Monthly Archives: February 2012

Iran, Israel and the Purpose of Nuclear Weapons

Does Israel have nuclear weapons? It has never admitted to this, but everyone assumes it does.
So what is the purpose of nuclear weapons? In my ignorance, I assume that in ‘conventional’ warfare there are tactical nukes and strategic nukes. Tactical nukes are ‘battlefield’ weapons, intended to destroy all or part of an opponent’s military capabilities. Strategic nukes are, potentially, state-destroying. Though, used in a ‘limited’ way, as on Japan in 1945, they might be considered as just bringing about an extreme form of ‘regime change’. With horror.
I assume that tactical nuclear weapons are, ultimately, for use in war, while strategic nuclear weapons are really intended only for deterrence. Should a state consider itself to be suffering an immediate ‘existential’ threat, then, should that threat become reality, the strategic nuclear weapons it has would be deployed to ensure the aggressor state would also be destroyed.
So I need to modify my original question to – does Israel have strategic nuclear weapons?
It could be argued that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was (ultimately) self-defeatingly opaque over Iraq’s claimed destruction of its ‘weapons of mass destruction’ because he did not want to let Iran know for sure that he did not have them, lest his old enemy take advantage of this. Too bad Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, in a fit of self-serving instrumental psychosis had convinced themselves that he did have weapons of mass-destruction. Hussein really needed a back-channel of communication with the Americans. Perhaps he did, but C, W and R decided they just wanted to get rid of him anyway.
Currently, members of Israel’s ruling regime are making high frequency threatening noises towards Iran, about carrying out a limited objective pre-emptive strike on Iran’s alleged (but very likely) nuclear enrichment and weapons development programme. So an important question is – does this make sense if Israel has a strategic nuclear deterrent?
It may, of course, be that they are, with increasing desperation, trying to chivvy the USA and Europeans into stronger sanctions, or maybe even military action against Iran’s nuclear programme. Or it may be because they genuinely believe that their nudge-nudge, wink-wink deterrent may not actually deter a regime that is looking forward to its own Shi’ite Islamic form of the ‘second coming’, post Armageddon. Or it may be because Israel does not actually have a viable nuclear strategic option and they fear that this bluff may be called by Iran.
As an addendum, I personally am not quite sure what to do with the thought that Iran may never have actually said that it actually intends to destroy Israel as a state. It is difficult to know, in the Middle East, with its tradition of ‘death to…’ hyperbole, whether people mean what they say or not, or even whether they have actually said it or not, since they often say one thing in some media and another in other media. Not to speak of ‘translations’. What is for sure is that most Israelis (and not just the current regime) have convinced themselves that Iran is, indeed, intending to destroy them. This is not a case of ‘the Holocaust Racket’ – it is a real fear among a Holocaust-traumatised people.
Update 8 March 2012: Ha’aretz Poll: 58% of Israelis against Israeli strike on Iran.