The Preemption Imperative: Israel's Security Algorithm

by KAREN MCKAY January 10, 2012
“Iran believes that whoever is for humanity should also be for eradicating the Zionist regime [Israel] as symbol of suppression and discrimination,” President Ahmadinejad, August 27th, 2011.
When Nikita Krushchev told Western ambassadors at a reception in the Polish Embassy in Moscow on November 18, 1956 that “We will bury you!”, the West was not unduly alarmed. After all, good ol' Niki, he of shoe-banging fame, was a bit of a hotheaded blowhard. True, the Premier had the nukes to try it, but Western leaders counted on a certain amount of sly calculation on the part of the Soviets. They weren't suicidal. The Soviets had gone to a lot of trouble ensuring that at least Mother Russia would survive a nuclear exchange. Their industry was redundant and dispersed, their urban populations would be protected by a subway system that doubled as a massive fallout shelter (in contravention with treaty.) They knew the US was naively adhering to its side of the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) game. Still, they weren't likely to start anything they didn't have a good chance of winning, and the Soviets could never quite be sure of what the West, especially America, might be able to do in retaliation.
The Israelis have no such assurance of rational behavior on the part of their enemies. When the Sons of Amalek threaten Jews, they mean it and will carry it out regardless of the cost to themselves. Consider Hitler's orders toward the end of the War—his armies desperately needed supply, but he ordered that nothing interfere with getting Jews to the ovens. Adolf Hitler, of course, announced his plans for the Jews in Mein Kampf. In the case of Iran, Ahmadinejad has announced his commitment to hastening the return of the Twelfth Imam by precipitating Armageddon, specifically by obliterating the Jewish state.
Ahamdinejad is no lone, rabid wolf out on the fringes of the Iranian power structure. His predecessor, former President Mullah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was lauded as a “moderate” by a deluded West even as he pushed the quest for an Iranian nuclear weapon. “Israel,” the mullah said, “is a one bomb country. One bomb and they are done.”    
When you are dealing with people who think they can bring on their version on the Messiah by destroying civilization, who think that dying for the sake of their apocalyptic religion will give them the joys and benefits of martyrdom, who value life so little that they strap suicide vests on their children and slaughter one another as readily as they kill the infidel, you are not dealing with a rational enemy.
Sanity should dictate that when you are faced with such an enemy, one who constantly threatens your destruction, and who is relentlessly pursuing nuclear weapons and delivery systems to do just that, you do something to put him out of business. Israel did act at least twice to remove a nuclear threat to its existence by bombing the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities. Ariel Sharon was Israel's Defense Minister when the Israel Air Force (IAF) destroyed the Osirak reactor: "Israel cannot afford the introduction of the nuclear weapon [by a confrontation state.] For us, it is not a question of balance of terror but a question of survival. We shall therefore have to prevent such a threat at its inception.” Now, Iran presents the greatest existential threat of all—not just to Israel, but neighboring Arab states, and beyond that, to the West, including America.
However, there is a new complication: the current President of the United States, no friend of Israel. This President, unlike any of his predecessors, openly favors Islamism while treating Israel with contempt. Hehas continually dismissed Iran as a threat to anybody, and refused to offer even moral support to the Iranian people being gunned down in the street while protesting a fraudulent election—saying that he wasn't going to meddle in the internal affairs of another country. He then turned around and effectively ordered the Israelis not to build housing in their capital because the Palestinians want the city. And went a step beyond that by calling for the Jewish state to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, i.e., the indefensible 1949 Armistice demarcation lines, AKA the “Green Line.”
American presidents have a tendency to feel proprietary toward Israel, or like a parent who feels compelled to control an adult child. We lecture the Israelis on morality, we order them not to build housing, we force them to cut off defensive wars before they can destroy their enemies' armies, we interfere with their dealing with terrorism, we scold them for standing up for themselves, we dictate to them their internal policy, we accuse them of crimes against humanity, we blackmail with threats of retaliation. With friends like us, who needs enemies?
Incessant nagging has its rewards for the nagger when the nagged begins to question his own right to act in his own interests. Sort of a diplomatic Stockholm Syndrome. Has the Begin Doctrine ( Prime Minister Menachem Begin: “On no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against the people of Israel!”) died in the early 21st Century? An October 26, 2007 World Tribune article headlined, “Israel to drop preemptive strike doctrine in favor of missile defense.” At a US-Israel missile defense conference held in Jerusalem on October 22, 2007, former military commanders and civilian officials acknowledged that, the paper reported, “an Israeli preemptive strike was virtually unthinkable without approval from the United States...” An Israeli Defense Ministry official, according to the Tribune, said that “Israeli strategic decisions over the last 20 years show the increasing dominance of the United States.” A nation that cares very deeply about what the world thinks of it, Israel is extremely susceptible to outside pressure from her “friends.” 
