Israel Shows Off a Strategic Ace-in-the-Hole: Submarines that Could Carry Nuke Missiles — In MidEast Chaos, Israel’s Strength is Unrivalled

[The following analysis was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books including the best seller Every Spy a Prince.]

As a mere coincidence, while reports were emerging from Lausanne, Switzerland, about a likely agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s military reporters were granted a tour of the Israeli naval base in Haifa, to view its newest submarine.

Israel’s German-Made Submarines: ‘Second-Strike’ Strategic Threat?

Bearing the name “Tanin,” this is the fifth submarine that Israel has acquired at a significantly subsidized price from the Germans. Their generosity stems from pangs of bad conscience over the Holocaust.

Tanin in Dry Dock in Haifa (IDF Spokesman photo)

Tanin in Dry Dock in Haifa (IDF Spokesman photo)

Each submarine costs more than half a million dollars – Israel is expecting its sixth submarine to arrive this summer. Israel sees this submarine fleet – which it calls Fleet 7 – as a “strategic arm” of its military force.

Foreign experts and reports explain that Israel, according to their assessments, has eighty nuclear bombs and warheads — with some analysts suggesting the number is even higher. They suggest that Israel’s submarines represent a “second strike” nuclear capability.

This means — in a Doomsday scenario — that if Israel were ever to be bombed in a nuclear attack (if and when Iran achieves that capability, and if Tehran were to carry out such an offensive), Israel would still be able to respond with a “second strike”: firing missiles from its underwater fleet, nearly indiscernible to enemy eye.

Even before such a Doomsday, another scenario is imaginable. Armed with these six submarines, Israel’s strategic arm – along with the air force, and pending approval from the political echelon – could attack Iran to prevent it from assembling and deploying nuclear weapons. This is what former Mossad chief Meir Dagan meant when he spoke about a military attack as the last resort – “only when the sword is at the throat.”

The deal currently being consolidated in Switzerland between Iran and the five world powers plus Germany (P5+1), even if not ideal, certainly does not belong in the category of “sword at the throat.”

The Israeli government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defines the pending agreement as a “bad deal.”

It’s true – maybe it would have been possible to reach an immeasurably better agreement. Iran has come to these talks, which are aimed at limiting its nuclear program, out of weakness. The heavy sanctions imposed on it over the last years – particularly on its oil exports and banking system – are threatening to crush its economy, and Iran’s leaders are concerned about the future of their regime.

But even with the concessions apparently being offered by the P5+1, Iran is being forced to capitulate. The centrifuges will not be dismantled, but their numbers will be reduced by 40 percent, to 6,000 – reportedly leaving Iran with only older, slower and less efficient models.

Most of its stock of enriched uranium – some eight tons, those too at a level of only up to 5% – will be transferred to Russia. (Early Monday there were reports that Iran was backing away from agreeing on this.)

The nuclear reactor Iran is building in Arak will not be able to produce enough plutonium to create an atomic weapon. International inspection would be intrusive, and it would continue as such for at least 10 more years. The sanctions would be lifted only gradually (although Iran has been asking for instance sanctions relief).

Each of these steps will distance Iran from being able to create nuclear weapons by at least a year. At the moment, it is only a few months away from such a capability.

It’s true that the agreement leaves some loopholes that are worrisome and that beg for solutions, such as requiring that Iran reveal its past “weaponization” activities, and how to prevent it from nuclear research and developing advanced models of centrifuges.

The question here is not just if this is a bad agreement – but rather, what is the alternative?

The alternative to foregoing a deal is even worse. With no international agreement and stringent inspections, Iran could already begin galloping toward a bomb.

Don’t forget, as we just saw on the submarine tour, Israel is the strongest military and economic power in the Middle East. Its strategic posture amid the dissolution of the governments in the Arab world, has only improved in the last years.  There is no existential threat to the Jewish state. Not even from Iran.

Israel can permit itself to show more self-confidence than its prime minister, who imbues his citizens with fear, permits himself.  In any case, Israel always reserves the right to military action — perhaps even using the strategically invisible submarines — if ever it should feel “the sword at the throat.”

March 29, 2015

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