Published by The Freeman Center
The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
Israel's Nuclear Imperatives
By Professor Louis René Beres
The Iranian Nuclear Threat to Israel: Legal Remedies and Remaining Options
Soon, it will be exactly eight years (January 16, 2003) since the private Project Daniel Group first advised on the unprecedented threat of Iraniannuclear weapons. Our detailed final report, which contained legal as well as strategic recommendations, urged then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to enhanceIsrael’s deterrence and defense postures, to consider a prompt end to deliberate nuclear ambiguity (if Iran should be permitted to become nuclear), and to refine pertinent preemption options. It also concluded that Israel should not naively expect stable coexistence with a nuclear Iran ruled by doctrinaire Islamic clerics, and that active national defenses should be strengthened accordingly.
Today, Israel’s core plan for active defense remains the Arrow. To adequately protect against any WMD attack from Iran, however, this advanced system of ballistic missile defense(BMD) should be fully complemented by continuously improved Israeli nuclear deterrence, and by recognizably viable options for defensive first strikes against selected Iranian military and industrial targets. Under no circumstances, should it be assumed by Israel that a safe and durable “balance of terror” could be created with a staunchly Jihadist Tehran.
In strategic thinking, deterrence logic must always be based upon an assumption of enemy rationality. This assumption might not be warranted, however, in the case of Iran. Here, also, any purported analogy between Iran and our own U.S. deterrence relationship with the former Soviet Union would be facile, or simply misguided.
If Iran's current leadership could somehow meet the core test of rationality, always valuing national survival more highly than any other preference, there would still be intolerable risks to Israel. These risks would be associated with Tehran's expectedly problematic command and control of any future nuclear forces. Even a completely rational Iranian leadership could still base its critical nuclear decisions upon erroneous information, on assorted computer errors, or on precipitous pre-delegations of launch authority.
The related problem of vulnerability to violent regime overthrow or coup d'état in Tehran must also be taken into increasingly close account in Jerusalem. Ironically, there can be no assurances that any new regime in Iran would necessarily pose a diminished security threat to Israel.
If Arrow were presumed to be one hundred percent effective, even an irrational Iranian adversary armed with nuclear or biological weapons could be kept at bay without defensive first strikes, and also without any threats of retaliation. But, irrefutably, no BMD system can ever be entirely “leak proof.”
Terrorist proxies in ships or trucks, not missiles, could deliver Iranian nuclear attacks upon Israel. In such low-tech but distinctly high consequence assaults, there would be no benefit to Israel of deploying anti-missile defenses.
Israel can never depend upon its anti-ballistic missiles to fully defend against any future WMD attack from Iran, any more than it can rely exclusively on nuclear deterrence. This does not mean that Arrow is a less than vital part of Israel's larger security apparatus. It is plainly necessary, but it is also not sufficient.
Every state has an indisputable right under international law to act preemptively when facing a potentially existential aggression. The 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice even extends such lawful authority to the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain last-resort circumstances. But, at least for now, Israel could likely undertake more or less purposeful “anticipatory self-defense” without nuclear weapons. In addition to the more usual expressions of defensive armed force, this may now also mean targeted elimination of selected enemy scientists, and/or prudent resort to vital cyber-defenses.
International law is not a suicide pact.
Although President Medvedev claims otherwise, Russia is still selling Iran its S-300 advanced strategic-range air defense system. Once fully deployed, this weapon, which has an "engagement envelope" of at least 100 miles, could greatly complicate the success of any essential Israeli hard-target (military or industrial) preemption.
If, for whatever reason, Iran should now be permitted to become operationally nuclear, Israel, at a minimum, would need to enhance the credibility of its presumed nuclear deterrent. This robust second-strike strategic force; hardened, multiplied, and dispersed; would need to be fashioned, observably, to inflict a decisive retaliatory blow against selected enemy cities. In military terms, this means, for Israel, an openly counter value-targeted nuclear force.
For Israeli nuclear deterrence to succeed, Iran needs to understand, unambiguously, that the actual costs of any planned aggression against Israel would always exceed any conceivable gains.
The manifest dangers of a nuclear Iran would substantially impact the United States. While it might still be several years before any Iranian missiles could strike American territory, the U.S. could become as vulnerable as Israel to certain nuclear-armed terrorist surrogates. Any American plan for a “rogue state” anti-ballistic missile shield, for us, and for our NATO allies, would have precisely the same protection limitations as Israel’s already-deployed Arrow.
