Always imperiled
Always imperiled

Following discovery of Nazi Germany's kingdom of death at the end of World War II, the victorious allies drafted a special charter for an international military tribunal at Nuremberg.[1] Concluded on August 8, 1945, this historic document first defined "crimes against humanity"[2] as egregious violations designed to eradicate entire groups of people. Several years later, on December 9, 1948, the criminalization of these notably grievous crimes was further codified in a treaty known as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.[3]

This international legal agreement made punishable not only actual genocide, but also "conspiracy to commit genocide;" "direct and public incitement to commit genocide;" "attempt to commit genocide;" and "complicity in genocide."

How soon we forget. Somehow - in the midst of the latest iterations of a Middle East "peace process" - a key point has been generally overlooked. This point is that the still-ongoing objective of various Arab/Islamic states and Islamic movements remains fully identical to the earlier goal of Hitler's "Final Solution."

For much of the Arab/Islamic world, annihilation of "The Jews" also remains a pretext for ritual celebration. It is true, of course, that this contemplated genocide is now directed against the institutionalized state of the Jews - the State of Israel, which represents the individual Jew in macrocosm - but the core exterminatory motives are unchanged. Moreover, under binding international law, war and genocide are not mutually exclusive.[4] Any Arab/Islamic war to "liquidate the Zionist entity" would be jurisprudentially indistinguishable from what happened to the Jewish People, before and during the Second World War.

In the eyes of the Arab/Islamic world, Israel is often the newest face of a very old hatred. Whatever enemy passions were once directed "only" against flesh-and-blood individuals can now be focused upon Jews who are bound together in a Jewish "entity." In essence, "The more things change," so goes the well-worn French expression, "the more they remain the same."

Since 1948, unhidden plans for extermination of the Jewish State have been animated by age-old fanaticisms. Among pertinent elements of the Arab/Islamic world, issues of land and politics remain a cover for certain carefully orchestrated convulsions of outrage. These enemies of Israel do not read Clausewitz;[5] rather, they are more comfortable with Mein Kampf.

They do not really "think" about Israel. On this more visceral subject, they erupt.

The political issues of territory and "negotiations" concerning Israel are almost always subterfuge. For the most part, therefore, war and terror against Israel are now little more than a newer and more efficient means to commit crimes against humanity. Should Iran or any Arab state or movement be permitted to acquire nuclear or even certain biological weapons, the plausible result to Israel could well be another Jewish genocide.     

Beginning in 1938, small groups of predominantly Jewish scientists from Central Europe living in the United States began to express well-founded fears that Nazi Germany could build nuclear weapons. About two years after Albert Einstein transmitted these unique apprehensions to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his now-famous letter of August 1939, the United States launched the Manhattan Project. In part, at least, this unprecedented effort was the result of a perceived danger, by Jewish émigrés, of an existential threat to the then widely dispersed European Jewish communities.

Today, it is the moral and legal responsibility of all "civilized nations" to recognize another existential peril. This time the genocidal danger is posed to the already-ingathered Jewish population of the State of Israel. Should it ever have to face the prospect of a nuclear Iran, or indeed of any Arab state or movement with atomic or certain biological weapons, Israel might have no rational choice but to act preemptively. After all, this is exactly what Prime Minister Menachem Begin undertook on June 7, 1981, when Israel's Operation Opera successfully destroyed Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor.[6]

Operation Opera, best described under international law as a permissible act of "anticipatory self-defense,"[7] was a tangible application of the "Begin Doctrine." This doctrine clearly affirmed Israel's policy to deny certain weapons of mass destruction to particular enemy states. It was drawn directly from Prime Minister Begin's awareness that the developing nuclear threat then facing Israel was merely a new form of an old cry - that is, to "slaughter the Jews."

