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Posts Tagged ‘Samson Option’

Palestine, Iran And Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: Critical Notes for an Essential Strategic Policy in Jerusalem (Part II)

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

“For By Wise Counsel, Thou Shalt Make Thy War”

Proverbs 24, 6

 

            What is Israel to do? Confronting a new enemy Arab state that could act collaboratively and capably  (thanks, largely, to the U.S.) with other Arab states, or possibly even with non-Arab Iran, and also potentially serious synergies between the birth of Palestine, and renewed terrorism from Lebanon, Israel could feel itself compelled to bring hitherto clandestine elements of its “ambiguous” nuclear strategy into the light of day.  Here, leaving the “bomb in the basement” would no longer make strategic sense.

 

             For Israel, of course, the geostrategic rationale for some level of nuclear disclosure would not lie in stating the obvious (merely that Israel has the bomb), but rather, inter alia, to persuade all prospective attackers that Israel’s nuclear weapons are both usable/secure, and penetration-capable.

 

             Palestine, too, even if it would not actively seek collaboration with other Arab or Islamic countries, could still be exploited militarily and geographically against Israel by different regional enemies of the Jewish State. Iran and Syria represent the most obvious candidates to carry out any such exploitation. During May 2010, Iran reportedly transferred an undetermined number of Scud missiles to Syria. In Damascus, plans are already being made to smuggle these Scuds into northern Lebanon, from where they could then strike any major city in Israel.

 

            Israel’s core nuclear strategy, however secret and ambiguous, must always remain oriented toward deterrence.  The Samson Option refers to a presumed Israeli policy that is necessarily based upon an implicit threat of massive nuclear retaliation for certain specific enemy aggressions. This policy, to be sure, could be invoked credibly only where such aggressions would threaten Israel’s very existence. For anticipated lesser harms, Samson threats would likely not appear believable.

 

            In Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv, the main point of any Samson Option would not be to communicate the availability of any graduated Israeli nuclear deterrent; that is, a deterrent  (resembling what was once called “flexible response” in the U.S.) in which all possible reprisals would be more or less specifically calibrated to different and determinable levels of enemy aggression.  Rather, it would intend to signal the more-or-less unstated promise of a counter city (“counter value in military parlance) reprisal.

 

            The Samson Option, then, would be unlikely to deter any aggressions short of nuclear and/or certain biological first strike attacks upon the Jewish State.

 

            In essence, Samson would  “say” the following to all potential attackers:  We (Israel) may have to ‘die,’ but, this time, we don’t intend to die alone.”

 

            A Samson Option could serve Israel better as an adjunct to particular deterrence and preemption options than as a core nuclear strategy. The Samson Option, therefore, should never be confused with Israel’s main security objective. This principal objective must always be to seek effective deterrence at the lowest possible levels of conflict. 

 

            To suitably strengthen Israeli nuclear deterrence, visible preparations for a Samson Option could help to convince enemy states that aggression would not be gainful.  This would be most convincing if: (1) Israeli Samson preparations were coupled with some level of visible nuclear disclosure (i.e., ending Israel’s posture of nuclear ambiguity); (2) Israel’s Samson weapons appeared sufficiently invulnerable to enemy first strikes; and  (3) Israel’s Samson weapons were recognizably “counter value” in mission function. 

 

            Samson could also support Israeli nuclear deterrence by demonstrating a greater Israeli willingness to take existential risks. In matters of nuclear strategy, it may sometimes be better to feign irrationality than to purposefully project complete rationality.  Earlier, in IDF history, Moshe Dayan had genuinely understood this strangely counter-intuitive injunction: “Israel must be like a mad dog,” said Dayan, ” too dangerous to bother.

 

            Dayan was right. He knew what he was talking about.

 

             In our topsy-turvy nuclear world, it can be perfectly rational to pretend irrationality.  But in any given Middle East conflict situation, the precise nuclear deterrence benefits of pretended irrationality would have to depend in large part upon a prior enemy state awareness of Israel’s counter value targeting posture. Rejecting nuclear war-fighting as a purposeful strategic option, the Project Daniel Group, in its then-confidential report to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon more than seven years ago (January 16, 2003), recommended exactly such a deterrence posture.