Under the headline, Pentagon chief: Israeli attack on Iran would endanger Mideast, Haaretz reported on March 16, 2009 that “On the eve of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's visit to the United States for talks on Iran's nuclear program...[Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff] warned...that an Israeli attack on Iran might lead to escalation, undermine the region's stability and endanger the lives of Americans in the Persian Gulf 'who are under the threat envelope right now.'"
On April 16, 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned that an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would have dangerous consequences—and that Tehran's acquisition of a bomb can be prevented only if "Iranians themselves decide it's too costly."
President Barack Obama has made no secret of his personal antipathy for the Jewish state. While issuing impotent “warnings” to Iran to play nice, his demands of Israel have teeth. On May 14, 2009, Haaretz headlined: Obama warns Netanyahu: Don't surprise me with Iran strike.  
The left-wing Haaretz editorialized on February 16, 2010 that “Israel should heed Obama's warning not to strike Iran.” A month later, on March 28, 2010, Ambassador John Bolton said in a radio interview, “I very much worry the Obama administration is willing to accept a nuclear Iran, that's why there's this extraordinary pressure on Israel not to attack Iran.” 
FoxNews reported on November 18, 2011 that “Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said ahead of a meeting Friday with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that he would warn his Israeli counterpart about the global economic consequences of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, adding that he still favors sanctions and diplomacy over a strike.”
The very fact that such public pressure over Israel's right to a preemptive strike against the existenial threat posed by Iran is indicative of the degree to which Israel has been hammered like a battered wife to please and appease her bullying partner at the cost of her own safety and right to independent action.
This open psychological operations campaign to hobble Israel is in itself an unprecedented preemptive diplomatic strike against the Jewish state by the Obama regime. Every US administration has been “deeply troubled” after the fact when Israel has moved to protect herself against an enemy sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state and its people. Ignored is the fact that Israel cannot, must not, lose a war. There is no second chance. No do-overs. No Mulligans.
Israel was pressured to return the modest buffer of land won at high cost in wars she didn't start. Now President Obama has demanded that Israel withdraw to its completely indefensible 1948 borders. The United States, surrounded by water on two-and-a half sides, a friendly neighbor to the north and a theoretically friendly neighbor to the south, has some buffer against missile attack.
Unless a missile is launched from a submarine close in to our shores, which is entirely possible, Americans would have four to seven minutes' warning of incoming missiles tipped with nukes or biological/chemical/toxin warheads. An anti-missile shield would stop many, even most, of them. Most. The United States is a big country, and our infrastructure is spread out. Some missiles will get through our defensive net and probably do serious damage, but it won't cripple or kill our country. We'll be able to launch in response, and America will ultimately prevail and go on if we have leaders with courage and resolution.
Israel doesn't have that room for error. Israel has only seconds of warning of incoming missiles. Only one has to get through a missile defense shield to cripple the tiny country. Israel's critical infrastructure doesn't have millions of square miles in which to distribute itself. Israel's small population cannot shake off hundreds of thousands or even thousands of casualties.
Hotels in Israel have a pressurized bomb shelter on every floor. Homes and apartment buildings have shelters. Driving through the areas near the border—almost everywhere in Israel is near the border—there are small signs along the highways. They aren't an Israeli version of Burma Shave or announcements of the next rest stop—they are directions to the nearest bomb shelter. In the town of Sderot on the Gaza border, there are bomb shelters 15 seconds apart in the streets and parks because you have 7 seconds warning of an incoming missile, and all buildings serving children—schools, nurseries, day care, etc.--are hardened. Families in communities within range of Gaza rockets sleep in bomb shelters at night.
This writer came under fire in Israel and Lebanon back in the '70s. The first clue of incoming is the whining scream of a katyusha rocket moments before impact. Sometimes it was artillery fire and the tumbling, sibilant whistle of a 155 round close overhead. If it's aimed at you, you hear the shell coming and explode—with luck, you hear it explode-- and you might hear the sound of the launcher or howitzer following the projectile's impact. Bad enough with a conventional warhead--imagine those being missiles tipped with nuclear or chemical warheads.
Missile defense is good. Everyone should have a good missile shield, just as one should have a phone on which you can dial 911 or a shotgun behind the door in case of home invasion. President Reagan and retired Air Force General Daniel Graham, former Director of the DIA and Deputy Director of the CIA, fought hard for SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative—derisively called “Star Wars” by their opponents. Now just about everybody wants one.
