- - Friday, September 5, 2014

For Israel, an overriding long-term security requirement must be to deter future attacks with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by enemy states, especially Iran. Israel will need to fashion a comprehensive and calibrated strategic doctrine that identifies and correlates all available options (deterrence, pre-emption, active defense, strategic targeting and military use of nuclear weapons) with enumerated national-survival goals.

The challenges of an Israeli nuclear-deterrence posture needs discussion, with special reference to twin requirements of perceived ability and perceived willingness. Before any rational adversary could be deterred by an Israeli nuclear threat, that enemy would first need to believe that Israel had both the capacity to launch a nuclear-weapons response for any WMD aggression, and also the will to take such an action. Where it is facing a prospectively irrational strategic enemy, Israel’s deterrence posture would then need to be based upon credible pre-emptive capabilities.

Since its statehood was formally established following World War II, Israel has experienced many periods of intensive rocket and mortar attacks launched intentionally against its cities. In response, with significant American financial support, Israel developed and deployed the Iron Dome system. David’s Sling would defend against the midrange rocket and missile threat; Arrow, against the longer-range, higher-lethality WMD ballistic-missile threat.

During Operation Protective Edge, Iron Dome performed with distinction. In this Gaza War conflict, a less than 100 percent reliability of intercept was judged acceptable. Still, nothing less than a 100 percent reliability of intercept could be tolerable when facing enemy nuclear missiles. The prospective task for Arrow, in any possible future encounters with long-range Iranian ballistic missiles, would be far more complex and demanding.

Israel has always understood the critical need to develop a “great equalizer,” which became its undisclosed nuclear-weapons posture. Doctrinally, Israel has plausibly rejected any notions of nuclear war-fighting; nonetheless, there are still some circumstances where an Israeli nuclear response could be the sole rational option. In any event, nuclear exchanges between Israel and particular enemies could fall under the following comprehensive possibilities: First, enemy-state first strikes launched against Israel would not destroy Israel’s second-strike nuclear capability; second, enemy-state retaliations for an Israeli conventional pre-emption would not destroy Israel’s nuclear counterretaliatory capability; three, conventional Israeli pre-emptive strikes would not destroy enemy-state second-strike nuclear capability; and fourth, Israeli retaliations for enemy-state conventional first strikes would not destroy enemy-state nuclear counterretaliatory capability.

What this means is that Jerusalem must take appropriate steps to ensure the plausibility of the first and second possibilities above, and also the implausibility of the third and fourth.

This brings us to sea-basing. Submarines are the ultimate stealth weapon. A small Israeli submarine-launched ballistic-missile force could essentially guarantee the ability to unleash a catastrophic retaliatory strike for any pertinent threat situation. Owing to Israel’s inherent lack of strategic depth, a submarine element with nuclear-weapons capability would best represent an assured capacity to utilize Ben-Gurion’s “Great Equalizer” as a core element of its strategic deterrence.

Israel is upgrading its three Dolphin I submarines, purchased from Germany, with three additional Dolphin II boats. These diesel-powered submarines have been designed and built for specific Israeli requirements, and are larger than the German Type 212 submarines. The larger size may be to most suitably accommodate the “Great Equalizer.”

It is not sufficient that enemies will merely acknowledge Israel’s nuclear-weapons status. Israel’s enemies must also realize that Israel has secure nuclear weapons, and that it would be ready and willing to employ these weapons should the survival of the state be at evident risk. This could require Israel, at some point, to consider a selective loosening of its “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.”

Israel cannot reasonably assume that its enemies will remain non-nuclear. There is, moreover, a plausible prospect that hatred and religious fanaticism could sometime lead to one form or another of nuclear exchange. Among other core elements of an enhanced Israeli nuclear strategy, a more fully acknowledged Israeli submarine-based nuclear-weapons retaliatory capability could help prevent this plainly intolerable form of international conflict.

Louis Rene Beres is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University. Retired U.S. Adm. Leon Edney is a former vice chief of Naval Operations; NATO supreme allied commander, Atlantic; and commander in chief, U.S. Atlantic Command.

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