 

            To strengthen still-possible strategies of preemption, preparations for a Samson Option could help to convince Israel’s own leadership that certain defensive first strikes would be cost-effective. These leaders would then expect that any Israeli preemptive strikes, known under international law as expressions of “anticipatory self-defense,” could be launched with reduced apprehensions of unacceptably damaging enemy retaliations. This complex expectation would depend upon many pertinent factors, including: (1) previous Israeli decisions on nuclear disclosure;  (2) Israeli perceptions of the effects of such nuclear disclosure on enemy retaliatory intentions;  (3) Israeli judgments about enemy perceptions of Samson weapons vulnerability; and (4) a presumed enemy awareness of Samson’s counter value force posture. 

 

            As with Samson-based enhancements of Israeli nuclear deterrence,any identifiably last-resort nuclear preparations could support Israel’s critical preemption options by displaying a bold national willingness to take existential risks. In this connection, the steady and undisturbed nuclearization of Iran should come immediately to mind.

 

 

LOUIS RENÉ BERES  was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971),  and is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli security matters.  Born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945,  he was Chair of Project Daniel, and, in Fall 2009,  published “Facing Iran’s Ongoing Nuclearization: A Retrospective on Project Daniel,”  International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 22, No. 3., pp. 491-514. Recent related publications include:  Louis René Beres, “Understanding the `Correlation of Forces` in the Middle East: Israel’s Urgent Strategic Imperative,”  The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 4., No. 1, 2009, pp. 77 – 88;  Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Project Daniel,” a Working Paper for the Ninth Annual Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel’s National Security and Resilience, Israel, February 2-4, 2009; Louis René Beres, “Israel’s Uncertain Strategic Future,” Parameters: U.S.  Army War College Quarterly, Spring 2007, pp. 37-54; and Louis René Beres, “Israel and the Bomb,”  International Security (Harvard), Summer 2004,  pp. 175 – 180. Professor Beres is also the author of occasional opinion columns in such newspapers as The New York Times; The Washington Post; The Washington Times; Los Angeles Times; The Christian Science Monitor; USA Today; The Boston Globe; Chicago Tribune; Ha’aretz andThe Jerusalem Post. He is Strategic and Military Affairs analyst for The Jewish Press.

Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity: Opportunity Or Liability? (Part III)

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

“For By Wise Counsel, Thou Shalt Make Thy War”

Proverbs 24,6

Only a selective end to its nuclear ambiguity would allow Israel to exploit the potentially considerable benefits of a Samson Option. Should Israel choose to keep its Bomb in the “basement,” therefore, it could not make any use of the Samson Option.

Irrespective of its preferred level of ambiguity, Israel’s nuclear strategy is correctly oriented toward deterrence, not war-fighting. The Samson Option refers to a policy that would be based in part upon a more-or-less implicit threat of massive nuclear retaliation for certain specific enemy aggressions. Such a policy could be invoked credibly only in cases where such aggressions would threaten Israel’s very existence, and would involve far more destructive and high-yield nuclear weapons than what might otherwise be thought “usable.” This means that a Samson Option could make sense only in presumably “last-resort,” or “near last-resort,” circumstances.

It also means that where Samson is involved, an end to deliberate ambiguity would help Israel by emphasizing that portion of its nuclear arsenal that is less usable. This ironic fact is not a contradiction of my prior argument that Israel will need to take the Bomb out of the “basement” to enhance its deterrent credibility. Rather, it indicates that the persuasiveness of Israel’s nuclear deterrent will require prospective enemy perceptions of retaliatory destructiveness at both the low and high ends of the nuclear yield spectrum. Ending nuclear ambiguity at the proper time would best permit Israel to foster such perceptions.

The main objective of any Samson Option would not be to communicate the availability of any graduated Israeli nuclear deterrent. Instead, it would intend to signal the more-or-less unstated “promise” of a counter-city (“counter-value” in military parlance) reprisal. Made plausible by an end to absolute nuclear ambiguity, the Samson Option would be unlikely to deter any aggressions short of “high end” nuclear and/or (certain) biological first strikes upon the Jewish state.

