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The fact that Iran is rapidly advancing along the dangerous track of developing its nuclear capability, thereby posing a strategic threat to Israel’s existence, is far from being a secret. Therefore, it is highly likely that Israel has already established its proper response to this menace. For obvious reasons, it will not be possible to fully disclose Israel’s strategy. Nevertheless, in order to assess Israel’s probable tactical defense policy in this age of a pre-nuclear Middle East, we may draw an example from the steps taken by other countries which had to face a similar threat. A similar situation is the relations between India and Pakistan, which are based on a mutual-threat.
At first, both hostile countries adopted a policy of hiding the fact they were advancing on the nuclear path. Both India and Pakistan kept their activity, entitled “the nuclear option” under wraps. This is akin to the policy foreign sources attributed to Israel, of maintaining a so-called “nuclear ambiguity”. In order to turn the obscure, potential, “balance of terror” between India and Pakistan to a more credible threat, both countries “came out of the closet” and conducted nuclear arms experiments. At the same time, India formulated a security policy designed to show the world, and in particular to Pakistan, that credible nuclear deterrence is to be achieved, in the framework of the “balance of terror”, through a three-tiered strategy:
Mobile or stationary ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads
Airborne atomic bombs which aircraft can deliver to enemy targets
Submarine-launched nuclear cruise missiles – also known as “second strike capability”
A similar situation is evolving in the framework of the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel. It is highly likely that Israel would have no choice but to change its policy of nuclear ambiguity, according to foreign publications, and begin taking steps along the “balance of terror”, which would underscore to the Iranians the extent of the terrible price they would have to pay in the wake of any attempt to attack Israel. For instance, Teheran is home to ten million residents. Iran must be made to realize that even in the case of one missile launch from Iran to Israel, whether nuclear or conventional, the result would be that Israel shall inflict mass devastation and mass casualties, perhaps as many as hundreds of thousands, in Iran’s capital. Iran could ill afford this degree of devastation.
Professor Yuval Ne’eman, one of Israel’s leading nuclear experts, was mindful – over a decade ago – of the circumstances under which Israel might have to abandon its policy of nuclear ambiguity. Ne’eman was adamant about it, and said the following in a professional convention on terror in Washington in May 1996: “Israel’s current policy of nuclear ambiguity is highly advantageous. It must not be abandoned, unless in the case of a nuclear threat of a hostile country.” Ne’eman further recommended Israel move from its current policy to a nuclear deterrence based on self-acknowledged nuclear capability, including a devastating second strike capability – should Iran ever turn out to have operational nuclear weapons.
In order to move from ambiguity to a “balance of terror”, Israel need not resort to a nuclear experiment, nor should Israel disclose whether it has any nuclear arms and a tactical delivery capability. Deterring Iran can be achieved by making the threat Israel could pose more concrete. This can be the result of psychological warfare, through opening the issue to a comprehensive public debate. Only a “balance of terror” that comes complete with a clear, albeit formal, message would deter Iran from realizing its plans for mass destruction.
In this day and age of spreading fanatic Islam throughout the world, Israel cannot afford to be weak. Murderous Islamists perceive the weak as worthy of death.