In 1987, Politika, the Israeli journal of political science, issued a special edition under the title "Israel's Nuclear Policy: The Intolerable Weakness of the Debate." Since then, the nuclear issue has become more acute while discussion of the question has totally disappeared.
This is a dangerous situation. The experience gathered during the Cold War, particularly in the United States, shows that while the generals who were entrusted with the new weapon considered it a more effective way to destroy the enemy, civilian experts understood its true significance and developed strategies that prevented it from being used.
The lack of public debate on the most important issue for Israel's security leads to a lack of information that encourages a baseless approach under which there are no differences of opinion on Israel's nuclear policy, nor should there be. This is because the policy is a success story and there is someone to rely on.
This kind of public consensus can be costly; the price of a mistake could be high. That's why it is important to ask questions about the accepted wisdom. Beyond a basic issue like the relevance of the ambiguity policy, the following are examples of reservations about the consensus.
The indispensability of Dimona for Israel's security. In the accepted narrative, Israel's nuclear image has convinced the Arab states not to pose existential threats. But from what is known of the Arabs' concepts about Israel's strength, it turns out that this image has played a marginal role, if any, in shaping their hesitation to threaten Israel's existence. What deterred them, including during the Yom Kippur War, was Israel's conventional military superiority and its strategic alliance with the United States.
On that basis, one can ask a basic but skeptical question: Did Israel even need the bomb that foreign reports attribute to it? Because Israel's image as having nuclear weapons makes it easier for countries like Iran (and Iraq in the past) to make progress in that respect - with the excuse that if Israel is allowed, why aren't they? - one can also ask whether the means designed to prevent an existential threat against Israel (as foreign reports say) makes it possible to create such a threat. Under these circumstances, the theoretical question arises - what is preferable, a regional balance of fear, or removing the nonconventional capability of all countries in the region (including Israel)?
The bombing of the Iraqi nuclear facility was a story of success and salvation. This statement is based on the assumption that the bombing in 1981 did indeed destroy the Iraqi nuclear project. But today, from the testimony of the Iraqi scientists who conducted the project, we know that the opposite was true. The bombing blocked the cautious and slow processing of plutonium, which may or may not have led Iraq to a bomb, and rerouted it to the faster track of enrichment, which was less public but more efficient. It was only Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent war that quelled the effort that could have turned Iraq into a nuclear state within a year or a little more.
It is worth asking what one can learn from this. Did the Begin Doctrine prove itself? Is the best way to deal with the Iranian initiative something similar to that doctrine? What might be the ramifications of an Israeli attempt to destroy the Iranian project with regard to Iran's ability to achieve nuclear weapons and its readiness to use them when it gets them?
Military superiority is a condition for deterring a nuclear Iran. The head of the air force says Israel needs stealth planes to deter Iran. That's a mistaken statement. World history has proved that in a nuclear world, the price of a war is mutual destruction, so the aim is not to achieve military victory but to prevent war. This means that the most important objective is not military supremacy but rather strategic stability. Precisely because the stealth can evade radar, it could make Iran fear a surprise attack; a new dimension of instability would be created in the two countries' relations. In a situation like that, the chance increases that Iranian nuclear weapons would be used by mistake against Israel.
Theoretically the opposite is also true. Since the capability of a second strike, which foreign publications attribute to Israel, contributes to nuclear stability, and since Israel supposedly has such a capability, the Israeli interest must be that Iran also has such a capability. Therefore, no matter how absurd it sounds, the most reasonable thing Israel could do with the submarines Germany is building for it - and which, according to foreign reports, are to serve as platforms for a second strike - is to deliver them to Iran so that, like their counterparts already in service in Israel (as foreign sources report), they will calm Iran's fears about losing its nuclear capability after a surprise Israeli attack. This will contribute to stability.
This logic, of course, is totally contrary to the accepted military logic that Israeli officers and shapers of Israeli policy are used to. That's why the subject must be opened to a public debate in which other voices can be heard.
The writer is a member of the International Relations department at the University of Haifa.