The Washington Post, July 22, 2004

ISRAEL'S MUST-HAVE WEAPONS

By Louis Rene Beres

 

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei recently visited Israel, trying to convince Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to scrap his country's presumed nuclear arsenal as part of a regional peace agreement.

In the best of all possible worlds, such a proposal might be reasonable. But in the chronically unstable Middle East -- where several Islamist states remain openly genocidal toward Israel and where Iranian nuclearization has scarcely been sanctioned -- it is foolhardy. No country should ever be asked to be complicit in its own annihilation, and such complicity would be the certain result of any proposed IAEA "peace" plan.

Israel holds nuclear weapons only to prevent its catastrophic destruction by enemy-state aggression. It is inconceivable that Israel ever would resort to such weapons as an initial move of war. Certain Arab states or Iran, however, might at some future point consider nuclear attacks upon Israel with plainly genocidal intent.

What does Israel have to fear? Following the first authoritative report by the National Academy of Sciences in 1975, the anticipated physical and biological effects could involve temperature changes; contamination of food and water by radionuclides; disease epidemics in crops, domesticated animals and humans due to ionizing radiation; shortening of growing seasons; irreversible injuries to aquatic species; widespread and long-term cancers due to inhalation of plutonium particles; radiation-induced developmental anomalies in persons in utero at the time of detonations; a vast growth in incidence of skin cancers; and an increasing incidence of genetic disease.

Overwhelming health problems would afflict the survivors of a nuclear attack upon Israel. These problems would extend far beyond the consequences of prompt burn injuries. Retinal burns would occur in the eyes of persons far from the explosions. Israelis would be crushed by collapsing buildings and torn to shreds by flying glass. Others would fall victim to raging firestorms. Fallout injuries would include whole-body radiation injury, produced by penetrating, hard gamma radiations; superficial radiation burns produced by soft radiations; and injuries produced by deposits of radioactive substances within the body.

After an Arab and/or Iranian nuclear attack, even a "small" one, those few medical facilities that might still exist in Israel would be taxed well beyond capacity. Water supplies would become altogether unusable. Housingandsheltercouldbe unavailable for hundreds of thousands -- perhaps even millions -- of survivors. Transportation would break down to rudimentary levels. Food shortages would be critical and long term.

Israel's complex network of exchange systems would be shattered. Virtually everyone would be deprived of the most basic means of livelihood. Emergency police and fire services would be decimated. All systems dependent upon electrical power could stop functioning. Severe trauma would occasion widespread disorientation and psychiatric disorders for which there would be absolutely no therapeutic services.

Normal human society would cease. The pestilence of unrestrained murder and banditry would augment plague and epidemics. Many of the survivors would expect an increase in serious degenerative diseases. They would also expect premature death, impairment of vision and sterility. An increased incidence of leukemia and cancers of the lung, stomach, breast, ovary and uterine cervix would be unavoidable.

Many balanced relationships in nature would be upset by the extensive fallout. Israelis who survive the nuclear attack would have to deal with enlarged insect populations. Like the locusts of biblical times, mushrooming insect hordes would spread from the radiation-damaged areas in which they arose.

Insects are generally more resistant to radiation than humans. This fact, coupled with the prevalence of unburied corpses, uncontrolled waste and untreated sewage, would generate tens of trillions of flies and mosquitoes. Breeding in the dead bodies, these insects would make it impossible to control typhus, malaria, dengue fever and encephalitis.

Throughout Israel, the largest health threat would be posed by tens or even hundreds of thousands of rotting human corpses.

This is only the tip of the iceberg; indeed, it is a vast understatement of what could be expected. Interactions between individual effects of nuclear weapons would make matters far worse. It follows that Israel must never accede to IAEA proposals for regional denuclearization. Such proposals would render Israel unable to deter aggression, while failing utterly to prevent other states in the area from going nuclear. The likely final result, for Israel, would be to suffer genuinely existential harms.

Louis Rene Beres is a professor of international law at Purdue University. He chairs Project Daniel, a small high-level group advising Israel's prime minister on nuclear issues. Prof. Beres is also the academic advisor to the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.