Samson would “say” the following to all potential nuclear attackers: “We (Israel) may have to “die,” but (this time) we won’t die alone.” The Samson Option, made possible only after a calculated end to Israeli nuclear ambiguity, could serve Israel as an adjunct to deterrence, and to certain preemption options, but not as a core nuclear strategy.

The Samson Option should never be confused with Israel’s overriding security objective: to seek stable deterrence at the lowest possible levels of possible military conflict.

In broad outline, “Samson” could support Israel’s nuclear deterrence by demonstrating an Israeli willingness to take strategic risks, including even existential risks. Earlier, Moshe Dayan had understood and embraced this particular form of logic: “Israel must be like a mad dog, said Dayan, too dangerous to bother.”

In our often counter-intuitive strategic world, it can sometimes be rational to pretend irrationality. Always, the nuclear deterrence benefits of pretended irrationality would depend in part upon an enemy state’s awareness of Israel’s disclosed counter-value targeting posture. In the final analysis, there are specific and valuable critical security benefits that would likely accrue to Israel as the result of a purposefully selective and incremental end to its policy of deliberate nuclear ambiguity.

The time to begin such an “end” has not yet arrived. But at the precise moment that Iran verifiably crosses the nuclear threshold, Israel should begin immediately to remove the Bomb from its “basement.” When this critical moment arrives, Israel should already have configured (1) its planned reallocation of nuclear assets; and (2) the extent to which this particular configuration should now be disclosed. This would importantly enhance the credibility of its nuclear deterrence posture.

To optimize Israel’s selective easing of nuclear ambiguity, Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv would need to deploy, inter alia, a fully recognizable second-strike nuclear force. Such a robust strategic force – hardened, multiplied and dispersed – would necessarily be fashioned to inflict a decisive retaliatory blow against major enemy cities. Iran, it follows, so long as it is led by rational decision-makers, should be made to understand that the actual costs of any planned aggressions against Israel would always exceed any conceivable gains.

The deterrence benefits of any Israeli modifications of deliberate ambiguity would be altogether limited to rational adversaries. If, after all, enemy decision-makers might sometime value certain national or religious preferences more highly than their own country’s physical survival, they would not be deterred by any enhanced forms of Israeli nuclear deterrence, including even a nuanced and purposeful removal of Israel’s bomb from the “basement.”

To comprehensively protect itself against potentially irrational nuclear adversaries, Israel would now have no viable alternative to implementing a still more-or-less problematic conventional preemption option. Operationally, at this very late date, there could be no reasonable assurances of success. Jurisprudentially, however, especially in view of Iran’s expressly genocidal threats to Israel, such a preemption option could represent a distinctly permissible expression of anticipatory self-defense under international law.

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) was Chair of Project Daniel. Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue, he is the author of many major books and articles on nuclear strategy and nuclear war, including publications in International Security (Harvard); World Politics (Princeton); The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Nativ (Israel); The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; Parameters: The Professional Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare (DoD); Studies in Conflict and Terrorism; Strategic Review; Contemporary Security Policy; Armed Forces and Society; Israel Affairs; Comparative Strategy; and The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. Professor Beres’ monographs on nuclear strategy and nuclear war have been published by The Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel); The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies (University of Notre Dame); The Graduate Institute of International Studies (Geneva); and the Monograph Series on World Affairs (University of Denver). His frequent opinion columns have appeared in The New York Times; Christian Science Monitor; Chicago Tribune; Washington Post; Washington Times; Boston Globe; USA Today; The Jerusalem Post; Ha’aretz (Israel); Neue Zuricher Zeitung (Switzerland); and U.S. News & World Report.

Dr. Louis René Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Deceptions Of A “Nuclear Weapons-Free World”: Why President Obama’s Good Intentions Could Bring Genocidal War To Israel (Part IV)

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Nuclear War Fighting Options

 

            We have seen that Israel could conceivably need nuclear weapons, among several other essential purposes, 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 certain radio-frequency weapons.  These are nuclear warheads 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, 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. But let us be clear, per earlier recommendations by Project Daniel, that nuclear war fighting options should always be rejected wherever possible.

 

The Samson Option

 

            Proposals for a Middle East Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone notwithstanding, Israel still 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 an ineradicable Jewish obligation.

