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An Apocalyptic Future? Israel And Middle East Nuclear War (Second Of Two Parts)


Beres-Louis-Rene

A Lecture Delivered To The Dawn R. Schuman Institute Evanston, Illinois – September 9, 2004

Since the presentation of our original Project Daniel document to Prime Minister Sharon on January 16, 2003 (it remained secret until this past May), there have been a few relatively minor “victories” in the effort to control WMD proliferation among Israel’s enemies. The most obvious case in point – in addition to Iraq – is Libya. At the same time, the circumstances in North Korea (which has ties to some of Israel’s Arab/Islamic enemies), Iran and Pakistan remain very dangerous.

There is also evidence of expanding WMD ambitions in Egypt (so much for formal peace treaties), and Syria has been smuggling components for WMD weapons to Sudan – in an attempt to keep them hidden from outside inspection.

At the level of terrorist groups, which are sustained by several Arab/Islamic states, new alignments are now being fashioned between various Palestinian Organizations and al-Qaeda. Regarding Iranian nuclearization, there is always a danger that these atomic weapons might be shared with Hezbullah militias in south Lebanon.

Current threats of war, terrorism and genocide to Israel derive from a very clear “clash of civilizations.” These threats are far more than the result of narrow geo-strategic differences. They stem from religion and culture. Both Israel and the United States are in the cross-hairs of a worldwide Arab/Islamic “Jihad” that is fundamentally theological/cultural in nature. This orientation to Jihad will not concede an inch to rational persuasion, to conventional legal norms of “coexistence” or “peaceful settlement.” This situation of existential danger to “unbelievers” is hardly a pleasing one for Jerusalem or Washington, but it is one that must immediately be acknowledged and understood.

In the best of all possible worlds, none of these dreadful scenarios would be plausible, and the tiny State of Israel could rely upon Reason and Justice to forge its secure future. But we all know that this is hardly the best of all possible worlds. and that Israeli self-reliance is altogether indispensable. In this connection, it is certainly important that Israel not ever allow itself to be lured into some plan for a regional “nuclear weapon free zone” – an actual proposal these days advanced by certain prominent Israeli academics.

Shimon Peres, as Prime Minister, once stated publicly that Israel would be “delighted to give up the atom” if only the entire region would embrace a comprehensive security plan. It should be perfectly obvious, however, to anyone who thinks clearly, that in a scheme for regional nuclear renunciation, only Israel would be disarmed. It is also important, for Israel’s survival, that the country prepare to end its policy of nuclear ambiguity on short notice.

If there should ever be any evidence that enemy nuclearization (state and/or non-state) had taken place, Israel must immediately bring its bomb out of the “basement.” This is because the credibility of Israel’s nuclear deterrent in such circumstances would require a clear message that it has both the capacity and the intention to retaliate. Before an enemy of Israel might be deterred from launching nuclear first- strikes at Israel, it may not be enough that it “knows” merely that Israel HAS the bomb. It may also need to recognize that these Israeli nuclear weapons are sufficiently invulnerable to such attacks, and that they are aimed at very high-value targets.

In the Project Daniel Report, we recommend that “…a recognizable retaliatory force should be fashioned with the capacity to destroy some 15 high-value targets scattered widely over pertinent enemy states in the Middle East.” This strategy means that Israel’s second-strike response to enemy aggressions involving biological and/or nuclear weapons would be directed at enemy populations, not at enemy weapons. At the same time, the overriding priority of Israel’s nuclear deterrent force must always be that it preserves the country’s security without ever having to be fired.

Some of you will be disturbed by such “cold” reasoning – thinking, perhaps, that it has a hint of “Dr. Strangelove.” Yet, the countervalue targeting strategy recommended by Project Daniel represents Israel’s best hope for AVOIDING a nuclear or biological war. It is, therefore, actually the most humane strategy available. “The very best weapons,” the classical military theorist Clausewitz once wrote, “are those that achieve their objectives without actually being fired. This is especially the case with nuclear weapons. Israel’s nuclear weapons can succeed only through non-use.” Recognizing this, Project Daniel makes very clear that nuclear warfighting must always be avoided.

Medieval maps often portrayed Jerusalem at the center of the world. From the standpoint of nuclear strategy and world peace, such a portrayal is very valid today. Confronted with relentlessly genocidal state and non-state enemies, some of which energetically seek weapons of mass destruction, Israel must now fashion a sound strategic doctrine. This is why the Project Daniel Group first undertook to prepare its unprecedented Final Report to the Prime Minister.

What can you do – you, the concerned Jews of this great Dawn Schuman community? For one, you can remain aware that the State of Israel is always the individual Jew in macrocosm, and that the fate of this Jewish state is therefore still precarious. For another, you can recall that impending Israeli territorial surrenders must be evaluated along yet another dimension – the dimension of Israel’s strategic vulnerability – and that there is therefore yet another compelling reason to oppose these surrenders.

In many critical respects, Israel IS strong and powerful… and there are many reasons to believe that Israel will certainly prevail. But it is our individual and collective responsibility not to take this strength and power for granted. Rather, by facing Israel’s existential difficulties squarely, we will better ensure Israel’s enduring survival.

Apocalypse was pretty much a Jewish invention, but there is now every reason to believe that we can still avoid an apocalyptic future for Israel. Saul Bellow’s character, Ravelstein, reminds us Jews that we always exist on a knife’s edge, but there are also grounds for an informed reassurance that faith, intellect and courage will always bring us redemption.

Louis Rene Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Strategic and Military Affairs Columnist for The Jewish Press.

About the Author: Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of Political Science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.


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