Killing Israel: A Middle East Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone

In a special article for Arutz Sheva, the world-renowned expert on nuclear power, international law and political science tells Israel what it must do - on land, sea, air and in the public eye - in the face of Iran's nuclearization.

Contact Editor
Prof. Louis René Beres,

Louis René Beres
Louis René Beres

"Mass counts," wrote the classic Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), and only Israel's enemies have mass.
Almost from the beginning, Israel's physical survival as a state has depended upon its nuclear weapons. Although still ambiguous and undisclosed, this "bomb in the basement" has kept a substantial number of sworn enemies at bay.

Today, with Iran rapidly approaching full and unobstructed membership in the Nuclear Club, this equalizing element of national power has become indispensable.

"Mass counts," wrote the classic Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), and only Israel's  enemies have mass. Nonetheless, each year, these enemies call disingenuously for a Nuclear-Weapons Free-Zone in the Middle East.

In Washington, as well as in Jerusalem, it is time to acknowledge that nuclear weapons are never evil in themselves, and that in certain circumstances, they can be utterly vital to self-defense and survival.

In principle, at least, President Obama still seeks “a world free of nuclear weapons.” But once an enemy state and its allies believed that Israel had been bent sufficiently to "nonproliferation" demands, adversarial military strategies - either singly, or in calculated collaboration - could begin to embrace extermination warfare. Significantly, this could happen even if all of Israel's national adversaries were to remain determinedly non-nuclear themselves. 

Any Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone for the Middle East, even if seemingly well-intentioned, would render Israel existentially vulnerable. Although such vulnerability might be prevented by instituting certain parallel forms of chemical/biological weapons disarmament among these adversaries, such measures could never actually be implemented.

After all, as Israel's enemies cheerfully recognize, any verification of compliance would be effectively impossible.

President  Obama still misunderstands. Nuclear weapons are not the problem per se.  If they were, his country might have abandoned its own nuclear arsenal and associated strategies back in August, 1945

In the Middle East, the core problem has absolutely nothing to do with Israel's nuclear weapons and posture, assets which have never been used to threaten or even to intimidate recalcitrant enemies. Rather, this peril remains a persisting and unreconstructed Jihadist commitment to "excise the Jewish cancer." This openly annihilatory commitment is more-or-less common to both Sunni Arab foes, and to Shiite Iran.

Although apparently counter-intuitive, Israel's nuclear weapons actually represent a critical impediment to the military use of nuclear weapons, and to the commencement of a regional nuclear war. They must, therefore, remain at the vital center of Israel's security policy, and must also be guided by a continuously updated and refined strategic doctrine.

Essential elements of any such doctrine should include a carefully calibrated end to "deliberate ambiguity," more recognizable emphases on  "counter value" or counter-city targeting, and expanding evidence of secure "triad" nuclear forces. Such forces would also have to be presumed capable of penetrating any foreseeable aggressor's active defenses.

Israel's latest efforts at diversified sea-basing of nuclear retaliatory forces are costly, but inescapably 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 now 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 the latest-generation UAVs to accompany selected missions.

"Mass counts." In the Middle East, Israel's nuclear weapons continue to represent an essential barrier to enemy aggressions and eventual nuclear war. With this in mind, Washington should continue to reject any proposals for a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the region, and openly support a persistently strong and fully secure nuclear Israel.

There is one last point.  As soon as it becomes clear that Iran's own nuclearization can no longer be stopped, either by further diplomacy, or by any residually operational forms of preemption, Israel should begin to modify its longstanding policy of "deliberate nuclear ambiguity." Such limited nuclear disclosure, if undertaken in thoughtful and measured increments, could meaningfully enhance the credibility of its increasingly vital nuclear deterrent.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., 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 forty-three years, he was Chair of Project Daniel (Israel, PM Sharon, 2003).  Professor Beres is a frequent contributor to Israel National News; also, to such publications as The Washington Times; US News & World Report; The Jerusalem Post; The Atlantic; The Harvard National Security Journal; The Brown Journal of World Affairs; The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; Herzliya Conference Working Papers; Ha'aretz; and The New York Times. Dr. Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945.