|Cover story, Jan. 29, 2012.|
Iran has courted this crisis, which would be considerably alleviated if it formally proclaimed its recognition of Israel's legitimacy, rather than not even mentioning Israel by name -- generally referring to the "Zionist regime." (I'd similarly favor Israel and the US stating their peaceful intentions toward the Islamic Republic.)
Aside from inviting a catastrophic war, an Israeli attack would not deter Iran. Part of the problem is the hardened and dispersed nature of Iran's nuclear facilities; another part is Israel's limited capacity as a military power. Back in August 2006, I blogged about the myth that Israel is a military superpower, beginning as follows:
An ongoing tragedy of Israel is that so small a country... must remain a major military power in order to survive. It pays a high price to do so, with most Israeli men spending three years of their youth as regular conscripts and then one month of each year until the age of 50 in active reserve units and subject to unlimited emergency call-up.According to Wikipedia, Israel's armed forces rank 34th in the world in relative size. Still, Israel is
Anti-Israel critics like to minimize Israel’s urgent security needs by referring to it, rather abstractly and without real analysis, as the 'fourth' greatest military power in the world. ...
surely more powerful than many countries with larger forces; this is especially true because its air force is strong--less due to its rather modest size, than to its quality. It's hard to say how to rank Israel as a military power over all; rather than either 4th or 34th, it is probably somewhere in the range of 10th to 15th. But its very small area and population are tremendous disadvantages against potential enemies in the Middle East, which are far larger and could (as in the past) attack Israel in a coalition.
Also according to Wikipedia, Israel is 97th in population in the world (about 7.8 million) and 151st in area; as compared with Iran, which is 17th in population and 18th in area. In other words, Israel has about 1/10 the population of Iran and a little over one percent of Iran's land mass.
In Dec. 2001, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran and still a leading figure now associated with reformist elements in the Islamic Republic, chillingly reasoned that since "the Islamic World" is so much larger than Israel, it could destroy the Jewish state in a nuclear war and survive ("the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything"). This reinforced Israeli fears that some Shi'ite religious fanatics in the Iranian leadership may believe in a theological doomsday scenario, which would invite a horribly destructive war with "infidels." The threat that Israelis sense from Iran is logical--augmented further by Iranian allies inhabiting three of Israel's borders (Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Assad in Syria), together concentrating over 50,000 rockets and missiles on Israel's cities and towns.
This is what I've gleaned from Wikipedia on the size of the Israel Defense Force (IDF):
"Active personnel 187,000 (ranked 34th); Reserve personnel 565,000." By comparison, this is an estimate of Iran's armed forces: "Active Military: 545,000 ; Active Reserve: 650,000 ."
Excluding Ireland (not significant as a military power), here are comparative stats (from Wikipedia) of the armed strength of all of the "I" countries--plus Russia, China and the USA:
State Active Reserve Paramilitary Total
India 1,325,000 2,142,821 1,300,586 4,768,407
Indonesia 302,000 400,000 280,000 982,000
Iran 523,000 1,800,000 1,510,000 3,833,000
Iraq 191,957 0 386,312 578,269
Israel 176,500 565,000 8,050 749,550
Italy 293,202 41,867 142,933 478,002
Russia 1,027,000 20,000,000 449,000 21,476,000
China 2,285,000 800,000 1,500,000 4,585,000
USA 1,468,364 1,458,500 11,035 2,937,899