But it would be premature to beat our swords into plowshares just because we had a shield. Any one system can be circumvented or defeated. Goliath counted on his size, his 14-foot spear and heavy armor to protect him from a barefoot kid with a slingshot. Rome counted on the Alps—no elephant could ever come in that way. Neville Chamberlain had his umbrella and a piece of paper. The French trusted the Maginot Line to protect them. Hawaii had a whole ocean between it and the Japanese.
The United States cannot afford to rely entirely on passive defense. Still less can little Israel, surrounded by enemies still determined to finish the job Hitler started.
Back to that World Tribune article about the Jerusalem missile defense conference. The article opened with the line, “Israel is seeking a missile defense capability to replace its decades-old policy of preemptive military strike.”
A former Israeli ambassador to the US, retired IAF Commander David Ivry, was quoted as saying that “A preemptive strike becomes more difficult with time...[it is] correct in concept...[but] it is virtually infeasible.”
In a November 2009 UK Guardian article headed “Obama's Nuclear Spring,” columnist Benny Morris wrote that “an Israeli attack on Iran's atomic weapons plants rests on one thing—the US president's approval.” Morris predicted that by summer 2010, the “international community, led by President Obama, will palpably have failed to stymie Iran's nuclear weapons programme.” Obama, Morris writes, “has in the international arena, shown a proclivity for indecision...and Tehran is laughing, as it were, all the way to Armageddon.”
Candidate Obama, the UK Guardian reported, called for tougher Iran sanctions on July 9, 2008. President Obama announced that he would consider sanctions against Iran if it doesn't abandon its nuclear program. His wavering commitment is reflected in news headlines: 
2/8/09, New York Times: U.S. Weighs Iran Sanctions if Talks Are Rejected
04/13/09, Huffington Post:  Obama Renews Iran Sanctions
9/15/09, The Washington Independent: Obama Putting Brakes on Senate Iran Sanctions Bill
10/06/09, The Hill:  Dems frustrated with President Obama's hesitation over new Iran sanctions
1/27/10,  Senators pressure Obama on Iran sanctions  2/9/10, New York Times: U.S. Eyes New Sanctions Over Iran Nuclear Program
2/10/10, Obama ratchets up Iran sanctions threat
3/30/10, Obama: I'm Seeking Iran Sanctions "Within Weeks"
3/31/10, Al Jazeera: Obama pushes speedy Iran sanctions
7/2/10, Huffington Post: Obama: New Iran Sanctions Toughest Ever
11/14/11, The Associated Press: Obama: Iran sanctions have ‘enormous bite’
11/22/11, Rianovosti: Russia says new Iran sanctions 'unacceptable'
12/6/11, The Associated Press: Obama Administration Urges Congress to Weaken Iran Sanctions Bill
12/15/11, The Associated Press:Obama drops opposition to Iran sanctions bill
Such resolute waffling on a life and death situation does not reassure the Israelis that they can count on the United States to either deal with the Iran threat or to support Israel in taking action to remove the threat. It certainly is not affecting the Iranians. Ahmadinejad has called Obama "childish" and an “inexperienced amateur,” and correctly derided sanctions as meaningless. 
Politicians, reporters, academicians and talking heads have for the last several years, intensifying now, bandied about the word “preemptive.” Whether about the war in Iraq or Iran's threat to Israel, everybody with a microphone or pen seems to have an opinion and must needs discourse upon it. “Preemption” is the wrong word to use in this argument at this point. A “preventive” strike is the issue at hand. Among the uninformed, “preemptive” and “preventive” are interchangeable terms. They are not the same thing.
Under international and moral law, “preemptive” and “preventive” strikes and/or war are distinctly different and precisely defined. By way of analogy, if the 960 defenders (including women and children) of Masada had destroyed the ramp the Romans were building to reach the fortress, and attacked the legion's camp that sprawled around the feet of the mountain, destroying the Roman siege weapons, engineering equipment, food and water supplies, and driven off the horses, that would have been a “preventive” strike. If the defenders had waited until the assault force was assembled in formation at the bottom of the ramp, shields and speartips flashing in the early morning sun, before striking, that would have been “preemptive.” As it was, they could do neither, and the rest is history.
No one, except perhaps the intended aggressor, should have a problem with “preemptive” war:
Preemption is not controversial; legally, morally or strategically. To preempt means to strike the face of an attack that is either already underway or is...imminent. The decision for war has been taken by the enemy. (Colin S. Gray, “The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines: A Reconsideration”, US Strategic Studies Institute, July 2007)
In the 1967 war, Israel struck the Arab armies a preemptive blow that crippled the enemy. The war was over in six days.
