Nuclear War Fighting Options
We have seen that, among several other essential purposes, Israel could conceivably need nuclear weapons for nuclear war fighting. Should nuclear deterrence options and/or preemption options fail altogether, Israel’s “hard target” capabilities could be critical to national survival. These capabilities could depend, in part, upon nuclear weapons.
What, exactly, would be appropriate in such dire circumstances − conditions that Israel must strive to prevent at all costs?Instead of “Armageddon” type weapons (see the “Samson Option,” below), Israel would need, inter alia, precision, low-yield nuclear warheads that could reduce collateral damage to acceptable levels, and hypervelocity nuclear warheads that could overcome enemy active defenses. Israel would also benefit from radio-frequency weapons. These are nuclear warheads that are tailored to produce as much electromagnetic pulse as possible, destroying electronics and communications over wide areas.
Regarding the nuclear weapons needed by Israel for nuclear war fighting, Jerusalem could require an intermediate option between capitulation on the one hand, and resorting to multi-megaton nuclear weapons on the other.
Of course, all such discussion will be objectionable to people of feeling and sensitivity. It would, after all, be far better to speak of nuclear arms control or sustainable nuclear deterrence or even preemption, rather than nuclear war fighting. Yet, the Middle East remains a particularly dangerous and possibly irrational neighborhood, and a strategic failure to confront the most terrible possibilities could produce the most terrible harms. For Israel, a state that yearns for peace and security more than any other in this neighborhood − a state born out of the ashes of humankind’s most terrible crime − genocide looms both as a memory and as an expectation. Resisting the short-term temptations of “Road Maps” and “Peace Processes,” its leaders must always plan accordingly.
The Samson Option
Professor Cirincione’s view notwithstanding, Israel needs nuclear weapons, both for the compelling reasons already discussed, and also for “last resort” purposes. Although this is certainly the least important need − since, by definition, any actual resort to the Samson Option would reveal failure and collapse of all essential security functions − it is not unimportant. This is because Israeli preparation for last resort operations could play a role in enhancing Israeli nuclear deterrence, preemption and war fighting requirements, and because such preparation would also show the world that the post-Holocaust Jewish State had kept its faith with all those previous Jewish resisters who now sleep in the dust.
Regarding any prospective contributions to Israeli nuclear deterrence, preparation for a Samson Option could help to convince would-be attackers that aggression would not prove beneficial. This is especially the case if Israeli preparation were coupled with some level of disclosure, if Israel’s pertinent Samson weapons appeared to be sufficiently invulnerable to enemy first-strikes, and if these weapons were identifiably “counter value” in mission function. By definition, the Samson Option would be executed with counter value-targeted nuclear weapons. Such last-resort operations might come into play only after all Israeli counterforce options had been exhausted.
Also, considering what strategists sometimes call the “rationality of pretended irrationality,” Samson could aid Israeli nuclear deterrence by demonstrating a willingness to take existential risks, but this would hold only if last-resort options were not tied by definition to certain destruction.
Regarding prospective contributions to preemption options, preparation for a Samson Option could convince Israel that essential defensive first-strikes could be undertaken with diminished expectations of unacceptably destructive enemy retaliations. This would depend, of course, upon antecedent Israeli decisions on disclosure, on Israeli perceptions of the effects of disclosure on enemy retaliatory prospects, on Israeli judgments about enemy perceptions of Samson weapons vulnerability, and on enemy awareness ofSamson’s counter value force posture.
As in the case of Samson and Israeli nuclear deterrence (above), last-resort preparations could assist Israeli preemption options by displaying a willingness to take certain existential risks. But Israeli planners must be mindful here of pretended irrationality as a double-edged sword. Brandished too “irrationally,” Israeli preparations for a Samson Option could encourage enemy preemptions.
Regarding prospective contributions to Israel’s nuclear war fighting options, preparation for a Samson Option could convince enemy states that a clear victory would be impossible to achieve. But here, it would be important for Israel to communicate to potential aggressors the following understanding: Israel’s counter value-targeted Samson weapons are additional to (not at the expense of) its counterforce-targeted war fighting weapons. In the absence of such communication, preparations for a Samson Option could effectively impair rather than reinforce Israel’s nuclear war fighting options.
Whether we like it or not, Joseph Cirincione – as reported by Aaron Klein of WND − is wrong about Israel and nuclear weapons. Israel’s nuclear weapons are required to fulfill essential deterrence options, preemption options, war fighting options, and even the Samson Option. These weapons should never be negotiated away in formal international agreements, especially in the midst of the so-called “Peace Process” and its attendant creation of a Palestinian state. It follows as well, that particular nuclear weapons choices should be made in cumulative conformance with the seven (7) pertinent options that have been discussed and, more broadly, with the ever-changing strategic environment of regional and world power configurations.
In the final analysis, regrettable as it may appear, the ultimate structure of Israeli security will be built largely upon the foundations of nuclear weapons, not on “security regimes” or “confidence building measures.” Should these foundations be constructed carefully, with due regard for underlying theoretical soundness, they could assure that nuclear weapons will never actually be used in the Middle East.
Mr. Cirincione, please take note.
Copyright © The Jewish Press, June 20, 2008. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press. He is author of some of the earliest major books and articles on Israel’s nuclear strategy.