Israel’s nuclear dilemma will not be solved within a secular political paradigm. Israel doesn’t hold a strong enough political hand. PM Netanyahu can attempt to put on a brave face, but in the final analysis, the US Congress is the only strong card he holds. Make no mistake, there is daylight between the PM’s position and President Obama’s. Obama is ready to sign on to an Iranian nuclear deal that will allow an undetermined amount of nuclear enrichment. Britain, Russia, France and China will follow the US executive’s lead. Congress can block a deal and hold together the sanction regime for a while, but it can’t enforce the complete elimination of nuclear enrichment. The only political power on earth that has a good chance to accomplish that goal is the religious Zionists.
Religious Zionism holds that sacred history didn’t end with the Hebrew Bible, The Torah. It claims a deeper, spiritual-material context for the miracle rebirth of the Jewish People with their historic homeland. This narrative resonates like no other through the cultural and psychological depths of world Christianity. It even has strong impact within Islam, most of the time producing hostility, but certainly sowing doubt as to the true intentions of the divine presence. After two thousand years of religious pacifism and scattered to the four corners of the world, the return of the Jewish people to their ancient land is, for believers, proof of the divine hand in history. A very strong hand it is indeed.
On the other hand, secular Zionism maintains that the return of the people to Israel is for purposes of normalization. The Jews will become like any other nation-state. They will have an army to defend themselves. An economy to make ends meet. And they won’t be humiliated and despised because they possess power in a real world. A real world, where only power counts and not the idealistic machinations of diaspora rabbis and ghetto mystics. Secular Zionism was the ultimate Jewish national revolt against rabbinical authority. It represents the material without the spiritual. It is vital for protection (all Zionists agree on protection) but it lacks the hope and promise of religious Zionism. And in a world crazed by war, injustice and environmental catastrophe, human fear and insecurity could use a large dose of concrete religious hope and promise.
Here we stand, in a new year, on the precipice of a nuclear dilemma, in the midst of a regional Islamic civil war. Israel has become a normal country in an abnormal region. The Arab-Israeli conflict has morphed into something far more dangerous and complex. The future of the region and the future of its weaponry are linked in a dynamic whose endgame is uncertain and precarious. Of all the regions of the world, the Middle East is the last place on earth for either a containable nuclear arms race or a secure balance-of-power.
To expect nuclear containment to work, a policy of nuclear deterrence through mutually assured destruction (MAD) with certain second-strike capability is beyond reach. Second-strike capability could easily be put into question by either a robust Israeli missile defense system or the fear of the failure of that same system. Neither side would want to go second. Iran, for fear of Israeli missile defense, and Israel for fear of being overwhelmed by an Iranian first-strike. Given the minuteness of Israel’s populated geographical zone, one nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv could destroy the very fabric of the entire country. Like two gunfighters in the “Old West”, Middle East nuclear military theory would be more inclined toward early decapitation and complete surprise.
Meanwhile, regional balance-of-power has become a “house of cards” on shifting sands. An Iranian nuclear deal that allows for enrichment, lifts sanctions or creates rifts in the sanction regime and doesn’t address the tilt of the region against Israel and the Arab Sunnis is a recipe for broader conventional regional war. Deal or no deal, without a balanced structure to the Middle East, the chaos will continue.
Enter the strategy of the religious Zionists, biblical nuclear disarmament. Why biblical? Because the hopes of the great Hebrew Prophets were a world without war. And why nuclear disarmament and not total disarmament? Because the world is not yet ready for conventional disarmament. However, the banning of weapons of mass destruction is on the world’s reality-based agenda. And why Israel? Because Israel is the biblical nation, and the demilitarization of its nuclear arsenal would be an earth-shattering event. As the first nation to abandon these horrific armaments, Israel would point the way for the great powers to do the same. Call it a policy of “spears into pruning hooks”. Not yet a time for “swords into plowshares”, but a powerful signal that the hopes and promises of the Torah are to be fulfilled. A divine imperative of peace against a backdrop of regional destruction.
Perhaps secular Zionists cannot envision the theological impact (globally) of such a strategic decision. But from a political point of view, the benefits would be superlative. First, Israel could demand a nuclear-free-zone in the Middle East without any nuclear enrichment or stockpiling of nuclear materials. Second, Israel could insist that in a nuclear-free-zone all states must have diplomatic relations with all other states. Third, Israel and her Arab allies could demand a firm regional non-hegemonic structure to replace the shifting sands of balance-of-power. Fourth, the international diplomatic isolation of the Jewish State could be avoided as the onus of response turns unequivocally toward the supreme leader of Iran. Fifth, with a conventional military only, the nations of the world will better understand Israel’s lack of strategic depth and the vital military importance of the West Bank. And finally, the region could be free from the debilitating proxy wars that now plague Syria and threaten wider scope, as greater political space is opened for peaceful political solutions.
The birth of modern Israel was the Divine Answer to the horrors of the Holocaust. Let the Jewish People and the whole world never lose sight of this historic paradox. However, for religious Zionists the miracles didn’t end in 5708 (1948). On the contrary, they began in 5708 (1948). After Israel’s military victories, nuclear disarmament and regional non-hegemony would be an even greater miracle. The whole world would witness the light from Jerusalem shine through the tunnel of history.
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and he shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:1-4)