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Why Israel Needs Nuclear Weapons: A Response To Zeev Maoz


Beres-Louis-Rene

Israeli strategist Zeev Maoz, currently a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, has written a controversial article calling for Israel to disband its nuclear weapons program and to join with Arab states in the region to create a “nuclear-weapons- free-zone.”Forthcoming in the prestigious Harvard journal International Security, “The Mixed Blessing of Israel’s Nuclear Policy” completely ignores the entire history of Israel-Arab relations, especially the still unending Arab call for Israel’s annihilation and the indisputably ceaseless record of Arab/Iranian non-compliance with international legal obligations. Most ominously, this record includes Iran’s recently revealed pursuit of nuclear weapons while a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

How little has been learned in some academic quarters. Should Israeli leaders ever take seriously the particular “wisdom” of Zeev Maoz, they might as well agree openly to national suicide. Deprived of any truly menacing deterrent, a denuclearized Israel would put itself at the mercy of governments that unambiguously profess genocide against a country that is half the size of Lake Michigan.

Admittedly, it is difficult to imagine nuclear weapons as anything other than inherently evil
implements of destruction. Yet, there are certainly circumstances wherein a country’s possession of such weapons will be all that protects that state from altogether catastrophic war. Moreover, because such terrible weapons may deter international aggression, their possession could also protect neighboring states (friends and foes) from war-related or even nuclear-inflicted harms. It follows that not all members of the Nuclear Club need be a menace; rather, some may offer a distinct and indispensable benefit to world peace and security.

An obvious case in point is the State of Israel. Should Israel ever be deprived of its nuclear forces because of misconceived Israeli hopes for regional cooperation, the Jewish state could become vulnerable to overwhelming attacks from certain enemy states. Even if pertinent Arab states were to actually abide by the expectations of a nuclear- weapons-free-zone – a presumption entirely unsupported by regional histories – their combined conventional, chemical and biological capabilities could, over time, become overwhelming for Israel.

Although Israeli existential vulnerability might be prevented in principle by instituting parallel forms of conventional/chemical/biological weapons disarmament among enemy Arab states and Iran, such parallel steps would never actually take place. After all, as we should have learned by now, verification of compliance in these matters is exceedingly difficult. Such verification would be especially problematic where several enemy states would be involved.

Nuclear weapons are not the problem per se. In the persistently bad neighborhood known as the Middle East, the problem is a far-reaching and essentially unreconstructed Arab/Iranian commitment to “excise the Jewish cancer.” Faced with this commitment, Jerusalem must already understand that the “Peace Process” has never been more than a temporary enemy expedient, a stratagem designed to weaken Israel to the point where, finally, it can no longer defend itself.

Significantly, this strategem, whether it be called “Oslo” or the “Road Map,” could soon succeed beyond the wildest dreams of enemy leaders. Should the “Peace Process” now be augmented by Israeli nuclear disarmament as recommended by Professor Maoz, and at a time when enemy states would continue to expand their own conventional and unconventional weapons activities, Israel’s very survival could be placed in doubt.

Contrary to prevailing conventional wisdom, which is almost always unwise, at least one Arab state that is now formally “at peace” with Israel remains effectively at war with the Jewish state. There can be little doubt that Egypt, should tactical opportunities arise, would quickly revert to its traditional stance, joining enthusiastically in joint Arab attacks against Israeli population centers and certain military targets. Syria, should it sometime sign a comparable peace agreement with Israel, would not hesitate to abrogate that agreement if Damascus felt the time were right for a gainful final assault. Here we must also take special note of growing cooperation between certain Arab states and Iran, which could soon imperil Israel with formidable combinations of conventional and unconventional threats, including nuclear weapons.

With nuclear weapons, Israel could deter enemy unconventional attacks and most large conventional aggressions. Moreover, with such weapons, Jerusalem could launch non-nuclear preemptive strikes against enemy state hard targets that threaten Israel’s annihilation. Without such weapons, such strikes would likely represent the onset of a much wider war because there would be no compelling threat of Israeli counter-retaliation. Israel’s nuclear weapons therefore represent an impediment to the actual use of nuclear weapons and to the commencement of regional nuclear war.

Let us be candid. Zeev Maoz’s stated willingness to give up the atom is a splendid example of what international lawyers call “naive legalism.” Left to depend upon the security guarantees of Israel’s mortal enemies, the Jewish state, denuclearized and incrementally dismembered by the “Peace Process,” might not long endure. But by maintaining indispensable military power in a hostile and increasingly anarchic region, Israel – which assuredly harbors no interest whatsoever in the destruction of any other state - could ensure both its own survival and general area security.

Of course, in the best of possible worlds, all unconventional weapons, chemical/biological as well as nuclear, would simply be eliminated. But as we still do not live in such a world, it is vital to realize that the weapons themselves are not the real problem, and that Israeli nuclear weapons are plainly necessary to preserve the peace and to prevent catastrophic war.

Copyright© The Jewish Press 2004. All rights reserved.LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war. He is Chair of “Project Daniel,” a private advisory group to the Prime Minister on existential security matters. The group’s final report, Israel’s Strategic Future, was delivered to PM Sharon in January 2003.

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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