The existence of an Israeli nuclear capability has been speculated about by everyone who cares to comment, but has never been acknowledged by Israel herself. This policy of keeping her state secrets secret has served Israel well over the years and has aided her ability to survive. It’s unfortunate, though, that The New York Times’ correspondent in Israel doesn’t hold the Israeli policy of non-acknowledgement in high regard.
In a book review of a recent offering by author Avner Cohen, Ethan Bronner of the Times thinks Cohen is right when he calls for Israel to openly acknowledge her rumored nuclear capability. Neither Cohen nor Bronner appreciate Israel’s need to maintain a military posture that implies the ability to do tremendous harm to much larger adversaries.
To these two – and to many other see-no-evil types – all nuclear capability is the same no matter who has it. North Korea with a bomb is the same kind of threat to the world as would be an Israeli nuclear capability. When Iran gets nukes, it will be the same thing as France or the UK having them. If Libya or Cuba were to nuke up, that’d be okay because it wouldn’t be much different than Sweden or Denmark having the bomb. This is the moral equivalence argument expressed in nuclear terms.
For Israel, however, giving the impression of a nuclear capability, has to a very great extent, insured her survival. In much the same way as NATO used its nuclear muscle to offset the massive advantage in conventional weapons arrayed against her, as Leo Rennert of American Thinker points out, Israel has successfully insinuated a nuclear threat into the power balance in the Middle East that has to some extent forestalled direct aggressions against her over the last 30 years.
“Avner Cohen and Ethan Bronner” says Rennert, ” are oblivious to current existential threats to Israel emanating from Iran’s theocracy.” Instead both Cohen and Bronner are enamored with the trendy notion that it is necessary for a democracy to prove its rectitude by fully disclosing its plans to defend itself. This is clear when Bronner writes “that Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)… [leaves her] as the world’s only unacknowledged nuclear power.”
What Bronner might also have noted, is that there are few small countries in the world in as precarious a position militarily as Israel. One merely has to look at a map to grasp the reality of Israel’s tenuous existence, and one merely has to view history from 1948 to 1973 as a continuum of armed struggle in and around the tiny state.
Rennert’s criticism of this thinking is “that signing the NPT would open the way for massive intrusion by UN inspectors into every nook and cranny of Israel’s nuclear program. …The size of its arsenal, means of delivery, range of penetration, time needed to mount payloads on missiles, readiness protocols.” It goes without saying that Israel’s self-defense would be compromised if this information were disclosed. But that is only a detail to Bronner and Cohen – one that they are quick to minimize and quicker to disregard.
Again from Leo Rennert:
“Bronner, however, in a display of utter naivete, is less interested in Israel’s survival than in its failure to live up to its ‘democratic values’. …Transparency trumps Israel’s ultimate security.” Bronner, however, supports Israel adhering to what he considers higher priorities. “Israel’s honesty and reliability should not be open to question.”
Mark Helprin of the Claremont Institute recently wrote about Israel’s vulnerability and its need for an asymmetrical military response. Helprin, who knows first hand the military dangers Israel has faced, was seriously wounded on the Golan in 1973.
“In the 1948 War of Independence [Israel] had 30,000 casualties, including 6,000 dead, which, given its population, was proportionally as if today 2.6 million Americans were killed, more than all the deaths in all the wars in our history. In the 1967 war, in just six days of battle that created the legend of its invincibility, the proportional figure is 118,000 – 20 times the number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. The numbers for the subsequent War of Attrition are much the same, higher for the October War of 1973, and civilian and military deaths continue even through relatively peaceful interludes.”
Israel’s nuclear deterrent power, real or rumored, has played a key role in Israel’s defense for the last several decades and if compromised, would leave her open to continued and wearing episodes of conventional war. In matters of Israel’s safety and security, The New York Times and Bronner seem not to want to take this into account.