Sometimes, what may first sound altogether reasonable is potentially genocidal. On December 2, 2014, the UN General Assembly called upon Israel to renounce its nuclear weapons, and to join a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone for the Middle East. Significantly, were Israel ever to abide by such a seemingly benign proposal, it could effectively become complicit in its own annihilation.
International law is never a suicide pact. Since prime minister David Ben-Gurion first recognized the need for a critical security equalizer, Israel’s survival has ultimately depended upon nuclear weapons.
Although still ambiguous and still undisclosed, this Israeli “bomb in the basement” has managed to keep a substantial number of potentially existential enemies at bay. While it never became a purposeful deterrent against “normal” wars, or against acts of terrorism, the nuclear option has successfully prevented what enemy states have wanted most of all – Israel’s disappearance.
From the perspective of Israel’s enemies, there has never been any ambiguity.
Presently, with Iran approaching full and effectively unobstructed membership in the Nuclear Club – a manifestly disingenuous approach, one assumed in stunning defiance of its NPT Treaty obligations – nuclear weapons and strategy have become indispensable to Israel’s physical survival.
“Mass counts,” wrote the classic Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), and only Israel’s enemies have mass. Each year, without fail, these determined enemies call sanctimoniously for some form or other of Israeli disarmament.
Now, it is high time to acknowledge that nuclear weapons are never truly evil in themselves, and that their potential harmfulness is contingent upon which individual state or alliance is in control of them. In certain circumstances, as should be cartographically obvious to anyone who can see that Israel is less than half the size of America’s Lake Michigan, these weapons can be vital to self-defense and population survival.
Looking ahead, once an enemy state, and possibly its allies, believed Israel had been bent sufficiently to “nonproliferation” demands, adversarial military strategies – either singly, or in carefully calculated collaboration – could embrace extermination warfare. This sinister embrace could occur even if all of Israel’s major adversaries were to remain non-nuclear themselves. Over time, moreover, such extermination warfare, by definition, could meet the literal tests of genocide under codified international law.
In such authoritative jurisprudential considerations, aggressive war and genocide would not need to be considered as mutually exclusive.
Rather, they could qualify as fully complementary and mutually reinforcing categories of international criminality.
Any Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone for the Middle East, even if seemingly well-intentioned, would render Israel uniquely vulnerable. In principle, although such existential vulnerability might be prevented by instituting certain parallel forms of chemical/ biological weapons disarmament among Israel’s adversaries, these disarmament measures would never actually be implemented. Already, as Israel’s enemies recognize, any needed verifications of compliance would prove conveniently impossible.
In the Middle East, underlying security problems have nothing to do with Israel’s nuclear weapons and posture – defensive assets which have never been used to threaten or to intimidate recalcitrant enemies.
Instead, these problems remain founded upon a persisting and unreconstructed Islamic/jihadist commitment to “excise the Jewish cancer.” Moreover, this openly annihilatory commitment is more-or-less common to both Israel’s Sunni Arab foes and to Shi’ite, non-Arab Iran.
Among other regional security benefits, Israel’s nuclear weapons represent an unacknowledged but critical impediment to the actual use of nuclear weapons, and even to the commencement of an area nuclear war. UN resolutions notwithstanding, these weapons must remain at the vital center of Israel’s national security policy, and should also be guided by continuously updated and refined strategic doctrine. Some essential elements of any such doctrine comprise a carefully calibrated end to “deliberate ambiguity,” more recognizable emphases on “counter value” or counter-city targeting, and recognizably expanding evidence of secure “triad” nuclear forces. Of course, such forces, which must include some forms of submarine basing, will have to appear capable of penetrating any foreseeable nuclear aggressor’s active defenses.
Israel’s latest efforts at diversified sea-basing of nuclear retaliatory forces are costly, but still prudent. Similarly important efforts are needed for the Israel Air Force. To prepare for anticipated strikes at distances of approximately 1,000 kilometers, whether preemptive, retaliatory, or counter-retaliatory, the IAF needs the “full envelope” of air refueling capabilities, upgraded satellite communications, state-of-the-art electronic warfare technologies, armaments fully appropriate to inflicting maximum target damage, and, always, the latest-generation UAVs to accompany selected missions.
“Mass counts.” In the Middle East, multiple UN resolutions notwithstanding, Israel’s nuclear weapons represent an essential barrier to laststage enemy aggressions, and to an eventual nuclear war. The United States, which voted correctly against the recent General Assembly resolution, should continue to reject any and all proposals for a Nuclear Weapon- Free Zone in the region. As for Jerusalem, it must not forget what ought already to be perfectly obvious: Even the United Nations can never require a member state to submit to genocide.
International law, it is time to remind the UN General Assembly, is never a suicide pact.
The writer (PhD, 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 for 43 years, he was chairman of Project Daniel (Israel, prime minister Ariel Sharon, 2003). He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post and also to The New York Times; The Washington Times; US News & World Report; The Atlantic; The Harvard National Security Journal; The Brown Journal of World Affairs and other publications. His most recent academic strategy papers in Israel have been published by the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, the Institute for National Security Studies and the Institute for Policy and Strategy.