuclear missiles, which the U.S. believes will take up to three years. A dirty bomb hidden inside a container ship could pose as grave a threat to the U.S. as it did to Israel.

If Israel goes solo...

If Israeli did launch a pre-emptive strike, a non-nuclear Iran did not posses a very great capability to retaliate. They could obviously launch their conventional surface to surface missiles. However bearing in mind Israel's Arrow defense system, only about two or maybe three times the number of Iraqi missiles (40) that reached Israel would make it from Iran. Their payload and accuracy is about the same and therefore the worst case scenario would be two to four times worse in collateral damage. The number of fatalities could be in the double-digits although bad luck could raise this to possibly one or two hundred fatalities. (Barak has said less than five hundred). However this would not be a a 'national catastrophe' (as argued by some Israeli opponents of a solo strike). Moreover this time Israelis would have more than the ten minutes, that they did in the First Gulf War, to reach bomb shelters.

Hezbollah neutralized in days...

When asked about the risk of Hezbollah launching a massive rocket attack on Israel from southern Lebanon, Ben Yisrael was confident the IDF could eliminate the danger within days or a week. The IDF had learned the lesson of the Second Lebanon War and would act swiftly to take control of the Hezbollah launch sites in southern Lebanon.

Sanctions slowly but surely...

The Iranian Missile Range

Although the sanctions were working relatively slowly, Ben Yisrael believed that over time, they might even trigger a regime change in Iran. While the Iranian regime was religiously fanatic it was not irrational. It was true that its goals and value system were essentially different than those of Western democracies but it had, until now, shown an ability to be flexible and pragmatic to achieve its objectives. In the eyes of the world, Israel was already a nuclear power and the Iranians were aware of this no matter how fanatic their regime was.

In Ben Yisrael's view, the real question now is what is the best way to bar Iran from getting the bomb. All the defense experts are opposed to a nuclear Iran, and not necessarily because of an A-bomb on Tel Aviv but because of the subsequent dangers of a nuclear Middle East and the leaking of the bomb to a terror organization. The differences are only about the timing and the best alternative for achieving this goal.

Ben Yisrael's bottom line...

The tendency of both supporters for bombing Iran as a supreme vital interest while ignoring other considerations like the tendency of opponents who view bombing Iran as a national disaster, were both being unrealistic in light of the very complex issue that had pros and cons on both sides.

Now for the official reaction from Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Interviewed by Bloomberg, the diplomat took issue with Gen. Dempsey's comment about the IDF only being able to 'delay' Iran.

Oren said: 'One, two three years are a long time in the Middle East - look what's happened in the last year... In our neighborhood these are the rules of the game... We've come to a very critical juncture where important decisions do have to be made.'

IsraCast Outlook:

And so the great debate continues both inside Israel and between Jerusalem and Washington. Look for Egypt's new President Mohamed Morsi to jump into the fray by renewing Cairo's previous demand for international inspection of Israel's nuclear sites. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are expected to meet during the upcoming UN General Assembly session in September. This could be an opportunity for the two leaders to close their gap on Iran. Netanyahu is worried that Obama will ease the threat of military pressure on Iran if he is re-elected, possibly by opting for diplomacy on a nuclear free Middle East. On the other hand, Obama is concerned that Netanyahu might go solo before the November presidential election sparking an economic downturn that could ruin his chance of re-election.

David Essing

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