Many crucial rules of the nuclear game have been broken over the last few days, and among them is one in which Israel has not only adhered to for many decades, since 1967, but has faithfully maintained: discretion, silence, its specific “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” chosen and pursued without ever deflecting from what is considered to be Dimona’s strength, namely 200 bombs ready for use. In general, ambiguity follows a rule of silence: Kim Jong-un broke it with his threats followed by Trump’s strong warning: in the world of nuclear weapons one speaks as little as possible about their existence except when either condemning them or invoking the terrible consequences of their use.
None of the nuclear powers, not even Pakistan, have ever made a racket about possessing nuclear weapons, especially after atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in order to end World War II in 1945 and the close brush with nuclear war between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
Israel’s nuclear program was decided upon by David Ben Gurion and became a reality through Shimon Peres’s diplomatic work (two Socialists!), and since then Dimona has always worked quietly due to the overriding concern that waving a “nuclear cape” would provoke the Islamic bull and others hostile towards the Jewish State. However, now as the North Korea crisis intensifies, the risk of a nuclear confrontation directly concerns Israel once again.
Iran, said Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN and Foreign Ministry director-general, who heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is carefully watching how the U.S. will deal with North Korea’s nuclear threat in order to understand how it may eventually influence its own ambitions: “What they do will have enormous impact on the future decisions the ayatollahs will take about their country’s nuclear program and also in relation to their quest for Middle East hegemony.” Not only: the unprecedented realism with which the prospect of nuclear attacks characterize today’s reality, fuels jihadist ambitions, as well as their schemes to either purchase or steal them.
Moreover, if Kim Jong-Un, who it is said has already resupplied the Iranians with nuclear power plant parts, is choosing allies for a possible conflict, Iran is certainly at the top of that list. Moreover, an eventual attack on Israel, from wherever it comes, always has the character of a vicarious attack on the United States. In other words, an experiment in which to see how far one can go.
The only weapon is deterrence, which Israel certainly can’t practice without a calculated loosening of its “deliberate ambiguity:” to do so, it doesn’t simply have to boast of its strength, say Louis René Beres, an expert on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, but know how to manage an unprecedented program of eventual nuclear defense against irrational opponents, i.e. an unknown war.
The articles we read in these days usually ask for calming the waters, and depict the scenario that Western culture would most like and desire: that the Dybbuk returns to the bowels of the earth and life returns to normal, in the frame of the usual perspective of denuclearization. Which proves again as a very dangerous dream, an illusion from which we risk awakening with a start.
Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (August 13, 2017)