 

            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.

 

             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 definitionally 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 of Samson’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.

 

Conclusion

 

            Whether President Obama should agree or disagree, not all nuclear weapons states are created equal. Some, like Iran – still an aspiring nuclear weapons state – would present an intolerable threat of nuclear aggression. Others, like Israel, need nuclear weapons and doctrine simply to stay “alive.” Without them, Clausewitz’s concept of “mass” would quickly overtake and suffocate the Jewish state.

 

             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 a so-called “Peace Process” and its attendant creation of a Palestinian state. This imperative is the case no matter how appealing might appear the projected vision of a “world without nuclear weapons,” and no matter how high the authority of this idealized vision’s enthusiastic proponent.

 

             For Israel, a country smaller than some American lakes (e.g., Lake Michigan), particular nuclear weapons choices should be made in cumulative conformance with the seven relevant options that I have just 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 and strategic doctrine, and not on “security regimes,” “peace processes,” “confidence building measures,” or “nuclear weapon free- zones.”  Significantly, and on this point President Barack Obama should take very careful note, if these foundations are constructed carefully in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, they could best assure that nuclear weapons will never actually be used in the Middle East. 

 

 

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), Chair of  Project Daniel, is the author of some of the earliest major books and articles on Israel’s nuclear strategy, including APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (The University of Chicago Press, 1980), and SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington Books, 1986).  Chair of Project Daniel, a private nuclear advisory to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his pertinent scholarly writings have appeared in such publications as International Security (Harvard); World Politics (Princeton); The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare (DoD); International Journal of Intelligence & Counterintelligence; Strategic Review; Studies in Conflict and Terrorism; The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; Journal of Counter Terrorism and Security International; Contemporary Security Policy; Armed Forces and Society; Israel Affairs; Comparative Strategy; NATIV (Israel); The Hudson Review; Policy Sciences; and Cambridge Review of International Affairs. Professor Beres’ monographs on nuclear strategy and nuclear war have been published by the Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel); The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies (University of Notre Dame); The Graduate Institute of International Studies (Geneva); and the Monograph Series on World Affairs (University of Denver). Dr. Louis René Beres  is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

History And Strategy Israel, “Palestine,” And The Samson Option

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

“For By Wise Counsel, Thou Shalt Make Thy War” (Proverbs, 24:6)

In 1882, Leo Pinsker, a Jewish physician of Odessa, horrified by the pogroms of 1881, concluded (quite reasonably, to be sure) that anti-Semitism is an incurable psychosis. The remedy, he then adduced, must be for all Jews to accept the imperatives of self-help and self-liberation. Later, Theodore Herzl, having witnessed the spectacle of Alfred Dreyfus in France, wrote The Jewish State. An attempt to solve once and for all “The Jewish Question,” Herzl’s pamphlet was premised on the following core idea: “The nations in whose midst Jews live are all either covertly or openly anti-Semitic.” This means, he proceeded to argue, that a perfectly simple plan was needed. “Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves.”

The necessary grant of sovereignty finally took effect in May 1948. The portion of the globe encompassed by this grant (a portion far less generous than what had originally been promised by Great Britain and by pertinent international law) was smaller than that occupied by certain counties in the state of California. But the world continues to begrudge the Jewish state even this tiny portion.

This same world now wishes to create a 23rd Arab state of “Palestine,” yet another enemy country that would be literally carved from the still-living body of Israel. Should this happen – now with the full support of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton – a unique security threat would imperil Israel. In the end, this threat could include assorted risks of both nuclear war and nuclear terrorism.

What should be Israel’s operational and doctrinal response to this emerging existential menace? Sooner rather than later, Israel will need to clarify and codify the most critical elements of its national nuclear strategy. One such element, albeit one that has generally been misunderstood, concerns the so-called “Samson Option.”

Taken in isolation, a Palestinian state would seemingly have no direct bearing on Israel’s nuclear posture. Yet, although obviously non-nuclear itself, Palestine could still diminish Israel’s capacity to wage certain essential forms of conventional war. This, in turn, could enlarge the Jewish State’s incentive to rely on unconventional weapons and policies in various circumstances.

