ISRAEL AND THE ISLAMIC BOMB
By Louis Rene Beres
It has now been more than two years since Pakistan's formal entry into the nuclear club. Although Islamic nuclear threats to Israel are assuredly emerging independently of Pakistan's atomic status, Jerusalem now confronts an acceleration and enlargement of these threats. Moreover, Israel now faces the additional danger posed by Pakistani direct transfer of nuclear assets to certain regional enemies.
How shall Israel prepare for the unprecedented hazards created by an "Islamic Bomb?" Are these hazards likely to be magnified by an almost moribund Middle East "Peace Process?" What precise synergies exist between Oslo and the Islamic Bomb? And how might Israel adjust its survival obligations to support and sustain the Oslo Accords?
What if there should be an actual nuclear war on the Indian subcontinent? What would such a war imply for the Middle East? Would there be a corresponding lowering of the nuclear threshold in Israel's own neighborhood? Would there be a lifting of the nuclear "taboo?" If so, would such a lifting be to Israel's overall security advantage or disadvantage?
There are many questions that need to be asked, quickly, fully and insightfully. One particularly important set of questions should deal with U.S. strategy and policy. How will the Clinton administration, or its successor, propose to deal with inevitable weaponization of Pakistan's nuclear capability? How will the United States assist India and Pakistan in reducing fears and conditions that heighten the prospect of nuclear exchange in South Asia? Can Washington deal effectively with the dangers of India-Pakistan nuclear war created by mechanical accident, miscalculation or inadvertence? What about war risks associated with shaky command/control procedures and unauthorized commands? And what would be the consequences of an American failure in this realm for Israeli security and survival?
There are many problems to be considered? Does the appearance of an Islamic Bomb suggest a need for even more rapid Israeli development of anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) defenses? Or would such accellerated development merely hasten the development of new offensive ballistic missiles to be used against Israel? It was, of course, this fear - that defense in the nuclear age encourages arms racing - that first led to anti-ballistic missile treaties and protocols decades ago.
Should Israel enlarge its efforts to deploy the Arrow (Hetz) ATBM, or would the Jewish State be better served by a policy of strengthened nuclear deterrence and/or selective non-nuclear preemptions? Can Israel rely on the Nonproliferation Regime of treaties, national laws and declarations, or is the primacy of Realpolitik over international law now overwhelming, incontestable and irreversible? Should Jerusalem rely more on promises for safety from Washington, or -in view of recent events - rely even less on such promises? Can nuclear deterrence serve Israel if the Jewish State is faced with irrational nuclear adversaries, or would such irrationality immobilize the dynamics of nuclear deterrence? If Israel does need to undertake various forms of preemption, can it do so entirely with conventional weapons, or will it need to use nuclear weapons to ensure destruction of very hardened enemy targets? If the latter, could Israel continue to endure in the community of nations after embracing such an unpopular (however indispensable) strategic option?
To lower the nuclear threshold in the Middle East, should Israel, confronting the consequences of an Islamic Bomb, concentrate on improving its conventional deterrent? Facing constant pressure from the Arab world, especially Egypt, to denuclearize altogether, should Israel prepare to give up the bomb - an idea once considered publicly by Shimon Peres - or would it be better for Israel to multiply, harden and disperse further its pertinent nuclear forces? In view of the test explosions in South Asia, should Israel maintain its stance of "deliberate ambiguity," or would it be better to bring the bomb out of the "basement," thereby removing possible doubts about the vulnerabilities and capabilities of Israel's nuclear deterrent? If it chooses to bring the bomb out of the basement, should it be done merely by careful sorts of disclosure, or should Israel follow the testing examples of India and Pakistan?
The questions are daunting. The answers are elusive. But for Israel, the time for questions and answers can no longer be postponed. For Israel it is time to embark upon a broadly conceived strategic dialectic in which capable scholars and officials ask and answer hard questions, again and again and again, until the full complexity of issues can be understood and be taken into account. For Israel, the Islamic Bomb exploded by Pakistan two years ago last May is more than just another warning. It may be the Final Warning.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many publications dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war. Two of his books are APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (University of Chicago Press, 1980) and SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (D.C. Heath/Lexington, 1986). He is also the author of "In a Dark Time: The Expected Consequences of an India-Pakistan Nuclear War," AMERICAN UNIVERSITY INTERNATIONAL LAW REVIEW, Vol. 14., No. 2., 1998. Professor Beres's work on Israeli nuclear strategy is well-known in Israel's military and intelligence communities.