How the Failed Iran Agreement Will Threaten Israel's Nuclear Strategy
How the Failed Iran Agreement Will Threaten Israel's Nuclear Strategy

"The safety of the People Shall be the highest law." (Cicero, De Legibus[1])

There is little point to any further discussions about preventing a nuclear Iran by diplomacy. Such a narrowly jurisprudential approach was destined to fail from the start. All that has really happened, in the inherently demeaning process of futile negotiations, is that Tehran was able to buy more valuable time to reach its unchanging nuclear objective.

As a non-strategic corollary of America's diplomatic failure, the Islamic Republic is surely surprised (but simultaneously delighted) by Washington's buffoon-like complicity in this game-changing Iranian achievement.

As for any alleged eleventh-hour "breakthrough" in the Vienna talks, such shallow reports conveniently overlook the "bottom line." This is that Iran has won absolutely everything it really wants, and at a proportionately tolerable price. In principle, of course, Israel might still be able to forcibly prevent Iran's progress toward the conclusive nuclear weapons production stage, but any such residual efforts at "anticipatory self-defense" would likely come only at prohibitively high costs.

The Islamic Republic is surely surprised (but simultaneously delighted) by Washington's buffoon-like complicity in this game-changing Iranian achievement.
So, what happens next, to Israel, if there should be no last-minute preemption, and Iran "illegally" crosses the nuclear weapons threshold? At one level, the answer is obvious. In essence, once Tehran is able to operationalize its shiny new arsenal of offensive missile options, the Jewish State's expanded vulnerability will need to be countered with greater desperation. Although rarely mentioned, the efficacy of any such obligatory Israeli countermeasures will have serious security implications for the United States.

Sobering examples abound. For one, a nuclear Iran will likely trigger certain reciprocal nuclear ambitions in Saudi Arabia, and thereby a limited but irreversible nuclear arms race in the region. Very quickly, these destabilizing area developments could intersect, in various seen and unseen ways, with sub-state militarization and terrorist aggressions.

Such intersections would be most probable and most concerning where they occur among ISIS and Hezbollah elements. To make such geo-strategic matters still more opaque and worrisome, it is plausible that they would also be affected by an already emergent "Cold War II." Ironically, Riyadh is now making collaborative overtures to Moscow, taking certain novel steps toward cementing a thoroughly unique (and unpredictable) sort of alignment between the world's two largest oil producers.

Israeli counter-measures will need to be correspondingly complex, and could involve a suitable assortment of interpenetrating remedies, including a carefully-controlled end to "deliberate nuclear ambiguity," aptly recognizable enhancements of counter-value nuclear targeting doctrine, incrementally-greater deployments of ballistic-missile defenses, and progressively greater reliance on sea-basing of nuclear forces.[2]  It could also mean taking new steps to challenge an expected barrage of substantially shrill "nonproliferation" demands. At least as long as Barack Obama sits in the White House, such orchestrated demands to join the 1968 NPT, or a so-called "nuclear weapons free zone," will receive enthusiastic endorsements from Washington.

Significantly, however, Israel is not Iran. Israel does not call for Iran's "annihilation." Israel holds its own nuclear weapons and assets for only one reason.  That reason is merely to remain "alive" in the midst of still-openly genocidal foes.

For Israel, any well-intentioned compliance with allegedly legal demands for denuclearization would prove intolerable. Even if all pertinent enemy states were to remain non-nuclear themselves, these adversaries, and also their terrorist proxies, could still find themselves in a dramatically improved position to overwhelm Israel. Hezbollah, the Shiite militia run by Tehran, controls more offensive rockets than all of the NATO countries combined. Moreover, Sunni ISIS, already launching rockets into southern Israel from the Egyptian Sinai, could sometime gain access to assorted nuclear materials in Syria. Such access would have to do with the Israeli-destroyed Al Kibar reactor (2007), now under direct control of ISIS forces.

It is easy for Israel's Arab enemies and Iran to sanctimoniously demand a non-nuclear Israel. After all, even if these states were demonstrably willing to remain non-nuclear themselves - and now, after the conspicuously failed P5+1 agreement, any such willingness must be considered very doubtful -  their cumulative conventional, chemical, and biological capabilities could still bring Israel into existential fire, into ice.

Lest anyone forget one of the most basic maxims of war and geopolitics, "mass counts." Both Iran and the Arabs have mass. Israel, smaller than America's Lake Michigan, has none.