When Iran continuously announces its genocidal intentions while simultaneously and illegally developing nuclear weapons, Israel has no reasonable choice but to protect itself with the very best means available.
International law is not a suicide pact.
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Israel's Strategic Future: Project Daniel
Genocide against the Jews is an old story.....a very old story.
The purpose of Project Daniel - which is the subject of my lecture this evening - is to ensure that the Jewish People never again experience another Holocaust - never again.
"We are often asked," said the late Italian Jew and survivor Primo Levi in THE DROWNED AND THE SAVED, "as if our past conferred a prophetic ability upon us, whether Auschwitz will return...."
However we choose to answer this terrible but unavoidable question, our past seems sometimes to have conferred very little in the way of prophetic or even predictive abilities. On the contrary, by often deluding ourselves that not seeing is a way of not knowing (e.g., "The Middle east Peace Process"), we have distanced ourselves from indispensable forms of warning.
"Project Daniel" was designed to help us all see. The purpose of Project Daniel is to go well beyond slogans and sighs of apprehension to strong and sensible action - action that is desperately needed for Jewish survival.
Above all, I will emphasize this evening, it is vital to recall that the re-established State of Israel is always the individual Jew in macrocosm -the Jewish individual writ large - and that this State is now the focus of authentically genocidal intent. In the minds of the genociders, the Jewish State has now replaced the individual Jew. Like the individual Jew surrounded by mobs of would-be murderers, the villified Jewish State stands encircled by crowds of other states and by terror groups crying out for its extinction. In the world of the early 21st century, the State of Israel is the most dangerous place on earth for Jews, as Jews.
In the world of the present moment, this inversion of Zionist dreams for safety is both horribly ironic and altogether intolerable. That this inversion cannot be permitted to stand is a key rationale of Project Daniel.
Make no mistake about it: The ongoing intent of many Arab/Islamic organizations and states is the mass murder of every Jew in the State of Israel. And neither the United States nor the United Nations can be relied upon to prevent this from happening. Above all, we must recall that another Holocaust is distinctly possible -this time in the refashioned form of nuclear and/or biological aggressions against Israel - and that it is our responsibility (Jews and Christians together) to oppose such aggressions with all of our strength and all of our being.
Today, with an undiminished threat of selective Arab and/or Iranian nuclearization, the prospect of a Middle Eastern nuclear war involving Israel is real......very real indeed. Which brings us to the origins of Project Daniel.
Over the years I have been very closely involved with Israeli nuclear issues:
The real problem here is that the so-called "safe path" - however fashioned - is itself almost surely unsafe.
Preemption against a capable nuclear adversary (e.g., Iran) would be an operational nightmare.
And ballistic missile defense, however well-perfected (e/g/., the "Arrow") would not be "leakproof."
(About the operational difficulties of preemption, I happened to speak with AMB. David Ivry - IAF Commander during the June 7, 1981 Osiraq raid near Baghdad - on the 20th anniversary of Osiraq.........he made it clear that Osiraq was a picnic in comparison to what Israel faces today.)
So, what is Israel to do?
This was the question that led me first to former Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval - with whom I discussed the idea of a special "brain trust" - and then to the five very special individuals who ultimately came to comprise "Project Daniel:"
At our very first meeting we took up the "Beres/Ne'eman thesis," that is, that the greatest danger facing Israel today would be a fusion of nuclear capacity with a willful irrationality (the suicide-bomber in macrocosm). At that same meeting - the first of several over a two-year period in New York and Washington - we decided that the truly greatest threat - from the standpoint of probability as well as of seriousness - was a "normal" or rational adversary with such WMD capability.
And, from here, we proceeded to study and make pertinent recommendations concerning:
Writing in his very first book, NIGHT, Elie Wiesel said: "Everything is possible."
Today, most of the Arab/Islamic world focuses its genocidal hatred on the Jewish State exactly as Europe once focussed this hatred on individual (and stateless) Jews. There is no greater Jewish responsibility than to prevent a second Holocaust - and it is nothing short of Holocaust that the Arab/Islamic world now wishes for Israel.
