Magazine article Midstream

Israel: The Necessity of Developing a Second-Strike Capability

Magazine article Midstream

Israel: The Necessity of Developing a Second-Strike Capability

Article excerpt

The recent Lebanon war was a brutal reminder that Israel continues to face enemies bent on its destruction. The reminder was somewhat superfluous as no country has faced as many different existential threats as Israel has during the last 58 years. At various times from 1948 through 1973, virtually every Arab nation publicly declared their overt goal of annihilating Israel. Yet even as the means to achieve this result evolved from total physical destruction via invasion into a "gentler" form of dismantling Israel in stages (e.g., urging the creation of a single binational state with Palestinian Arabs exercising their right to return to Israel proper or requiting Israel to return to the untenable borders of the 1947 Partition Plan), rarely has a year passed without one or more of Israel's enemies engaging in vigorous public relation campaigns courting adherents to their plan of undoing the Jewish State. Tactics have changed but the goals haven't.

The good news for Israel is that ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the likelihood of being physically overrun by Arab armies has decreased to the lowest level in history. The bad news is that although its neighbors have internalized this new reality, instead of abandoning the goal of Israel's total destruction (as Anwar Sadat did after the 1973 war), one of Israel's main adversaries has apparently decided to pursue its goals via a new method; namely by obtaining and deploying nuclear weapons.

By most intelligence estimates, if left undisturbed, Iran is within five years of being able to deploy nuclear bombs. Given the already advanced stage of Iranian ballistic missile development as well as access to the arsenals of China, North Korea, and Russia, for the first time in its history, Israel will have to adapt its defense strategy to include coping with a nuclear-armed enemy.

Although the cases are not entirely analogous, in dealing with this new threat, Israel has the opportunity to benefit from the experiences of the United States in the intermediate phase of the Cold War. Much like the United States in the immediate post World War II period, Israel has enjoyed a virtual nuclear weapons monopoly in the

Middle East. Israel also has had the advantage of multiple delivery systems capable of delivering its nuclear weapons to its enemies via aircraft or ballistic missiles. Thus, unless Israel's enemies could disable both of Israel's delivery systems, Israel would always have the ultimate deterrence capability. And while this deterrence capability did not deter Israel's enemies from waging conventional warfare, it did deter attempts to bomb Israel's cities.

Although it could have, in the 1973 war, Egypt did not use its cache of chemical weapons, or attempt to bomb or fire missiles against Israel's cities (1). For its part, Syria launched FROG ground-to-ground missiles against a kibbutz on the Golan Heights but refrained from targeting Israeli cities.

In the Lebanon war of 1982, Syria never used its stash of chemical weapons and refrained from launching any ground-to-ground missiles in its arsenal against Israeli cities or even against the Israel Defense Forces operating in Lebanon.

In 1991, Iraq did launch 39 missiles against Israel's cities, but they did not equip any of these missiles with the vast store of chemical weapons available to Iraq at that time. Other than short-lived and sporadic artillery attacks over the decades, this missile attack on Israel was, at least until last summer, a unique circumstance because Sadaam Hussein had correctly calculated that the United States would bring immense pressure on Israel to refrain from retaliating in order to preserve the fragile Gulf War coalition that the United States had painstakingly spent so many months erecting.

The thousands of rockets launched against Israeli population centers over five weeks in the recent Lebanon war was an ominous development because it crossed the historical "red line" over which no prior Israeli adversary had dared venture. …

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