A military-civilian committee has found that other Muslim countries in the Middle East could follow Iran in equipping themselves with nuclear weapons. The committee, chaired by former minister Dan Meridor and appointed by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, recommended to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz yesterday that Israel should maintain its policy of "nuclear ambiguity", that as Jordan has strategic importance for Israel, its stability should be supported, and that the National Security Council should become the government's central military planning authority.
The comprehensive 250-page report, addressing strategic issues for the next decade, is considered top secret; only an elite few will be allowed to read its entire contents. After it has been redacted, it will be highly classified. It has not been decided if portions of the report will be published to familiarize the public with the Israeli defense outlook. The report recommends that defense premises be reexamined at five-year intervals and that a mechanism be established to monitor the implementation of recommendations.
A substantial chapter addresses the nuclear threat to Israel. Iran is capable of kindling the entire Middle East and constitutes an existential threat to Israel. The committee finds that if Iran gets nuclear arms, other Muslim, Middle Eastern countries will try to follow suit. The report comments on a proposed Israeli response to Iranian nuclear testing. The committee recommends that Israel maintain its policy of "nuclear ambiguity."
In a chapter on decision-making, the committee determines that the government does not provide adequate and complete planning on defense matters. The report recommends the NSC become the central plann ing authority for the government and include a small agency for national intelligence. The committee recommends minor cuts in the defense budget, and setting a five-year defense budget based on the assumption that economic growth will continue.
The report indicates that Israel faces major, rapid strategic changes including technological changes. According to the report, Israel faces new risks - the non-conventional weapon threat and terror. The committee noted that terror deterrence is complex and difficult, particularly in territory that lacks governmental hierarchy or against organizations without territory, instead of states. The report's overall approach recommends greater emphasis on firepower, particularly remote firepower, over troop movements. It also recommends greater emphasis on intelligence and operations from outer space.
Formally, the Meridor Committee was established by Mofaz. However, Sharon approved the appointments, vetoing with no explanation former defense minister Moshe Arens and former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon. The report has been submitted for comment to Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Atomic Energy Committee director Gideon Frank.
The committee met 52 times over 18 months before submitting its report, during which Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip, and Hamas won the Palestinian Authority elections.
Disputes arose among committee members on several subjects - including terror and how Israel should define it.
tThe committee debated strategic-theoretical issues such as defining "victory" and "deterrence." In a discussion of all the types of wars, the committee proposed adding to "deterring," "warning" and "decisive," a major chapter on the various aspects of "defense."
Efforts were made in the past to summarize Israel's defense outlook under the direction of then Defense Ministry director general David Ivri, but that committee's work was essentially stopped when Ehud Barak was elected prime minister in 1999.