“It is in the thick of a calamity,” we learn from Albert Camus’ The Plague, “that one gets hardened to the truth, in other words, to silence.” Now that Iranian nuclearization is reaching the point of no return, noisy declarations from Tehran are apt to become less shrill. Reciprocally, in Jerusalem, an inaudible truth could soon yield to action.
For Israel, the strategic options are plain: strike preemptively, with or without American collaboration, or go along with the world community’s reliance upon “sanctions.” The first option, although limited to military and industrial targets, would carry substantial political costs and security risks. The second would amount to doing absolutely nothing.
The coming plague must certainly carry with it a very heavy truth. A nuclear war in the Middle East would resemble any other incurable disease. With silence approaching, Israel requires a strategic doctrine that can conveniently combine all essential protective elements of deterrence, targeting, war fighting, preemption and defense. Nothing else will do.
My readers in The Jewish Press will know that I have written about such doctrine for many years. Israel’s program for survival must carefully fashion a general strategy from which a useful array of particular operations and tactics can be drawn. If it should be determined that Iranian nuclearization is unstoppable, this Israeli doctrine would include an immediate policy shift from deliberate ambiguity (the “bomb in the basement”) to disclosure. Of course, this shift – to which I have already given considerable attention in these pages – would be only the most visible part of a much wider strategy.
In possible cooperation with Washington, Jerusalem’s political and military leadership is now likely examining diverse segments of Israel’s strategic doctrine. Fitting these discrete pieces together in a way that can prevent any enemy nuclear attack must surely be Israel’s main concern. Further, as Israel’s security is crucial to our own, such nuanced calculations will have altogether critical consequences for New York, Washington and Los Angeles, as well as for Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Unless there is an unanticipated and sweeping regime change in Tehran, that country will remain animated by Jihad and by specifically Shiite visions of “apocalypse.” Israel’s own nuclear strategy of survival, therefore, is apt to be founded upon utterly realistic assumptions of plausible enemy aggression. These assumptions will not ignore the conceivable prospect of enemy irrationality. Under Ahmadinejad, Iran could even come to resemble an individual suicide bomber writ large.
There is also the related issue of a Palestinian state. If, following still-strong support from President Bush, a 23rd Arab sovereignty was to be declared in the not-too-distant future (the explicit objective of the coming conference in Annapolis), “Palestine” would become an optimal platform for major international aggression. Here, the substantial danger posed – including nuclear war and nuclear terrorism – would affect not only Israel, but also the American homeland.
It may be difficult for us to imagine nuclear weapons as anything but plainly evil. Yet there are circumstances where a state’s possession of these bombs and missiles could be all that prevents catastrophic war or even genocide. The International Court of Justice ruled in its Advisory Opinion on July 8, 1996, “The Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense.” Where “the very survival of a State would be at stake,” said the ICJ, so that even the actual use of nuclear weapons could be permissible.
Let us be clear: Israel is not Iran. Israel does not seek redemption through any form of Final Battle. Israel makes no threats of harm to others. Israel does not rattle the saber of its own nuclear capabilities. Israel is not in violation of any international treaty.
Not all members of the Nuclear Club are a menace. Some, like Israel, represent a distinct asset to world peace.
Should it ever be deprived of its presumed nuclear forces, Israel would become vulnerable to massive attacks from certain enemy states. Israel’s nuclear weapons are not the problem. In the Middle East, the only real problem is a far-reaching and wholly unreconstructed Arab/Islamist commitment to blot out and remove the “Zionist Entity.” This problem will not go away at Annapolis.
International treaties can have serious limitations. At least one Arab state that is now “at peace” with Israel remains effectively at war with the Jewish State. Egypt could quickly revert to a belligerent stance, participating in joint attacks against Israeli population centers and military targets. Syria, should it ever sign a comparable peace agreement with Israel, would not hesitate to abrogate that agreement if it felt the time were right for a gainful (and doubtlessly collaborative) final assault. Following recent news about Israel’s secret strike in Syria, this point is altogether sobering.
With nuclear weapons and a corollary nuclear strategy, Israel could deter a rational enemy’s unconventional attacks as well as most large conventional aggressions. With such weapons, Israel could also launch non-nuclear preemptive strikes against enemy state hard targets that threaten Israel’s annihilation. Without these weapons, such potentially essential acts of anticipatory self-defense would probably represent the onset of a much wider war. This is because there would be no compelling threat of Israeli counter-retaliation.
It is in the thick of calamity that we encounter not only silence, but also a delayed lucidity. Now is the time to call things by their correct name. Israel’s undisclosed nuclear arsenal offers an indispensable impediment to any actual use of nuclear weapons. Joined with a coherent strategic doctrine – one that would include explicit codifications of both preemption and counter-city (sometimes called counter-value) targeting – these weapons could soon represent the entire Middle East’s principal line of defense against Iranian aggression and against regional nuclear war.
Copyright © The Jewish Press, November 23, 2007. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war. Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue, he lectures widely in the United States and abroad on international security and legal issues. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press. He was Chair of Project Daniel.