In principle, at least, the Begin Doctrine ought to be reinvigorated, not sotto voce, but expressly, "out loud." Now, as during the Holocaust, Jews face a threat of mass murder, only this time as citizens of the very state created specifically to prevent such a threat. Today, the prospective genocidal danger to Jews is not that nuclear weapons could be used by a murderous state against assorted other states in order to gather or acquire physical custody over individual Jewish victims. Instead, it stems from intentions toward that single Jewish state which was re-created precisely for the eternal protection of all Jewish bodies.[8]

In a staggering but incontrovertible irony, the threat of a nuclear genocide against Jews affects only those Jews who live in the Jewish State. Logistically, with the concentration of more than six million Jews within a country that is half the size of Lake Michigan, genocide has effectively become a much simpler operational task. This means that the Zionist solution to what Herzl called the "Jewish Problem" could sometime actually make easier what Hitler had infamously called the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question."

There are remedies, of course; most urgent and prospectively important are those steps taken to enhance and maintain Israel's plans for conventional and unconventional deterrence.[9] To be sure, Israel should also prepare for assorted forms of war-fighting,[10] but, optimally, it must always be preferable to survive without any actual military engagements. In the seemingly timeless words of the ancient Chinese strategist, Sun-Tzu, "Subjugating the enemy's army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence."[11]

Routinely, Israel comes under international pressure to dismantle and renounce its still undeclared nuclear weapons capacity. In the name of "fairness," dozens of countries, including virtually all Arab/Islamic states, and certain others in "civilized Europe," insistently demand that Washington push Israel to accept a regional "nuclear weapon free-zone." Significantly, however, any future Israeli move to comply with such generally contrived pressures could substantially accelerate Israel's apocalyptic disappearance.

In a staggering but incontrovertible irony, the threat of a nuclear genocide against Jews affects only those Jews who live in the Jewish State.
International law is not a suicide pact. From the standpoint of criminal intent, Israel cannot be properly compared to various Arab and other Islamic states whose only rationale for weapons of mass destruction is manifest aggression and/or total war.[12] It is certain, moreover, that Israel's still undeclared nuclear weapons exist only for national survival and self-protection, and that these weapons - which, accordingly, have never been acknowledged, let alone flaunted or brandished - would be used only in a distinctly last-resort reprisal, and only for reasons of  literal survival.[13]

The employment of nuclear weapons for national survival could be entirely permissible in those particular circumstances that were identified by the International Court of Justice on July 8, 1996. In that Advisory Opinion ("The Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons"), the Court ruled as follows: "The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake."

Faced with the newest form of organized Jewish extinction, Israel's leaders should soon remind the world - explicitly, and not sotto voce - that the "Begin Doctrine" remains fully consistent with the established right of anticipatory self-defense under international law. Following such an appropriate jurisprudential reminder, it must then make prompt tactical preparations to prevent a looming Jewish genocide by implementing a number of established military means, including, inter alia, comprehensive plans for the preemptive destruction of various enemy nuclear and/or prospectively nuclear targets and infrastructures. Other coordinated and corollary Israeli efforts must simultaneously be directed at particular regime targets, ranging from pertinent national leadership elites, to those individual scientists in different parts of the globe who recognizably fashion or prepare to fashion nuclear weapons for certain genocidal purposes.       

The defensive killing of enemy scientists making mega-weapons for dangerous regimes is not an unprecedented practice by Israel or the United States. Nor, by any means, is it necessarily a violation of international law.[14] Of course, very similar Israeli/American tactics of "targeted killing" must remain in place against selected terrorist leaders, and should be extended to any such leaders with discernible plans to create nuclear (or certain biological) weapons of mass destruction.        

During World War II, a number of Arab leaders visited Berlin to meet with Hitler. There, they enthusiastically offered their own armed forces to extend the European annihilation of Jews to portions of the Islamic Middle East. At that time the Allies did everything possible to prevent the wartime nuclearization of Germany and, very successfully, at least for that moment, to create an atomic monopoly for the United States.

Today, aware that it cannot rationally permit a single Arab state or movement or Iran to ever acquire atomic weapons of mass destruction, Israel must prepare to do whatever is needed to prevent another Jewish genocide. This is now a genuinely sacred obligation, not only to Israel's increasingly imperiled population, but also to the sacred memory of those murdered Six Million who must now sleep in the dust.[15]

"We are often asked," said the late Italian Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor, Primo Levi, in The Drowned and the Saved, "as if our past conferred a prophetic ability upon us, whether Auschwitz will return." To answer such a galvanizing question, it is first necessary to understand that an "Auschwitz return" would not resemble its original form. Instead, it would take the shape of certain calculated enemy attacks upon Israel using nuclear or nuclear and biological weapons. It follows that for Jews to best guard against any future crimes against humanity must mean, above all else, to prevent wars of genocidal intent being launched against the State of Israel.


Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) was born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II. His Austrian-Jewish grandparents were murdered at the SS-killing grounds in Riga, Latvia. Professor Beres is the author of many books and articles dealing with genocide and crimes against humanity, and also on Israel's nuclear strategy. His twelfth and latest book is Surviving amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy


[1] See Charter of the International Military Tribunal, Concluded at London, 8 August 1945, Entered into Force, 8 August 1945, 82 U.N.T.S. 279. 

[2] See Charter, supra, Article 6 (c): CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY, namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

[3] See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Concluded at New York, 9 December 1948. Entered into force, 12 January 1951. 78 U.N.T.S. 277.

[4] According to Articles II and III of the Genocide Convention, genocide includes any of several listed acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such." So long as Israel is recognized as the institutionalized expression of the Jewish People, any acts of war intended to destroy the Jewish State would be ipso facto genocidal.

[5] See, especially, Carl von Clausewitz, On War (1832).

[6] See Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Israel's Strike Against the Iraqi Nuclear Reactor 7 June 1981, a collection of original articles and lectures by Yitzhak Shamir, Rafael Eitan, David Ivri, Yaakov Amidror, Yuval Ne'eman, Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, and Louis René Beres. See also: Louis René Beres and COL. (IDF/ret.) Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, "Reconsidering Israel's Destruction of Iraq's Osiraq Nuclear Reactor," 9 Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, 437 (1995).

[7] For extensive treatment of this concept under international law, see new book, by this author, Louis René Beres, Surviving amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2916), especially Chapter 5, "Convergences of Law and Strategy."

[8] In this connection, there are designated Torah concepts that describe a collective Israeli soul, a "Knesset Yisrael," that is made manifest by the many millions of bodies revealed in space and time as individual Jews. For this particular philosophic insight, I am indebted to Yehuda HaKohen, Parshat Shoftim (September 5, 2016).

[9] Such steps could fully support the authoritative expectations of international law. Always, the adequacy of international law in protecting individual states must depend upon more than formal treaties, customs, and general principles. This position on adequacy flows logically from the still-decentralized or "Westphalian" structure of international law. The term "Westphalian" derives from the Peace of Westphalia, which concluded the Thirty Years War in 1648, and consecrated the still-extant balance-of-power world of international relations.

[10] Regarding expected consequences of nuclear war fighting, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); Mimicking Sisyphus: America's Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (1983); Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); Security or Armageddon: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (1986); and Surviving amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016).

[11] See The Art of War, Chapter 3, "Planning Offensives." See also, by this author: Louis René Beres, "Lessons for Israel from Ancient Chinese Military Thought: Facing Iranian Nuclearization with Sun-Tzu," Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, October 24, 2013.

[12] On the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974.

[13] On Israel's "bomb-in-the-basement," see, Louis René Beres, "Looking Ahead: Revising Israel's Nuclear Ambiguity in the Middle East," Herzliya Conference Policy Paper, Herzliya Conference, March 11-14, 2013 (IDC, Herzliya, Israel).

[14] Assessments of the lawfulness of assassination or targeted killing as expressive of anticipatory self defense must always include careful comparisons with all alternative forms of preemption.  If the perceived alternatives to assassination were all seen as larger-scale resorts to force taking the form of defensive military strikes, a utilitarian or "balance-of-harms" standard could readily favor assassination.

[15] Here, again, Torah teachings and international law plainly reinforce each other. Ahavat Yisrael, or "love of Israel," requires a Jewish leader not only to defend his people against ongoing harms, but also to act, where necessary, in anticipation of certain security threats, especially where those threats would reach presumptively existential levels. An obvious example today would be the continuing threat of a nuclear Iran, although it is markedly less obvious that any residual Israeli resort to "anticipatory self-defense" could still be successful.