Why Israel should trade its nukes

Uri Bar-Joseph writes: On September 19, to nobody’s surprise, Shaul Chorev, the director-general of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, announced that his government would not attend an upcoming conference devoted to establishing a nuclear-free Middle East. The announcement reaffirmed Israel’s long-standing position that a nuclear-free zone can come about only as a consequence of a lasting regional peace. Until such a peace is achieved, Jerusalem will not take any tangible steps toward eliminating its nuclear weapons.

At least on the face of it, this stand is sensible. For 45 years, Israel has been the only nuclear power in the Middle East, enjoying a formidable strategic safety net against any existential threat. Since 1957, Israel has invested tremendous resources in building up a solid nuclear arsenal in Dimona. Today, according to various estimates, this stockpile comprises some 100–300 devices, including two-stage thermonuclear warheads and a variety of delivery systems, the most important of which are modern German-built submarines, which constitute the backbone of Israel’s second-strike capability. For Israel to give up these assets in the midst of an ongoing conflict strikes most Israelis as irrational.

This consensus, however, overlooks the fact that Israel’s nuclear capability has not played an important role in the country’s defense. Unlike other nuclear-armed states, Israel initiated its nuclear project not because of an opponent’s real or imagined nuclear capability but because of the worry that, in the long run, Arab conventional forces would outstrip the power of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). As early as the 1950s, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sought to manage the threat of modernizing Arab armies, which were inspired by pan-Arab sentiment and backed by the Soviet Union, by developing the ultimate deterrent. Shimon Peres, the architect of Israel’s nuclear program and now Israel’s president, relentlessly argued in public speeches and writings that Israel needed to compensate for the large size of the Arab armies with “science” — a code word for nuclear arms.

As it turned out, however, Arab conventional superiority never materialized. Ever since Israel crossed the nuclear threshold on the eve of the 1967 war, the qualitative gap between Israel’s conventional forces and those of its Arab neighbors has only grown. Today, particularly as the Syrian army slowly disintegrates, the IDF could decisively rout any combination of Arab (and Iranian) conventional forces. This advantage, combined with the United States’ support for Israel, is what has kept Arab countries from taking up arms against the Jewish state — not the fear of nuclear retaliation. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Why Israel should trade its nukes

  1. Norman

    So what is the reason for Israel having Nukes? At some point in time, the Israelis will be able to blackmail any nation on earth with those Nukes. Interesting that the leaders refuse to cooperate about having them, yet want to bomb any country that tries to get them. Russian Jews, German Jews, Israeli Jews. Will they, or wont they, especially if they don’t get their way, like spoiled children? Collateral damage, wipe out a portion of your own race, blame it on someone else, then nuke that someone else.

  2. rosemerry

    How can Israel wait for lasting peace to allow it to go nuke-free when it is the cause of all the violence and destruction? With its cruel policies, its constant humiliation, interference, denial of rights, food, and any other necessities of life in Gaza, it ensures no peace is possible unless every Palestinian just lay down and died. The West Bank is separte but also controlled, with the PA helping Israel. Now the threats when even a request to the UN is made (of course POTUS Obama supports dear Israel despite the disgusting partisan behaviour of the Israeli PM.)

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