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Olmert’s Unspoken Existential Imperative Taking Israel’s Bomb Out Of The ‘Basement’


Now that Israel is again being pressured to follow a self-destructive “Road Map,” a 23rd Arab state called Palestine is again in the process of being born. One serious but largely unforeseen effect of this grotesque birth (one in which only a gravedigger could wield the forceps) is greatly diminished “strategic depth” for Israel. Consequently there is a heightened probability of both conventional and unconventional war.

It follows that Israel will soon have to rely more explicitly upon its still undeclared nuclear deterrent. In the popular parlance of military planners and strategic scholars, this will mean taking the country’s nuclear “bomb” out of the “basement.”

Since its beginnings, Israel’s nuclear capacity and doctrine have remained hidden and undeclared, “buried,” and located far beyond accessible mechanisms for appraisal and verification. To an extent, this makes considerable sense, as the Jewish State has not wished to give its many relentless enemies any possible pretext for condemnation or for “defensive” first-strikes. Nor has Jerusalem sought to embarrass Washington, which has reliably cooperated in obscuring Israel’s strategic posture.

Presently, however, especially as an openly genocidal Iran continues to progress with its own program for nuclear weapons, there are several compelling reasons to argue for an end to Israel’s nuclear opacity. Contrary to conventional wisdom, avery selective disclosure of Israel’s nuclear assets and doctrine could soon prove to be manifestly gainful for Israel’s increasingly imperiled security.

For years, Israel has been the object of multiple demands to acknowledge that it even has nuclear weapons. Now it seems there is good reason for Prime Minister Olmert to comply, albeit for obviously different reasons.

Let him now prepare to release (in very broad outlines, to be sure) certain of his country’s nuclear capabilities and intentions. The net effect of such a release, particularly if it were to come immediately before Iran had actually crossed the nuclear “Rubicon,” would be beneficial.

Among other things, selective disclosure could reveal conclusively that Israel’s nuclear weapons are there not to execute a “Samson Option” – not for an apocalyptic “End of the Third Temple Commonwealth” reprisal – but rather for very complex and nuanced functions of existential deterrence and national defense.

To protect against major enemy attack, possibly one with biological and/or nuclear weapons, Israel must now systematically prepare to exploit its still-latent nuclear assets. Here, the success of Israel’s efforts will depend not only upon its actual shape of “counter-value”/counter-city operations. “Counterforce” or war-fighting postures could never help Israel. Therefore, they should be rejected out-of-hand.

But success is also based upon the extent to which this shape is made known in advance.

Before any enemy state is deterred from striking first, and before it can be deterred from launching retaliatory strikes following an Israeli non-nuclear preemption, it will not be enough that it merely “knows” that Israel has nuclear weapons.

It will also need to recognize that these Israeli weapons are sufficiently invulnerable to first-strike attack and/or that these weapons are targeted on their own cities.

It could also be vital that these would-be aggressor states fully recognize that their individual national leaders would die themselves in any expected Israeli atomic reprisal.

Israel must now strengthen its nuclear deterrence so that an enemy state will always reason that a first-strike attack would be irrational. To accomplish this critical objective, Israel must convince would-be attackers that it maintains both the willingness and the capacity to retaliate with certain nuclear weapons.

Wherever an enemy state considering an attack upon Israel would be unconvinced about either one or both of these elements, it might choose to strike first.

Ultimately, Israel’s physical survival will depend upon its nuclear weapons and doctrine. Although an immediate end to deliberate ambiguity is probably unnecessary, this would change the moment that Iran were seen as irrevocably nuclear.

Under the best of circumstances, Israel and/or the United States would soon prevent a nuclear Iran by fully lawful expressions of “anticipatory self-defense” – indispensable preemptions under longstanding customary international law.

But if (as expected) these countries should fail to seize the strategic moment on the Islamic Republic of Iran, a moment made even more critical by the distinct possibility of an irrational Iranian leadership armed with nuclear weapons, Israel will have absolutely no choice but to promptly remove its own bomb from the basement.

Copyright The Jewish Press, March 2, 2007. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the Chair of “Project Daniel,” a private group, which presented its once-confidential report on Israeli nuclear doctrine and strategy to former Prime Minister Sharon. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.

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