Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reuters on the "Begin Doctrine"

In an INSIGHT report:

Has Iran ended Israel's Begin Doctrine?

Menachem Begin did not pull his punches. In 1981, as work neared completion on an Iraqi nuclear reactor that Israel believed would produce plutonium for warheads, the Israeli prime minister dispatched eight F-16 bombers to destroy the plant. Begin later said that the raid was proof his country would "under no circumstances allow the enemy to develop weapons of mass-destruction against our people".

The event defined a strategy that became known as the "Begin Doctrine" and is best summed up by the phrase "the best defence is forceful preemption."

...The spin of the Islamic republic's uranium centrifuges stirs mortal fear in the Jewish state. In defiance of western pressure to curb the project's bomb-making potential, Iran has pushed on with its nuclear programme, saying it has no hostile designs. The International Atomic Energy Agency will say this week that Iran now has the ability to build a nuclear weapon, the Washington Post has reported. Israeli officials have long hinted they may launch a preemptive strike.

That threat has taken on fresh intensity in the two years since Netanyahu -- a right-wing ideologue like Begin -- assumed office. Media speculation that Israel might launch a unilateral strike has surged again in the past two weeks.

...Interviews in recent months with government and military officials -- most speaking on condition of anonymity -- and independent experts suggest that Israel prefers caution over a unilateral strike against the Iranians...Netanyahu's own circumspection is instructive.

...As opposition leader in 2005, he told Israel Radio that in dealing with Iran he would "pursue the legacy" of Begin's "bold and courageous move" against Iraq. But as prime minister he has been less explicit -- both in public and, to judge by leaked U.S. diplomatic cables dated as recently as 2010, in closed-door meetings he and aides held with visiting American delegates. Instead, Israel has pushed its demand that world powers stiffen sanctions on Tehran and that the United States provide the vanguard of any last-ditch military move.

"The military option is not an empty threat, but Israel should not leap to lead it. The whole thing should be led by the United States, and as a last resort," Deputy Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon told Israel's Army Radio.

The Prime Minister's Office declined to comment directly on whether Netanyahu felt bound by the Begin Doctrine regarding Iran... was [Minister Dan] Meridor who recommended "defence" as a fourth pillar of Israeli national security in a secret memorandum he authored on behalf of the government in 2006. That report added to the three doctrinal "D's" set out by Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, soon after the country's founding in a 1948 war with neighbouring Arabs: detect enemies' threats, deter them with the promise of painful retribution and, if hostilities nonetheless ensue, defeat them quickly on their own turf.

"This was something counter-intuitive for Israel, especially for the military. Israelis like to be on the attack, not on the defensive," Meridor said.

While he declined to discuss the prospect of military action against Iran, Meridor distanced himself from the idea that the Begin Doctrine commits Israel to such a course.

"I am not sure what people mean when they use this term. In any event, there is no contradiction between any attack doctrine and a defence doctrine. They are complementary. If the attack doesn't does not solve the problem, then you need to be able to defend yourself."

...Like Meridor, [INSS scholar and retired Israeli general Shlomo] Brom dismissed the suggestion that the Iraqi reactor strike set a precedent for a potential Israeli strike on Iran. He notes Israel's decision not to take military action against suspected chemical weapons programmes of Syria and Iraq has already undermined the Begin Doctrine.

...Keeping the world guessing as to how -- and if -- a confrontation might happen is in itself part of Israel's strategy.

"I hope that the Iranians see an Israeli conspiracy in this," said Yaalon...
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