Facing steadily growing dangers from a new Arab state that would act collaboratively with certain of the 22 other already-existing Arab states, Israel would feel compelled to bring elements of its long-secret nuclear strategy (the “bomb in the basement”) out into the open. Palestine could also be used militarily against Israel by other regional adversary states, whether it would actually wish to collaborate or not. Either way, for Israel the survival consequences could be considerable.

Israel’s nuclear strategy, while never articulated in any precise or public fashion, is oriented toward deterrence. The Samson Option refers to a presumed policy based upon an implicit threat of overwhelming nuclear retaliation for specific enemy aggressions. This policy would plausibly enter into force only where such aggressions threatened Israel’s national existence.

The real point of the Samson Option would never be to communicate the availability of a graduated Israeli nuclear deterrent. Rather, it would signal the unstated promise of a massive counter city (“counter value” in military parlance) reprisal. To be sure, the Samson Option per se is not likely to deter any aggressions short of nuclear and/or certain biological first strike attacks upon the Jewish State.

More than anything else, “Samson’s” overriding rationale would be to bring the following message to potential attackers: “We (Israel) may have to die, but (this time) we won’t die alone.” For this reason, the Samson Option could serve Israel better as an essential adjunct to deterrence and certain preemption options than as a core nuclear strategy. The Samson Option should never be confused with Israel’s core nuclear strategy which targets deterrence at far less apocalyptic levels of conflict.

How can the Samson Option best serve Israel’s strategic requirements? Although the primary mission of Israel’s still undisclosed nuclear weapons must be to preserve the Jewish State – not to wreak havoc or vengeance in a spasm of last-resort reprisals – recognizable preparations for a Samson Option could still enhance Israel’s nuclear deterrence and preemption capabilities.

Concerning Israeli nuclear deterrence, visible and identifiable preparations for a Samson Option could help to convince certain enemy states that aggression would not be gainful. This is especially true if Israeli “Samson” preparations were coupled with some level of nuclear disclosure (i.e., ending Israel’s posture of nuclear ambiguity); if Israel’s “Samson” weapons appeared sufficiently invulnerable to enemy first strikes; and if these weapons were plainly “counter city” in mission function. In view of what nuclear strategists sometimes refer to as the “rationality of pretended irrationality,” Samson could also assist Israeli nuclear deterrence by demonstrating an Israeli willingness to take certain existential risks.

To a variable extent, the nuclear deterrence benefits of pretended irrationality would depend upon prior enemy state awareness of Israel’s counter city targeting posture. Exactly such a posture had been recommended more than six years ago by the private “Project Daniel Group,” in its then-confidential report to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In reference to strategies of preemption, Israeli preparations for a Samson Option, again purposely recognizable, could convince Israel’s own leadership that defensive first-strikes would be safe to undertake. These leaders would expect that Israeli preemptive strikes, known under international law as expressions of “anticipatory self-defense,” could be undertaken with reduced expectations of unacceptably destructive enemy retaliations. This expectation would depend upon prior Israeli decisions on nuclear disclosure; on Israeli perceptions of the effects of such disclosure on enemy retaliatory intentions; on Israeli judgments about enemy perceptions of Samson weapons vulnerability; and on presumed enemy awareness of Samson’s counter city force posture. As in the case above, concerning Samson and Israeli nuclear deterrence, last-resort nuclear preparations could enhance Israel’s preemption options by displaying a bold national willingness to take existential risks.

But pretended irrationality can be a double-edged sword. Israeli leaders must remain mindful of this. Brandished too “irrationally,” Israeli preparations for a Samson Option could encourage enemy preemptions.

Left to themselves, neither deterred nor preempted, certain Arab/Islamic enemies of Israel, especially after creation of a Palestinian state, could threaten to bring the Jewish State face-to-face with the considered torments of Dante’s Inferno, “Into the eternal darkness, into fire, into ice.” It is essential, therefore, that Israeli strategic planners and political leaders now begin to acknowledge their obligation to strengthen the country’s nuclear security posture, and to take all necessary steps to ensure that any failure of nuclear deterrence will not spark regional nuclear warfare.

