Tuesday, May 01, 2018

My best guess about what Bibi is doing... (And I don't approve it - obviously)

As you all know, I am not a fan of Bibi. He reminds me too much of the kind of "Dangerous Intellectuals" I dislike in India and the US. But as he is Israeli, I will accept the possibility that there is a method to his madness (Unlike India or the US where it is just madness). Maybe I know too many Israelis and I am just trying to find some way this is all going to work out okay - so this might just be my imagination, but I have a pretty fertile imagination.

Of all the nations that have nuclear weapons capabilities, only Israel has not conducted overt nuclear tests. No one doubts that Israel has designs, materials, fabrication capabilities, to make advanced nuclear weapons, but there has been no demonstration of either an Israeli physics package or warhead or full-up delivery system. And that means there is no such thing as an Israeli OAR (Over All Reliability) rating*.

They can't be certain that they know how many of these weapons launched at a target will deliver a fixed minimum yield. Without that kind of OAR - you have a really hard time deciding the size of the arsenal and determining detailed aspects of how the deterrent will work against a nuclear armed adversary (even one that is just emerging as a state with nuclear weapons). The reason Israel has not tested is because it is worried about the implications for its international trade. Too many people will see such an Israeli action as being needlessly provocative. Most of Israel's emerging trading partners like MbS' Saudi Arabia will be forced to view such a gesture as part of a wider Israeli plan to evict all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. So the Israelis have stopped short of pulling the trigger on that test.

Back in 2006 when DPRK conducted its first nuclear test, I was snagging some free pizza at a physics students society lunch. I mentioned to our Israeli visitor from Dimona that I had heard rumors that there were Iranian and Pakistani observers at the DPRK tests. I also said that if that were true, then it seemed there was a bizarre kind of parity between Israel and Iran in that both had witnesses to a test on foreign soil, both had delivery platforms with unknown reliability, and both had fissile material production facilities. I pointed out (to a lot of raised eyebrows) that there was a dangerous consequence to this - that Iranian backed groups (like Hezbollah) may feel protected and empowered and attack Israel in ways they had not done so earlier. Ofcourse my visitor was a cool cat and simply said "hmm really" (This is not uncommon in physics departments - grad students and post-docs will say shit that makes you go "hmm... really" all the time - kinda comes with the job description).

Anyway - that problem of the apparent parity between Iran and Israeli deterrents has gotten worse as Iranian fissile material stockpiles grew. Now it turns out that the Iranians realized that the cost of using the P1/P2 (IR1/IR2) centrifuges was too high (too little MTBF) and their whole HEU based route to a deterrent was a fail given how high their delivery systems failure rates were. The Iranians had not put into place a Pu program of sufficient size and so they decided there was more to be gained leveraging their EU ties to get a nice IUCNA type deal. That idea became the JCPOA. There was internal debate in Iran with IRGC types opposing the JCPOA for obvious political reasons (i.e. "but I want America to pay attention to me") but the scalability concerns won out.

This IMHO put Israel in an awkward position. With Iran playing nice - there is less of a reason for IL to test. With the clock running, it is a matter of time before the missile capability gap between Iran and IL is bridged. So eventually the OAR of the Iranian BMs will rise to a level where with their fissile material production capabilities will be sufficient to pose a credible deterrent to an Israeli strike. This is even if the Iranian's don't test their design.

So if Israel tests - they can showcase their dominance in OAR and yield and effectively draw a line above with Iran will have to piss in order to be seen as a credible deterrent. Once that line is up there - the Israelis will end to any talk of "wiping Israel off the face of the Earth" from Iran or anyone else (because Iran is the most tech savvy nation in that region) for several decades at least.

So it becomes in Israel's interest to provoke an Iranian test or at least a march towards one. The idea of invading Iran and occupying it is absurd. That isn't cost effective and the risks are unacceptable that something goes wrong with that (unlike Iraq - where Saddam didn't have the bomb at all). So a cheaper option now is to provoke Iran by getting Trump to cancel the JCPOA (which I suspect is one of the few reasons that Israelis and Jewish supporters of Trump put up with his Nazi bullshit). The Iranians will then signal their desire to leave the NPT and that can be used by Israel to test its capabilities and report a visibly high OAR and yield. This doesn't get into the sticky bits about about true costs of Israeli stockpile stewardship etc... but at least for the foreseeable future it ends the possibility of Iran seizing the high ground.

If this is what Bibi has in mind - then all I can say is that this is an extremely high risk strategy. 
The likelihood of an Israeli test driving proliferation incentives in the region and beyond is large and that will impose downstream costs on the Israeli economy. 

I understand that the Middle East is a difficult place with too many people too much desert, and you have to be a real asshole from time to time, but I can't help wondering if there is really no alternative to this way of thinking.

* Yes I know about the RSA cooperation back in the day and the Vanunu disclosures, but honestly that doesn't cut it as credibility goes. If you can't own up to your tests and you can come up with a real OAR, then people are going to find your claims less than credible.


At 11:27 AM, Blogger Ralphy said...

besides israel's meddling in the ME the problem with bibi is that he wants to be charge of us foreign policy.......maybe we should have made him us secretary of state...........

At 12:12 PM, Blogger maverick said...

well looks like he succeeded.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Wonder how long before the end-to-end nuclear proof test of the Popeye Turbo SLCM.

Am guessing that Iran will have to declare intention to leave NPT.

That will likely come after a round of dueling either in Syria or Lebanon.

I suppose Iran could short circuit the whole thing by testing one of own nuclear devices or alternatively giving Israel excuse it needs by missiles out of Syria at Israeli coastal cities.

Thing is though missiles will have crap accuracy.

At 5:56 PM, Blogger Ralphy said...

and the israelis struck another missile site in syria today......kinda pressing their point on the day that trump announces the us withdrawal from the iran nuke deal.


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