Israel is half the size of Lake Michigan. Just how much of a nuclear beating could it take? If an Arab/Islamic enemy state were ever to acquire nuclear weapons, it could conceivably calculate - rationally - the expected benefits of a first-strike against "the Zionist entity."
What would be the flesh and blood consequences of such a strike? Consider the following: Overwhelming health problems would afflict the survivors of any nuclear attack upon Israel.
These problems would extend far beyond the uncontrollable consequences of prompt burn injuries.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. It follows - it follows very plainly - that Israel must now do whatever is necessary to protect itself from enemy nuclear aggressions, including timely preemptive attacks against relevant enemy hard target - even if the risks of failure are formidable.
Also, Israel must prepare for recognizable and massive countercity nuclear reprisals - as a credible deterrent to enemy nuclear attack.
International law is not a suicide pact. Under authoritative international rules, such expressions of "anticipatory self-defense" and nuclear deterrence could be entirely permissible. (Even the ICJ has said as much in its Advisory Opinion on nuclear weapons several years ago.)
Israel cannot afford to make the same security mistakes on this existential issue that it made earlier in the Oslo Accords and is now continuing to make with the so-called "Road Map." Here, in the apocalyptic realm of nuclear weapons and nuclear war, mistakes would be final and unforgiving.
Iran and possibly certain Arab states could even become suicide bombers in macrocosm - willing to strike first even at the risk of absorbing devastating Israeli reprisals.
Tactically and politically, Israeli preemptions would best be conducted in tandem with the United States, but if there should be no alternative to acting alone, solitary defensive strikes against hard targets would be preferable to waiting helplessly for a second Holocaust.
Since the presentation of our original Project Daniel document to Prime Minister Sharon on January 16, 2003 (it remained secret until this past May), there have been a few relatively minor "victories" in the effort to control WMD proliferation among Israel's enemies. The most obvious case in point - in addition to Iraq - is Libya. At the same time, the circumstances in North Korea (which has ties to some of Israel's Arab/Islamic enemies), Iran and Pakistan remain very dangerous. There is also evidence of expanding WMD ambitions in Egypt (so much for formal peace treaties), and Syria has been smuggling components for WMD weapons to Sudan - in an attempt to keep them hidden from outside inspection. At the level of terrorist groups, which are sustained by several Arab/Islamic states, new alignments are now being fashioned between various Palestinian Organizations and al-Qaeda.
Regarding Iranian nuclearization, there is always a danger that these atomic weapons might be shared with Hezbullah militias in south Lebanon.
Our work in Project Daniel has been based on the following assumption: Current threats of war, terrorism and genocide to Israel derive from a very clear "clash of civilizations." These threats are far more than the result of narrow geo-strategic differences. They stem from religion and culture.
Both Israel and the United States are in the cross-hairs of a worldwide Arab/Islamic "Jihad" that is fundamentally theological/cultural in nature.This orientation to Jihad will not concede an inch to rational persuasion, to conventional legal norms of "coexistence" or "peaceful settlement." This situation of existential danger to "unbelievers" is hardly a pleasing one for Jerusalem or Washington, but it is one that must immediately be acknowledged and understood.
In the best of all possible worlds, none of these dreadful scenarios would be plausible, and the tiny state of Israel could rely upon Reason and Justice to forge its secure future. But we all know that this is hardly the best of all possible worlds. and that Israeli self-reliance is altogether indispensable.
In this connection, it is certainly important that Israel not ever allow itself to be lured into some plan for a regional "nuclear weapon free zone" (an actual proposal these days by prominent Israeli academics; e.g., Zeev Maoz). Shimon Peres, as Prime Minister, once stated publicly that Israel would be "delighted to give up the atom" if only the entire region would embrace a comprehensive security plan. It should be perfectly obvious, however, to anyone who thinks clearly, that in a scheme for regional nuclear renunciation, only Israel would be disarmed.
It is also important, for Israel's survival, that the country prepare to end its policy of nuclear ambiguity on short notice. If, as we note in Project Daniel, there should be any evidence that enemy nuclearization (state and/or non-state) had taken place, Israel must immediately bring its bomb out of the "basement." This is because the credibility of Israel's nuclear deterrent in such circumstances would require a clear message that it has both the capacity and the intention to retaliate.
