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Coming down to Defense

Israel, Ma'ariv

By Prof. Alex Mintz

In terms of  the Iranians, the bottom point is that they have a year under the statement of President Obama himself, before the Americans think whether to attack them at all, – if they don't not cross some extreme red line from the U.S. perspective.


Translated by Viktoria Lymar

Edited by Steven Stenzler


3 April 2013



Despite what we thought, Obama did not come to Israel because of a campaign promise or an attempt to appease the Israelis, but rather to actually create deterrence against Iran.

Much has been said about the goals of the U.S. President Barack Obama's visit from the Israeli perspective – however, little has been written here on the American strategic-security point of view.

In the extended deterrence theory in international relations, it is common to look at three main actors: the (potential) attacker, the [potential] defender and (potential) target. The objective of the "defender"– the United States in this case – is to prevent the "attacker" (a nuclear Iran) from attacking the "target" (Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates).

This way, the U.S has been looking at the system of alliances it had and has with Europe and Japan, to whom it provided a nuclear umbrella, and so it looks today at South Korea and Japan against North Korea (including sending stealth bombers and a destroyer to South Korea in order to deter the North). Similarly, it also looks at Israel against Iran. 

From the American strategic perspective, a nuclear Iran is the potential attacker that should be deterred, the U.S. is the deterrent, while Israel and the Emirates are potentially the target [victim] actor that should be protected through extended deterrence. 

Indeed, the theory of extended deterrence, stemming from a particularly influential article by one of the world's leading scholars of international relations, Professor Bruce Russet of Yale University, maintains – on the basis of the examination of numerous successful historical cases of deterrence versus failures in deterrence – that the factor having the greatest impact on the success of deterring a potential attacker is the defender's unambiguous support for the target through aid and massive and reliable military and economic ties between them.

[Will They] Get down from the Tree?


From the U.S. strategic perspective, President Obama's visit to Israel should be also seen against this background. Yes, it was Obama's election promise to visit Israel, and there was much criticism of Obama during the last campaign that he didn't visit Israel in his first term, whereas he visited Egypt and Turkey. From the American angle, there is also the important achievement of reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, and President Obama's direct appeal to the Israeli public regarding the critical importance of the peace process for Israel.

Yet moreover, in the U.S. security vision, highlighting the tight relationship between the deterrent – the United States – and the potential target – Israel – vis-à-vis Iran strengthens the U.S. extended deterrence against Iran in the Israeli context, just like other acts over the recent years. 

So for example, the American financial aid for the Iron Dome system and other anti-ballistic defense systems such as Arrow, joint and frequent training of the IDF and the U.S. Army, placing the American radar in Negev [desert] and the one supposed to deliver data from Turkey, massive growth of the U.S. weapons arsenal in Israel, establishment by the Americans of command and control centers in Israel, as well as the Obama administration's unequivocal standing alongside Israel in Operation Pillar of Defense, President Obama's visit in Israel and his promise to continue the military aid to Israel – all of these are consistent with the theory of the American extended deterrence. 

The problem is that the Iranians are sophisticated, and they watch not only Obama's moves in Israel, but what he has said, too. In their terms, the bottom point is that they have a year under the statement of President Obama himself, before the Americans think whether to attack them at all – if the Iranians don't not cross some extreme red line from the U.S. viewpoint. 

It's doubtful if the Iranians, weakened economically due to significant sanctions, will cross such a line. There is a greater likelihood that they will try to get down from the tree before crossing the nuclear threshold, if international recognition is given to their right to enrich uranium to the 20 percent level in their country – nevertheless, this is provided that they encounter American determination to prevent them from obtaining the nuke.

The author is Dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya


Original Hebrew article:


Photo credit: Haaretz