One important way to meet this vital obligation would be to focus more explicitly on the Samson Option. To ignore this option could imperil and undermine Herzl’s territorial/ideological remedy for the Jewish Question.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli security matters. He was Chair of Project Daniel, and is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Why Israel Should Not Give Up Its Nuclear Weapons: An Informed Response To Obama Adviser, Joseph Cirincione (Part IV)

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

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.

Conclusion

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.

Why Israel Should Not Give Up Its Nuclear Weapons: An Informed Response To Obama Adviser Joseph Cirincione (Part I)

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

According to a May 1, 2008 article by Aaron Klein in WorldNetDaily, Joseph Cirincione, director of nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, and an adviser on nuclear issues to Senator Barack Obama, has essentially urged Israel to give up its nuclear weapons. Professor Cirincione allegedly made this suggestion, inter alia, as a means of getting Iran to back off its ongoing path to nuclearization (a sort of quid pro quo argument), coupling it together with related comments that “certain hard-line Israelis” were using the Syrian nuclear story (that Israel preemptively destroyed a Syrian nuclear site last September) to prevent serious talks between Jerusalem and Damascus.

To White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, the Syrian nuclear story was hardly “nonsense.” “The Syrian regime was building a covert nuclear reactor in its eastern desert capable of producing plutonium.” said Perino. Further, she continued: “We are convinced, based on a variety of information, that North Korea assisted Syria’s covert nuclear activities. We have good reason to believe that reactor, which was damaged beyond repair on September 6 of last year, was not intended for peaceful purposes.”

Even if the White House had been mistaken on this statement, there are no foreseeable circumstances under which Mr. Cirincione’s strategic advice for Israel could make sense – at least for Israel. More than any other state on earth, Israel needs nuclear weapons. To give them up would be tantamount to accepting another Jewish genocide. This is not hyperbole, but rather the inescapable conclusion of sound and hard strategic analysis.

My faithful readers in The Jewish Press deserve more than just another broad and unexplained statement of Jewish national responsibility. What is needed, now, is a comprehensive and systematic examination of Israel’s nuclear position. Why, exactly, does Israel need its nuclear weapons? Here, finally, is a complete and informed answer:

1. Israel needs nuclear weapons to deter large conventional attacks by enemy states. The effectiveness of such Israeli nuclear deterrence will depend, among other things, upon: (a) perceived vulnerability of Israeli nuclear forces; (b) perceived destructiveness of Israeli nuclear forces; (c) perceived willingness of Israeli leadership to follow through on nuclear threats; (d) perceived capacities of prospective attacker’s active defenses; (e) perceptions of Israeli targeting doctrine; (f) perceptions of Israel’s probable retaliatory response when there is an expectation of non-nuclear but chemical and/or biological counter-retaliations; (g) disclosure or continued nondisclosure of Israel’s nuclear arsenal; and (h) creation or non-creation of a Palestinian state.

2. Israel needs nuclear weapons to deter all levels of unconventional

(chemical/biological/nuclear) attacks. The effectiveness of these forms of Israeli nuclear deterrence will also depend, on (a) to (h) above. In this connection, Israel’s nuclear weapons are needed to deter enemy escalation of conventional warfare to unconventional warfare and of one form of unconventional warfare to another (i.e., escalation of chemical warfare to biological warfare, biological warfare to chemical warfare, or biological/chemical warfare to nuclear warfare). This means, in military parlance, a capacity for “escalation dominance.”

3. Israel needs nuclear weapons to preempt enemy nuclear attacks. This does not mean that Israeli preemptions of such attacks would necessarily be nuclear (more than likely, they would almost certainly be non-nuclear), but only that they could conceivably be nuclear. Of course, should Israel ever need to use its nuclear forces for such a purpose, it would signify the failure of these forces as a deterrent (per number 2, above). Significantly, such failure is increasingly plausible because of the problematic nature of nuclear deterrence in general, and because of the particular circumstances of the Islamic Middle East regarding decisional rationality.

4. Israel needs nuclear weapons to support conventional preemptions against enemy nuclear assets. With such weapons, Israel can maintain, explicitly or implicitly, a threat of nuclear counter-retaliation. Without such weapons, Israel, having to rely entirely on non-nuclear forces, might not be able to deter enemy retaliations for the Israeli preemptive attack. This relates to the need for “escalation dominance.”