Before an enemy of Israel might be deterred from launching nuclear first-strikes at Israel, it may not be enough that it "knows" merely that Israel HAS the bomb. It may also need to recognize that these Israeli nuclear weapons are sufficiently invulnerable to such attacks, and that they are aimed at very high-value targets. In the Project Daniel Report, we recommend that "...a recognizable retaliatory force should be fashioned with the capacity to destroy some 15 high-value targets scattered widely over pertinent enemy states in the Middle East." This strategy means that Israel's second-strike response to enemy aggressions involving biological and/or nuclear weapons would be directed at enemy POPULATIONS, not at enemy weapons.
At the same time, we assert: "The overriding priority of Israel's nuclear deterrent force must always be that it preserves the country's security without ever having to be fired."
Some of you will be disturbed by Project Daniel reasoning - thinking, perhaps, that it has a hint of "Dr. Strangelove." Yet, the countervalue targeting strategy recommended by Project Daniel represents Israel's best hope for AVOIDING a nuclear or biological war. It is, therefore, actually the most humane strategy available.
The very best weapons, the classical military theorist Clausewitz once wrote, are those that achieve their objectives without actually being fired. This is especially the case with nuclear weapons.
Israel's nuclear weapons can succeed only through non-use. Recognizing this, Project Daniel makes very clear that nuclear warfighting must always be avoided.
Generally, Jews don't like to be bearers of harm. Until now, we have generally been victims rather than executioners. But as much as we should like to be "neither victims nor executioners" (to borrow a phrase from Albert Camus's essay of the same title), this is simply not possible. The will to mass murder of Jews, as we have learned from so many for so long, remains unimpressed by persistent expressions of Jewish "goodness." It follows, especially for Israel, that Jewish "executioners" have their rightful place, and that without this place there would be entire legions of new Jewish and non-Jewish sufferers.
Medieval maps often portrayed Jerusalem at the center of the world. From the standpoint of nuclear strategy and world peace, such a portrayal is very valid today. Confronted with relentlessly genocidal state and non-state enemies, some of which energetically seek weapons of mass destruction, Israel must now fashion a sound strategic doctrine. This is why the Project Daniel Group first undertook to prepare its unprecedented Final Report to the Prime Minister.
What can you do - you, the concerned Jews and Christians of this great Houston community? For one, you can remain aware that the State of Israel is always the individual Jew in macrocosm, and that the fate of this Jewish State is therefore still precarious. For another, you can recall that impending Israeli territorial surrenders must be evaluated along yet another dimension - the dimension of Israel's strategic vulnerability - and that there is therefore yet another reason to oppose these surrenders.
In many critical respects, Israel IS strong and powerful.....and there are many reasons to believe that Israel will certainly prevail. But it is our individual and collective (and even Talmudic) responsibility not to take this strength and power for granted. Rather, by facing Israel's existential difficulties squarely we will better ensure Israel's enduring survival.
Apocalypse was pretty much a Jewish invention, but there is now every reason to believe that we can still avoid an apocalyptic future for Israel.
This lecture was prepared especially for delivery at Congregation Beth Yeshurun; Houston, Texas; on October 17, 2004; and was sposored by The Freeman Center for Strategic Studies; Americans For A Safe Israel; Congregation Beth Yeshurun; and United Orthodox Synagogues
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Project Daniel: The Existential Threat To Israel, Part 7
My previous column in the Project Daniel series dealt with Israel`s survival problem in a world of increasing chaos and anarchy. Recalling apt images of the Irish poet Yeats, of a world wherein "the blood-dimmed tide is loosed," and where "the ceremony of innocence is drowned," we must now quickly acknowledge that certain current threats to Israel are profoundly existential. Such an acknowledgment, however disturbing, is the necessary starting point for all further investigations and recommendations on Israeli security. With this in mind, Project Daniel, very early on in our Final Report, undertook to identify these unprecedented threats. Let me now explain what we had to say to the Prime Minister at the outset of Israel`s strategic future.
In an age of total war, Israel must always remain fully aware of those harms that would threaten its very continuance as a state. Although the Jewish state has always recognized an overriding obligation to seek peace through negotiation and diplomacy wherever possible, there are times -- to be sure -- when its commitment to peaceful settlement will not be reciprocated.
