Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Israel’s Nuclear Weapons: Middle East Exceptionalism

German submarines for Israel
Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, though it neither confirms nor denies possessing atomic weapons
. — Closing sentence from a Huffington Post article last year on Benjamin Netanyahu disparaging the Iran Nuclear Agreement

Is there something hypocritical about the world tolerating Israels nuclear arsenal, which the country does not officially acknowledge but has been publicly known for decades, and yet punishing Iran with severe economic sanctions just for its suspected steps toward a weapons program? Even Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as its implacable enemy and made its accommodations with Israel long ago, often joins Tehran’s calls for a nuclear-free region.’ And anyone not closely versed in Middle East issues might naturally wonder why the United States would accept Israeli warheads but not an Iranian program. — From an article by Max Fisher for The Washington Post, December 2, 2013 

Israel’s special bargain with the bomb, centered on amimut [‘nuclear opacity’ or ‘nuclear ambiguity’], is a microcosm of the larger Israeli predicament. The close relationship between the two, the Israeli condition and the bomb, can be seen in the metaphor that Israeli essayist Ari Shavit suggested, seeing the Israeli bomb as a glass greenhouse shield encapsulating and shielding Israels existence. As long as Israel exists in a hostile, conflict-ridden environment [which itself helped create and sustain if not exacerbate: so we have here something on the order of both a self-fulfilling prophecy and self-fulfilling sufficient condition], it needs a shield. But this shieldthis greenhouseis not a substitute for normalcy. The bomb is not a substitute for peace with and recognition by neighbors. In fact, the bomb is a manifestation of this abnormal situation. Israels bargain with the bomb reflects one of the great achievements of the Zionist enterprise. — Avner Cohen 

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It’s a known fact that Israel possesses quite a number of nuclear weapons (150-200; although a U.S. report in 2013 claimed Israel had 80 nuclear warheads, with enough fissile material for an additional 115 to 190 warheads) and believes itself to be entitled, alone in the Middle East, to possess such weapons. Israel—alongside India and Pakistan—has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and alone among nuclear-weapons states, it has never publicly acknowledged its nuclear arsenal nor openly demonstrated its nuclear capability. As Avner Cohen writes in The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb (2010), “In Israel, to this day, the gap between nuclear conduct and basic democratic norms of open debate, the public’s right to know, public accountability, oversight, and transparency remains vast.” 

Furthermore, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons has not led to a viable or successful deterrence strategy and policy. For example, it has “not deter[red] Arabs from attacking it; nor is there evidence that it imposed limitations on Arab operational planning.” (In fact, Arab states in the region have never had anything remotely close to a coordinated strategy and policy with regard to Israel, whatever the historical pan-Arab rhetoric of ‘annihilation.’) Among the adverse side effects of its nuclear weapons arsenal and related policy, Zeev Maoz notes that “it was a major factor in accelerating a conventional arms race and in igniting a nonconventional arms race in the Middle East.” While Israel was developing its nuclear potential (1957-67), “inter-Arab relations were characterized by political and military discord,” its decision to develop nuclear weapons coming at a time “when the actual investment in military manpower and hardware by the key Arab states was marginal, to say the least.” Maoz convincingly argues that “each time Israel actually invoked its nuclear policy in a context of international crisis or war, its implied or explicit threats failed to achieve their intended aim.”

In short, “the logic of last-resort deterrence that served as the strategic foundation of the nuclear project is logically self-defeating, because it renders incredible the threat of nuclear retaliation in any other circumstances.” Perhaps implausibly, however, Maoz detects a silver lining: Israel’s nuclear policy could serve as “a bargaining chip in bringing about a ‘weapons of mass destruction’ free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East, in the context of a comprehensive regional security regime.” 

References and Further Reading
  • Athanasopulos, Haralambos. Nuclear Disarmament in International Law. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2000.
  • Bernstein, Jeremy. Nuclear Weapons: What You Need to Know. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Blair, Bruce G. The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1993.
  • Blix, Hans. Why Nuclear Disarmament Matters. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.
  • Bracken, Paul. The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics. New York: Times Books, 2012.
  • Busch, Nathan E. and Daniel H. Joyner, eds. Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Future of International Nonproliferation Policy. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2009.
  • Cirincione, Joseph. Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
  • Cohen, Avner. Israel and the Bomb. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
  • Cohen, Avner. The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.
  • Cohen, Yoel. The Whistleblower of Dimona: Israel, Vanunu and the Bomb. Homes & Meier, 2003.
  • Daley, Ted. Apocalypse Never: Forging the Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010.
  • Falk, Richard and David Krieger. The Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2012.
  • Gerson, Jospeh. Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World. London: Pluto Press, in association with American Friends Service Committee, New England Regional Office, 2007.
  • Green, Robert. Security Without Nuclear Deterrence. Christchurch, New Zealand: Astron Media and Disarmament and Security Centre, 2010.
  • Hersh, Seymour M. The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy. New York: Random House, 1991.
  • Jervis, Robert, Richard Ned Lebow, and Janice Gross Stein. Psychology and Deterrence. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
  • Joyner, Daniel H. International Law and the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Joyner, Daniel H., ed. Non-Proliferation Export Controls: Origins, Challenges, and Proposals for Strengthening. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.
  • Joyner, Daniel H. and Marco Roscini, eds. Non-Proliferation Law as a Special Regime: A Contribution to Fragmentation Theory in International Law. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Karpin, Michael. The Bomb in the Basement: How Israel Went Nuclear and What That Means for the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
  • Kavka, Gregory S. Moral Paradoxes of Nuclear Deterrence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
  • Lifton, Robert Jay and Richard Falk. Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case against Nuclear Weapons. New York: Basic Books, 1982.
  • Maoz, Zeev. Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security and Foreign Policy. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2006.
  • Ruggerio, Greg and Stuart Sahulka, eds. Critical Mass: Voices for a Nuclear-Free Future. Westfield, NJ: Open Media and Campaign for Peace and Democracy, 1996.
  • Schell, Jonathan. The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007.
  • Shue, Henry, ed. Nuclear Deterrence and Moral Restraint. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  • Wills, Garry. Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State. New York: Penguin Press, 2010.
  • Wilson, Ward. Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
  • Wittner, Lawrence S. The Struggle Against the Bomb, Vol. 1: One World or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement through 1953. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.
  • Wittner, Lawrence S. The Struggle Against the Bomb, Vol. 2: Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954-1970. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.
  • Wittner, Lawrence S. The Struggle Against the Bomb, Vol. 3: Toward Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1971 to the Present. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.
Related Bibliographies
Image: “Germany is helping Israel to develop its military nuclear capabilities, SPIEGEL has learned. According to extensive research carried out by the magazine, Israel is equipping submarines that were built in the northern German city of Kiel and largely paid for by the German government with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. The missiles can be launched using a previously secret hydraulic ejection system. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told SPIEGEL that Germans should be proud that they have secured the existence of the state of Israel ‘for many years.’”


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