A pessimistic strategic future
About six months ago, the prime minister and defense minister were given one of the most interesting documents ever written on security. The amazing thing about the document, entitled "Israel's Strategic Future," and prepared under the auspices of the Ariel College, is that the military censor allowed it to be published.
About six months ago, the prime minister and defense minister were given one of the most interesting documents ever written on security. The amazing thing about the document, entitled "Israel's Strategic Future," and prepared under the auspices of the Ariel College, is that the military censor allowed it to be published. It's amazing because it deals in detail with Israel's nuclear policy, the need to develop "second-strike" nuclear capabilities and the need for preemptive attacks on countries developing nuclear arms. None of it is phrased ambiguously. Indeed, it makes declarations and recommendations that make clear the authors' point of departure is that Israel has nuclear weapons.
Maybe there would be no need to get excited about the far-reaching significances of the document's recommendations if it were penned by academics high in ivory towers. But when four of the six authors are former senior officials in Israel's defense establishment, what they write becomes very significant. The ex-officials are Major General (res.) Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, who until recently was head of Weapons Research and Development and Technology Infrastructure in the Defense Ministry; Dr. Adir Pridor, a senior researcher at the arms developer Rafael; Naman Belkind, a former adviser to the defense minister on "special methods"; and Colonel (res.) former MK Yoash Sidon. The other two authors are American academics.
In light of the fact that the document deals with the most critical issues for the country's future, and since it is reasonable to assume policymakers will adopt its principles, which anyway match their security outlook, the document should be read with a certain degree of concern. It is based on conservative approaches that look at Israel's neighbors and the future of the conflict as if we were still in the mid-1950s. Thus, for example, the authors say for some of the countries in the region it's a "zero-sum conflict," meaning a conflict that can only be resolved with Israel's destruction.
Zero-sum, they reckon, is "a concept that does not allow any chance for compromise and reconciliation in our lifetime." They say the danger is that those Arab countries are "suicide states," which, if equipped with nuclear weapons, could launch them against Israel. In other words, the leaders are irrational, so it is impossible to deter them, even through a nuclear threat. History actually proves the leaders of the region behave rationally when nonconventional weapons are involved. For example, Saddam did not launch missiles with chemical payloads at Israel in 1991 for fear of an Israeli nuclear strike.
Their conclusion is that those countries must be denied nuclear weapons at all costs - even through the use of preemptive strikes at sites and infrastructure used to develop nuclear weapons. The document also recommends the physical eradication of some of the elites of those countries and killing the scientists working on their nuclear projects.
If the efforts fail to prevent the hostile countries from reaching nuclear capability, Israel will have to abandon its ambiguous nuclear policy and undertake open nuclear deterrence. "This will require taking some very precise and identifiable steps to absolutely convince the enemies of Israel's readiness and ability to make use of its nuclear weaponry," write the authors. For it to be credible, it must develop second-strike capabilities, "capable of destroying some 15 cities in enemy states, from Iran to Libya."
At the same time as developing the nuclear second-strike capability, Israel must also develop a multilevel defense against ballistic missiles that in addition to the Arrow anti-missile system would include unmanned, missile-carrying aircraft for attacking missile launchers deep in enemy territory and attacking missiles on their launch. Beyond the difficult technological issues that have to be solved and the enormous financial costs of developing defense systems against ballistic missiles, the recommendation to make them the central element in the national defense is completely contradictory to the strategic logic that should be guiding Israel in the nuclear age.
The authors extensively quote American policy. They should have learned something from the Americans about anti-missile defenses. In the 1960s, the Americans had already reached the conclusion that only deterrence works against nuclear missile threats. The Americans understood - and persuaded the Soviets - that any attempt to build defenses against nuclear missiles was doomed, and putting up defense systems against the other side's missiles would only create instability and harm both states' credibility when it came to deterrence.
The authors completely ignore any of the positive developments in the region, nor do they change their pessimistic outlook in the appendix they added last month, after Iraq was taken out of the cycle of hostility toward Israel and Libya decided to give up all its nonconventional weapons. Their attitude, which does not believe political processes will lead to any reduction in existential threats, is problematic because adopting it requires enormous investment in systems against threats that mostly no longer exist, and the chances for others to be affected range from very slim to nil.
The problem is that the document dovetails with the mind-sets of the prime minister, the defense minister and other current policymakers, who don't believe in any political arrangements and prefer to inflate virtual threats and to continue allocating enormous resources to defense budgets.