March 12, 2007

Should Israel Go Public With Its Nukes?

It's a question that Ehud Olmert almost made moot last year, after an inartful public statement referred to Israel's nuclear capabilities, but one with even greater strategic implications now. Should Israel reveal its nuclear weapons capability and spell out the terms for its use -- namely, that a strike on Israel by Iran would get a response in kind? Some apparently believe that a Middle Eastern MAD scenario could cool Iranian ardor for their own nukes:

Israel should pursue a strategy of "open nuclear deterrence" towards Iran if international attempts to curtail Teheran's nuclear ambitions fail, a London think tank argues in a report to be released Monday.

Openly declaring its nuclear weapons stockpile and laying out the conditions of their use in the event of an Iranian attack is an option worth considering, a report published by the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) stated, "if it is conceded that diplomatic efforts are doomed to fail, yet the price of war is too high."

Of all the options available to Israel to counter the Iranian nuclear threat, "the military option is the least desirable" as a strike against Iran "might push an already volatile Middle East into further hostilities, uniting anti-Western groups worldwide" against Israel and the US while "isolating moderate Muslim forces," the report states.

Would an Israeli declaration of nuclear strategy help settle Iran? Perhaps, but it has at least an equal shot at making the situation worse. Israel has avoided most non-proliferation criticism simply by keeping its capabilities secret. Exposing them now would also expose Israel to more nonsense from UN antagonists, plus add a healthy dose of rationalization to Iran's push for nukes as well.

As the report states, if nothing stops Iran from building nukes, then Israel has to focus on stopping them from using nukes -- against Israel. The US might fire nuclear weapons at Iran if they fire nukes first, but that is far from certain. The missiles would have to be aimed at American territory before the White House could order a retaliatory strike, at least without Congressional approval. The US might be more concerned with containing a nuclear exchange than in joining one.

The Israelis could make it clear that they have no interest in containment after the first nuclear missiles have flown. If the Iranians construct their own warheads, they already have the Shahab-3 on which to carry them as far as Tel Aviv, and perhaps much farther than that. Once the Iranians have that capability, the Israelis can't do themselves any harm by explicitly stating that they will launch a nuclear attack on any nation that shoots missiles in their direction. It might make for a good reminder for a couple of other nations in the neighborhood, too.


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