It was different the next time. After threatening war for three years, Egypt rolled 80,000 troops up to the Suez Canal while the Syrians assembled 1400 tanks on the Golan Heights. It was known that Iraq had sent a fighter squadron to Egypt and several hundred tanks to the Golan—and that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia had sent around 10,000 soldiers, plus tanks, fighters, bombers, radar, artillery, communications, and other war materiel and cash to Egypt and Syria in the days and weeks leading up to October, 1973. Had Israel hit Egypt hard before sunrise of October 6,1973 with a preemptive strike, the Yom Kippur War might have been over almost before it started, and the Israel Defense Force (IDF) might have had far fewer than 2,688 KIA. Instead, the IDF stood down for Yom Kippur, believing the enemy would respect the holiest day on the Jewish calendar—and it was also Ramadan. As a result, the country was nearly lost with the surprise pincers attack of Egypt in the south and Syria in the north. 
 “Preventive” action is a little more problematic under international and moral law. However, as “anticipatory self-defense”, it is legal, moral, justifiable and necessary when delay might very well be fatal.
It was a classic “preventive” strike, not a preemptive action, when Israeli warplanes took out the nuclear reactor near Baghdad on June 7, 1981. Israel could not afford to allow that threat to develop.
Again, Colin S. Gray (ibid.):
...a preventive war is a war of discretion. It differs from preemptive war both in its timing and in its motivation. The preemptor has no choice other than to strike back rapidly; it will probably be too late even to surrender. The preventor, however, chooses to wage war, at least to launch military action, because of its fears for the future should it fail to act now...the preventor strikes in order to prevent a predicted enemy from changing the balance of power or otherwise behaving in a manner that the preventor would judge to be intolerable.
For Israel, there is no room for ambiguities. Nuclear weapons in the hands of people who have sworn to destroy the Jewish nation is an intolerable risk. Thus Israel's immaculate attack (to which it doesn't admit) on September 6, 2007 that destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor was another classic and justifiable preventive strike, as was the IAF's destruction of Iraq's reactor in 1981.
Iran's nuclear plans have come under close scrutiny. Some in the media and Congress warned President Bush during his Administration not to take any action to stop the mullahs from acquiring a nuclear bomb, at least not at this time. They said it could be years before the Iranians (with Russian help) actually succeeded in building a nuclear weapon and a delivery vehicle, so there was no need to rush into anything. Meanwhile, Haaretz reported in October 2008 that senior Tehran officials were calling for a preemptive strike (i.e., preventive) against Israel to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear reactors.
Despite the Iran threat, the Washington Times reported that an Obama Administration official said at a May 2009 meeting of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatories that Israel should sign on to the NPT. Israel has never confirmed that it even has nuclear weapons, and every Administration until now has considered it prudent to leave it at that.
President Obama is pointedly not placing obstacles in Iran's path to becoming a nuclear power. In July 2009, two days after Vice President Biden jumped the traces in stating that Israel had the right to take whatever action they needed to for their survival, the President told CNN that the United States is "absolutely not" giving Israel a green light to attack Iran.
On February 3, 2010, Iran demonstrated a significant step in its offensive missile development by launching its own satellite. A Democrat spokeswoman dismissed the implied threat by telling Fox News that sending up a satellite with a few turtles and worms was insignificant. She said that if they were really serious, Iran would have sent up a monkey. (!) From this missile to one that could deliver nuclear warheads, she continued, would be a “ginormous” leap that will take years, if ever.
We can't take that chance, and certainly Israel has no margin for wishful thinking. Iran, in matter of fact, has hundreds of rockets and missiles, including ballistic missiles, and is testing an ICBM (which may be what killed the Iranian general in that mysterious explosion recently.) Ariel Cohen and James Phillips of Heritage Foundation both warned in papers published in January 2010 that the United States had better prepare for war with Iran, regardless of whether Israel carries out a preventive strike or not.
Our allies have learned the hard way over the past decades that America is a faithless friend. Israel must continue to calculate risk and probability, an algorithm for survival with zero room for error, and do what she must to ensure her national security.
This carrying on by Israel's supposed friends over her right to take out Iran's nuclear facilities has gone on now in public since it became undeniable around 2004 that Iran was building nuclear weapons. One way or the other, it is going to end with a big bang. Contributing Editor Karen McKay is a retired US Army Foreign Area Operations Officer living in Western North Carolina with her horses and . During the '80s she led the Committee for a Free Afghanistan and later Americans for Freedom. She is also an NRA-certified firearms instructor and volunteer firefighter/EMT. She can be reached by email at

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