Moreover, there are times when the idea of an existential threat may reasonably apply to a particular level of harms that falls well below the threshold of complete national annihilation. In our Project Daniel Final Report,* therefore, we advised the Prime Minister accordingly that certain forms of both conventional and unconventional attack against large Israeli civilian concentrations could constitute a true existential threat, even where they did not point toward total country destruction.
For example, certain biological or nuclear attacks upon Tel-Aviv that would kill many thousands of Israeli citizens could have dire consequences for the continued functioning of the whole country. A recent report by the Washington- based Heritage Foundation examined the effects of an enemy WMD attack on Tel-Aviv. In one scenario, a single enemy missile carrying 500 kilograms of botulinum would kill approximately 50,000 Israeli men, women and children. In another scenario, an enemy missile fitted with 450 kilograms of VX nerve gas would kill about 43,000 people. If left to develop nuclear warheads, these missiles could kill hundreds of thousands of Israelis.
Examining these possibilities, our Project Daniel group noted three distinct but interrelated existential threats to Israel:
The Group recommended to the Prime Minister that "Israel must identify explicitly and early on that all enemy Arab states and Iran are subject to massive Israeli reprisal in the event of a BN attack upon Israel." We recommended further that "massive" reprisals be targeted at between 10 and 20 large enemy cities ("countervalue" targeting) and that the nuclear yields of such Israeli reprisals be in the megaton-range. It goes without saying that such deterrent threats by Israel would be very compelling to all rational enemies, but -- at the same time -- would likely have little or no effect upon irrational ones. In the case of irrational adversaries, Israel`s only hope for safety will likely lie in appropriate acts of preemption -- defensive acts to be discussed more fully in the next column of my ongoing Project Daniel series.
A policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) which was obtained between the United States and the Soviet Union, would never work between Israel and its Arab/Iranian enemies. Rather, the Project Daniel Group recommended that Israel MUST prevent its enemies from acquiring BN status, and that any notion of BN "parity" between Israel and its enemies would be intolerable. The ratios of physical size 800:1; population 55:1 and political clout in the United nations -- at least 22:1 -- means that Israel`s very survival is contingent upon avoiding parity at all costs. With this in mind, the Group advised the Prime Minister that "Israel immediately adopt -- as highest priority -- a policy of preemption with respect to enemy existential threats." Such a policy would be based upon the more limited definition of "existential" described above, and would also enhance Israel`s overall deterrence posture.
Recognizing the close partnership and overlapping interests between Israel and the United States, the Project Daniel Group strongly supports the ongoing American War Against Terror (WAT). In this connection, we have urged full cooperation and mutuality between Jerusalem and Washington regarding communication of intentions. If for any reason the United States should decide against exercising preemption options against certain developing weapons of mass destruction (a distinct possibility these days, as we are very much preoccupied with Iraq), Israel must reserve for itself the unhindered prerogative to undertake its own preemption options. Understood in the more formal language of international law, these operations would be an expression of "anticipatory self- defense."
Our Group began its initial deliberations with the following urgent concern: Israel faces the hazard of a suicide-bomber in macrocosm. In this scenario, an enemy Arab state or Iran would act against Israel without ordinary regard for any retaliatory consequences. In the fashion of the individual suicide bomber who acts without fear of personal consequences -- indeed, who actually welcomes the most extreme personal consequence, which is death -- an enemy Arab state and/or Iran would launch WMD attacks against Israel with full knowledge and expectation of overwhelming Israeli reprisals. The conclusion to be drawn from this scenario is that Israeli deterrence vis-a-vis "suicide states" would have been immobilized by enemy irrationality, and that Israel`s only recourse in such circumstances would have been appropriate forms of preemption.
My next column in this special series will elaborate further on Project Daniel`s recommendations concerning preemption, deterrence and nuclear warfighting. As always, I welcome any e-mail inquiries from my readers about my columns.
Readers can access the full report of "Project Daniel" online, by going to the website of the Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel) -- www.acpr.org.il -- or by requesting the printed monograph from the Ariel Center. It is ACPR Policy Paper No. 155 (May 2004) and can be ordered by contacting: email@example.com
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LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton) is Professor of International Law in the Department of Political Science at Purdue University. He was Chair of Project Daniel (Israel), and is the author of many major books, articles and monographs on nuclear strategy and nuclear war. He is also the academic advisor to the the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies. Major articles by Prof. Beres may be found on the Freeman Web site at http://www.freeman.org/m_
Dr. Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945.