President-elect Obama is prepared to offer Israel a "nuclear umbrella" to protect against the possibility of -- to stay consistent with the metaphor -- an Iranian nuclear downpour, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz. The so-called umbrella would guarantee an American nuclear strike against Iran if the Islamic Republic were to stage a nuclear strike against Israel.
One response from an Israeli defense official questioned the notion of a guarantee from a US administration willing to engage in diplomatic talks with the Iranian regime (actually, it should be noted, more diplomatic talks with the regime, as there have been literally dozens of talks between the US and Iran at the ambassador level or higher in the past decade).
"What is the significance of such guarantee when it comes from those who hesitated to deal with a non-nuclear Iran?" the Israeli official asked. "What kind of credibility would this [guarantee have] when Iran is nuclear-capable?"
The concern is a real one but is hardly even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the alarming implications of Obama's "nuclear umbrella". The first of these is that the nuclear umbrella implies the Obama administration is on some level resigned to the possibility of a nuclear Iran. While the counter-threat of an American second strike would seem to protect Israel from an Iranian attack, what does this mean for all the other countries within range of a regime armed with nuclear weapons and driven by an admittedly apocalyptic worldview? Should Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, India, and the countries of southern Europe (to name just a few) all kiss their collective national security goodbye?
But, getting back to Israel, what would be the actual value of a "guaranteed" American second strike (granting for the sake of argument that such a guarantee could be guaranteed) when Israel itself has second strike capabilities? While Israel has an official policy of opacity regarding nuclear weapons it's widely known that it in addition to land-based nuclear installations, the Jewish state also has submarine second strike capability. If accepted, Obama's "deal" to provide for Israeli security in a way that Israel can already provide for itself would make Israel the kind of US-dependent client state that many falsely accuse it of being today.
However, there's another scary implication of this disastrous "umbrella" policy that outstrips all the others in the scale of its absurdity. It takes only a few seconds to think this one through. Obama's policy assumes first that Iran will get nuclear arms and second that there is a real likelihood of that country using nukes against Israel. In such a situation, the US would respond with another nuclear strike. This kind of scenario has a name: nuclear war.
An Iranian government that has already crossed the boundaries of geopolitical sanity and launched a nuclear strike against a country with nuclear capability (and the world's pound-for-pound strongest airforce) is not likely to stop the nukes on account of an American strike. Actually, it's likely to ramp up. The Iranians are not idiots - they will prepare for an American strike on Iranian soil by providing for their own second strike capability and, importantly, by positioning a large number of terror cells to strike at the US domestically and at US assets around the world.
The downward spiral of this policy is dizzying. If the "umbrella" is a real consideration on the part of the Obama administration then Israel actually should feel reassured: it should confidently understand that not just its own security but regional (and possibly global) security rests with its taking action to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Even if it's not a serious policy consideration of Obama, if the policy was misstated or misinterpreted, Israel - just as much of those within Iran's strike radius, as well as the rest of the globalized world - should be alarmed at the extent to which absurdism now characterizes the discussion on a near-nuclear Iran. The critical question, it now seems, is no longer about how far the Iranians are willing to go. It's about how low the Americans are willing to sink.