Si vis pacem, para bellum atomicum. “If you want peace, prepare for atomic war.” However reluctantly, this must be Israel’s overriding strategic mantra in the years ahead. This is not because a nuclear war is especially likely, but rather because Israel’s nuclear deterrent will remain indispensable for the prevention of large-scale conventional conflict.
Still, with Iran’s steady and growing nuclearization, eventual nuclear war, or even a “bolt-from-the-blue” nuclear attack, cannot be ruled out. Taken together with the understanding that an Iranian nuclear enemy could be more-or-less animated by wholly apocalyptic visions of Jihad, this means that military planners in the Jewish state will need to augment recognizable strategies of deterrence with appropriate forms of diplomacy, ballistic missile defense and possibly even preemption. This last option could now take the form of selected cyber-attacks, and/or regime-change interventions, as well as the more traditional sorts of defensive physical destruction. Jurisprudentially, because international law is not a suicide pact, any or all of these kinds of preemption could legally be considered as “anticipatory self-defense.”
There is also the strongly related and inter-penetrating issue of a Palestinian state. If President Barack Obama has his way with the so-called “Road Map To Peace in the Middle East” (just another codified version of land for nothing), an independent state of Palestine would be carved directly out of the living body of Israel. The result: Palestine would become an optimal platform for future war and terror against Israel.
President Obama also seeks “a world free of nuclear weapons.” Significantly, the ultimate existential threat posed by a Palestinian state would require some antecedent forms of Israeli nuclear disarmament. Once a new enemy state and its allies believed that Israel had been bent sufficiently to “nonproliferation” demands, adversarial military strategy could progress rapidly from terror to war, and then from attrition to annihilation. Any expression of Israeli denuclearization could remove the country’s last barrier to national survival.
Israel’s unilateral nuclear disarmament is improbable, but not inconceivable. Oddly, certain of the country’s leading academic strategists continue to make this precise recommendation. I have debated them myself on the pages of Harvard University’s journal, International Security.
It is generally difficult to imagine nuclear weapons as anything other than evil implements of destruction. Nonetheless, there are circumstances wherein a particular state’s possession of such weapons may be all that protects it from catastrophic war, or genocide. Moreover, because such terrible weapons may effectively deter international aggression, at least in those cases where the prospective aggressor remains rational, their possession could also protect neighboring states (both friends and foes) from war-related or even nuclear-inflicted harms.
President Obama should take note. Not all members of the Nuclear Club need be a security menace. Some may offer a distinct and indispensable benefit to world peace and security. This point should be perfectly clear to everyone who remembers the Cold War.
Should Israel be deprived of its nuclear forces because of sorely misunderstood hopes for peace, the Jewish state could become vulnerable to literally overwhelming attacks from enemy states. Although such existential vulnerability might be prevented in principle by instituting parallel forms of chemical/biological weapons disarmament among these foes, such parallel steps would never actually be taken. Verification of compliance in these matters is exceedingly difficult. Such verification would become more problematic where several enemy states would be involved.
Nuclear weapons are not the problem per se. In the Middle East, the core problem remains a far-reaching and unreconstructed Jihadist commitment to “excise the Jewish cancer.” Jerusalem should quickly understand that the Road Map, like Oslo before cartographic metaphor became more fashionable, is little more than an incremental enemy expedient. In essence, the Road Map represents a nicely-phrased stratagem designed to weaken Israel to the point where it can, finally, no longer endure.
At least one Arab state that is at de jure “peace” with Israel remains de facto at war. Egypt, should gainful tactical opportunities arise, would revert to its more customary historic stance. Here, Cairo could join in collaborative Arab attacks against Israeli population centers, and certain military targets. Similarly, Syria, even if it should sign a formal peace agreement with Israel, would also not hesitate to abrogate that agreement if presumably gainful military opportunities arose.
With its nuclear weapons, Israel could deter enemy unconventional attacks, and most large conventional aggressions. With such weapons, Israel could also launch non-nuclear preemptive strikes against enemy state hard targets that might threaten Israel’s annihilation. Without these weapons, any such acts of anticipatory self-defense would likely represent the onset of a much wider war, because there would be no compelling threat of any Israeli counter retaliation.
However counter-intuitive, Israel’s nuclear weapons represent an indispensable impediment to the actual use of nuclear weapons, and to the commencement of regional nuclear war.
As Israel’s Prime Minister, Shimon Peres once expressed an explicit willingness to “give up the atom” in exchange for “peace.” But, left to depend upon the plainly hollow guarantees of Israel’s mortal enemies, the Jewish State, denuclearized, and dismembered by the Road Map, could not long survive. Indeed, as war and genocide need not be mutually exclusive, a denuclearized and dismembered Israel could even invite another Final Solution. This is not hyperbole, but rather the verifiably reasonable conclusion of sound strategic analysis.
To Be Continued
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, and is the author of many books and articles dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war. Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue for forty years, Dr. Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945. He was Chair of Project Daniel (Prime Minister Sharon/Israel).