5. Israel needs nuclear weapons to support conventional preemptions against enemy non-nuclear (conventional/chemical/biological) assets. With such weapons, Israel can maintain, explicitly or implicitly, a threat of nuclear counter-retaliation. Without such weapons, Israel, having to rely entirely on non-nuclear forces, might not be able to deter enemy retaliations for the Israeli preemptive attack. Again, this illustrates Israel’s incontestable need to dominate escalatory processes.

6. Israel needs nuclear weapons for nuclear war fighting. Although, in the best of all possible worlds, this need will never have to arise, and although Israel should always do everything possible to avoid such use (Project Daniel made this a major point in its final report, Israel’s Strategic Future, to former Prime Minister Sharon), it cannot be ruled out altogether. Rather, it must be taken seriously by Israeli planners and decision-makers who could possibly find themselves in a dire situation of “no alternative.” Among the probable paths to nuclear war fighting are the following: enemy nuclear first-strikes against Israel; enemy non-nuclear first-strikes against Israel that elicit Israeli nuclear reprisals, either immediately or via incremental escalation processes; Israeli nuclear preemptions against enemy states with nuclear assets; Israeli non-nuclear preemptions against enemy states with nuclear assets that elicit enemy nuclear reprisals, either immediately or via incremental escalation processes. Other pertinent paths to nuclear war fighting include accidental/unintentional/inadvertent nuclear attacks among Israel and regional enemy states and even the escalatory consequences of nuclear terrorism against the Jewish State.

As long as it can be assumed that Israel is determined to endure, there are conditions where Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv could resort to nuclear war fighting. This holds true if: (a) enemy first-strikes against Israel would not destroy Israel’s second-strike nuclear capability; (b) enemy retaliations for Israeli conventional preemption would not destroy Israel’s nuclear counter-retaliatory capability; (c) Israeli preemptive strikes involving nuclear weapons would not destroy enemy second-strike nuclear capabilities; and (d) Israeli retaliation for enemy conventional first-strikes would not destroy enemy nuclear counter-retaliatory capabilities. It follows, from the standpoint of Israel’s nuclear requirements that Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv should prepare to do what is needed to ensure the likelihood of (a) and (b) above and the unlikelihood of (c) and (d).

7. Israel needs nuclear weapons for the residual “Samson Option.” Although such a use of nuclear weapons, by definition, would be profoundly catastrophic, Israel is apt to understand that it would be better to “die with the Philistines” than to die alone. This sort of understanding is much more than a matter of Jewish honor, and also much more than a refutation of the so-called “Masada complex” (suicide without punishment of the aggressor). It could (depending upon awareness by enemy states) represent an integral and indispensable element of Israel’s nuclear deterrent. Moreover, the biblical analogy is somewhat misleading. Samson chose suicide by pushing apart the temple pillars, whereas Israel, using nuclear weapons as a last resort, would not be choosing “suicide” or even necessarily committing suicide. For states, the criteria of “life” and “death” are hardly as clear-cut as they are for individual persons. Finally, it is essential that Israel’s leaders, in considering possible uses of nuclear weapons, regard the Samson Option as one to be precluded by correct resort to all other nuclear options. Stated differently, a resort to the Samson Option by Israel would imply the complete failure of all other options and of the failure of its nuclear weapons to provide essential national security.

Copyright © The Jewish Press, May 30, 2008. All rights reserved.

(To be continued)

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.

Israel, Palestine And The ‘Samson Option’

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

Taken in isolation, the emerging Palestinian state – a state that is now being forged with the open support of U.S. President George W. Bush – will have no direct bearing on Israel’s nuclear posture. Yet, although obviously non-nuclear itself, Palestine could substantially diminish Israel’s capacity to wage certain forms of conventional war and could thereby enlarge the Jewish State’s incentive to rely on unconventional weapons in particular circumstances. Facing steadily growing dangers of war and terrorism from yet another enemy country – a new Arab state that could act collaboratively with certain of the 22 other already-existing Arab states – Israel could feel compelled to bring elements of its long-secret nuclear strategy out into the open.

