What Israelis say: Israel’s Possible Paths to Nuclear War

By Prof. Louis René Beres
July 22, 2017

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 537, July 22, 2017

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: North Korea’s nuclearization has implications for Israel’s nuclear deterrence posture. There are several plausible means by which a nuclear conflict could arise in the Middle East. It may be time to consider a phase-out of Israel’s “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” and to focus Israeli planning around evaluations of enemy rationality.

In the end, we still depend upon creatures of our own making.
Goethe, Faust

For the moment, at least, global concern about nuclear war is focused on North Korea. The Middle East nevertheless remains a possible site for future nuclear conflict, and Israel’s strategy for dealing with this prospect warrants close examination. Worth pointing out, too, is that these two seemingly discrete theaters of potential nuclear belligerency are not mutually exclusive.

Quite the contrary. Nuclear warfare events in these two distant places could become mutually reinforcing.

Any conceivable resort to nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula would almost certainly affect nuclear incentives elsewhere. At a minimum, any breaking of the longstanding nuclear taboo in Asia (southwest as well as northeast Asia, if coup-vulnerable Pakistan is factored in) could enhance the presumed usability of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
There are overarching questions to be asked. How, precisely, might Israel find itself in some form or other of a nuclear war? Under what circumstances might it use nuclear weapons?

For the moment, at least, any such concerns might appear baseless. After all, Israel remains the only presumptive nuclear state in the region.

But Tehran, like Pyongyang, will not desist from its nuclear ambitions. Iranian membership in the Nuclear Club is more than likely to occur within the next several years, the Vienna 2015 Iran Agreement notwithstanding. Moreover, even in the absence of a single regional nuclear adversary, the Jewish State could still find itself having to rely upon nuclear deterrence against certain biological and/or massive conventional threats.

To answer its most basic nuclear questions, Jerusalem’s strategic planners will need to adhere closely to well-established canons of systematic inquiry, logical analysis, and dialectical reasoning. There are four plausible, intersecting narratives that “cover the bases” of Israel’s nuclear preparedness: 1) nuclear retaliation; 2) nuclear counter-retaliation; 3) nuclear preemption; and 4) the fighting of a nuclear war.



BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

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