President Obama, who stirringly calls for a world “free of nuclear weapons,” consistently fails to realize that hope is not a strategy. For the region as a whole, nuclear weapons are not the problem per se. In the Middle East, that problem remains a far-reaching and unreconstructed Arab/Iranian commitment to  excise Israel (literally) from the map.

For Iran and certain others, including Fatah and Hamas components of the aspiring Palestinian state, a cartographic "genocide" has already been implemented. Indeed, on their official maps, nothing is left ambiguous. On these prescriptive coordinates, tangible excisions of Israel represent an expressly anticipated blueprint of divinely-based obligation.

In law, as well as in strategy, war and genocide need not be mutually exclusive. Today, both Palestinian and Iranian maps reveal flagrantly unhidden plans for genocide against "the Jews." Religiously, these contemplated crimes against humanity stem from immutable eschatologies of "sacred" violence. For Israel, of course, the proposed enemy "solution" could be utterly final.

With its nuclear weapons, even while remaining "deliberately ambiguous," Israel could expectedly deter enemy unconventional attacks, and most large conventional ones. While still in possession of such weapons, Israel could also launch certain cost-effective non-nuclear preemptive strikes against an enemy state’s hard targets - military assets that might otherwise threaten Israel’s annihilation. Without these nuclear weapons, any such still-conventional expressions of anticipatory self-defense could then represent the onset of a much wider and asymmetrically destructive war.

The strategic rationale for this under-explored nuclear argument is easy to explain. Without a recognizable nuclear backup, there could no longer exist any sufficiently compelling threat of an Israeli counter-retaliation. It follows, contrary to the U.S. president’s repeatedly-misplaced preferences for global nuclear disarmament, that Israel’s nuclear weapons actually represent (1) an incomparably important instrument of regional peace; and  (2) a much-needed impediment to regional nuclear war. Moreover, with the impending final failure of American diplomacy vis-à-vis Iranian nuclearization, Saudi-Arabia will almost certainly seek its own nuclear weapons option, a search that could further involve China, Pakistan, or even the United States.

For both Israel and the United States, productive nuclear strategy requires carefully nuanced thought. In his broad blanket proposal for "a world without nuclear weapons," however, President Obama has been thinking openly against nuance, and without any discernible subtlety. To survive into the future, the international community, contra Obama, will soon have to make various critical and corrective nuclear distinctions between individual nuclear deterrence postures. In the special case of Israel, this community will need to acknowledge what it has too-long rejected: The Jewish State's nuclear weapons may ultimately be all that can prevent a calamitous area-wide war.

However counter-intuitive, nuclear weapons are neither good nor evil in themselves. In some circumstances, they could serve helpfully as needed instruments of stable military deterrence, and not as usable weapons of war. Still, there does exist, under authoritative international law, a residual national right to actually employ nuclear weapons in order to survive. This exclusively last-resort right is codified at the 1996 Advisory Opinion on Nuclear Weapons, an Opinion handed down by the U.N.'s International Court of Justice.

Following Washington's de facto legitimization of Iranian nuclearization, Israel has more to fear from Tehran. In this connection, if  Iran's religious leadership should ever choose to abandon the usual premises of rational behavior in world politics, Jerusalem's exclusively defensive nuclear posture could fail altogether. Nonetheless, even if Iran could sometime become a nuclear suicide-bomber in macrocosm, Israel's only rational strategy, moving forward, should remain a continuous enhancement of its core nuclear deterrent.[3]

In the end, if successful, this indispensable nuclear strategy would serve not only that tiny country's literal survival, but also the wider security interests of the United States.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971).  He is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli defense matters. Later this year, his tenth book, Israel's Nuclear Strategy: Surviving amid Chaos, will be published by Rowman and Littlefield.  During the premiership of Ariel Sharon, Professor Beres was Chair of Project Daniel (2003-2004). He was born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II.


[1]Salus populi suprema lex, derived by Cicero from the Twelve Tables of Roman Law.

[2] On submarine-basing issue, see: Louis René Beres and Admiral (USN/ret.) Leon "Bud" Edney, "Israel's Nuclear Strategy: A Larger Role for Submarine Basing," The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2014; and also Professor Beres and Admiral Edney, "A Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent for Israel," Washington Times, September 5, 2014. Admiral Edney was NATO Supreme Allied Commander (Atlantic).

[3] See Louis René Beres and General (USAF/ret) John T. Chain, "Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran"? The Atlantic, 2012. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).