Israel’s nuclear strategy – certainly never articulated in any precise or public fashion – is nonetheless oriented primarily toward deterrence. In this connection, the so-called “Samson Option” refers to a presumed policy based upon the implicit threat of overwhelming nuclear retaliation for very specific enemy aggressions. Naturally, this policy would enter into force plausibly only where such aggressions actually threatened Israel’s national survival.

The point of the Samson Option would not be to communicate availability of a graduated Israeli nuclear deterrent or of an Israeli nuclear warfighting potential, but rather of the unstated “promise” of a massive countercity (“countervalue” in military parlance) reprisal. Clearly, the Samson Option per se is not likely to deter any aggressions short of altogether massive WMD (nuclear and/or certain biological) first strike attacks upon the Jewish State. More than anything else, its overriding rationale would be to communicate the following message to potential attackers: “We (Israel) may have to die, but (this time) we won’t die alone.” For this reason, the Samson Option could serve Israel far better as an essential adjunct to deterrence and certain preemption options than as a core nuclear strategy.

How, more particularly, can the Samson Option best serve Israel’s strategic requirements? Although the primary mission of Israel’s still undisclosed nuclear weapons must always be to preserve the Jewish State – not to wreak post-Apocalyptic havoc or vengeance in a spasm of last-resort reprisals – recognizable preparations for a Samson Option could enhance Israel’s nuclear deterrence and preemption capabilities. Here is how this would work.

In reference to Israeli nuclear deterrence, visible and identifiable preparations for a Samson Option could help to convince certain enemy states that aggression would not be gainful. This is especially true if Israeli “Samson” preparations were coupled with some level of nuclear disclosure (i.e., ending Israel’s posture of nuclear ambiguity); if Israel’s “Samson” weapons appeared sufficiently invulnerable to enemy first strikes; and if these “Samson” weapons were plainly “countercity” in mission function. In view of what we strategists sometimes refer to as the “rationality of pretended irrationality,” Samson could also assist Israeli nuclear deterrence by demonstrating an Israeli willingness to take certain existential risks. To a considerable extent, the nuclear deterrence benefits of pretended irrationality would depend upon prior enemy state awareness of Israel’s countercity targeting posture. Exactly such a posture was recently recommended by the private “Project Daniel Group” report to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon.

In reference to strategies of preemption, Israeli preparations for a Samson Option, again purposely recognizable, could convince Israel’s own leadership that defensive first-strikes would be adequately safe to undertake. Here these leaders would expect that Israeli preemptive strikes – known under authoritative international law as expressions of “anticipatory self-defense” – could be undertaken with reduced expectations of unacceptably destructive enemy retaliations. This expectation would depend, of course, upon prior Israeli decisions on nuclear disclosure; on Israeli perceptions of the effects of such disclosure on enemy retaliatory intentions; on Israeli judgments about enemy perceptions of Samson weapons vulnerability; and on presumed enemy awareness of Samson’s countercity force posture. As in the case above, concerning Samson and Israeli nuclear deterrence, last-resort nuclear preparations could enhance Israel’s preemption options by displaying a bold national willingness to take existential risks.

But pretended irrationality could always be a double-edged sword. Israeli leaders must always be mindful of this. Brandished too “irrationally,” Israeli preparations for a Samson Option could even encourage enemy preemptions.

Left to themselves, insufficiently deterred or preempted, certain Arab/Islamic enemies of Israel – especially after creation of a Palestinian state – could threaten to bring the Jewish State face-to-face with the considered torments of Dante’s Inferno, “Into the eternal darkness, into fire, into ice.” It is essential, therefore that Israeli strategic planners and political leaders now begin to promptly acknowledge their obligation to strengthen the country’s nuclear security posture, and to take all necessary steps to ensure that a failure of nuclear deterrence will not necessarily spark regional nuclear warfare. One important way to meet this vital obligation is to focus more explicitly and purposefully on the “Samson Option.”

(c) Copyright The Jewish Press. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israell security matters. His work is well-known in American and Israeli political, academic, military and intelligence communities. Professor Beres is Chair of the private “Project Daniel Group,” which has submitted its sweeping final report on ISRAEL’S STRATEGIC FUTURE to Prime Minister Sharon. He is also Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

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