Attack Iran or more sanctions? A third option: Israel and Iran forsake nukes

Boaz Atzili writes: For half a century now, Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly has been its “Samson option,” the one weapon it can threaten to use if all else fails and Israel faces a real existential threat. As a scholar concentrating on the Middle East conflict, and also as a native of Israel, I am not comforted by the nuclear security blanket under which I was born.

Now that this monopoly is facing an increasingly possible challenge from Iran, Israel should reconsider its nuclear supremacy – as far fetched as this may sound. The argument in favor of such a radical shift is not moral, but strategic. Israel may well be better off in a Middle East with no nuclear powers than in one with – potentially – several of them.

Iran, too, would have its own reasons to support such an arrangement. And a secure path to a “no nukes” zone may be found not in dismantling Israel’s arsenal, but in relocating it.

In the face of an apparently fast-advancing Iranian nuclear project, the two options mostly discussed are sanctions and military attack. Neither is very appealing. The first is unlikely to halt the Iranian program and the second will only postpone it temporarily while possibly creating a regional conflagration on a large scale.

When Israel developed its own nuclear program, apparently in the late 1950s, it made much strategic sense. Israel was a small country, with very limited human and material resources, surrounded by hostile neighbors. Nuclear arms could provide the ultimate guarantee of security.

But Israel is no longer so vulnerable. True, much of the region is still hostile (despite peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan). Yet Israel holds a profound conventional superiority over any potential rivals – a superiority that makes a nuclear-free Middle East a strong and effective second-best option after a nuclear monopoly.

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4 thoughts on “Attack Iran or more sanctions? A third option: Israel and Iran forsake nukes

  1. Tom Hall

    Israel has always enjoyed strategic superiority over its neighbors. That’s how the country came into being. The development of nuclear weapons may have been sold to the Israeli public as a defensive shield, but alliances first with Britain and France (Suez 1956) and subsequently the US (1960s to the present), along with virtually unlimited infusions of foreign financial and military aid, have ensured regional hegemony for the Zionist state. To the degree they have any value, nuclear warheads in this context represent offensive weapons, since no other nation possesses them. They are intended as a means of exerting leverage on other governments, though scant evidence exists of their effectiveness in this regard. Still, if Israel were to renounce these weapons tomorrow, the Middle East would remain a nuclear-armed zone simply by virtue of the vast mobile arsenal of American Air Force and Navy delivery systems constantly patrolling the skies and seas of the Persian Gulf. Getting the United States to abandon its nuclear threat to the region would prove an even more daunting task than dealing with Iran or Israel.

  2. rosemerry

    Of course Iran would support it. Iran and every other country in the region supports a nuke-free zone, the USA agreed to help this into being in 1991 after the Gulf War, but Israel does not seem at all interested in peace, and the USA/EU encourage its belligerence.

  3. delia ruhe

    The Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone? Unlikely. What’s more likely is an October Surprise courtesy of Bibi. He’s been warned by Obama to back off for fear that a war against Iran could generate unintended consequences before November.

    Bibi wouldn’t mind that at all, since part of his project is to see Obama defeated. But he doesn’t dare cross Washington right now. If he did, and the American Likudniks didn’t stand up and cry foul in unison, you would see Round Two of the “Israel Firster” debate, and this time it would have very different PR consequences.

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