Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 01:35 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 01:35 | SYDNEY

Israel must take the first step


Sam Roggeveen


28 August 2008 13:44

Raoul makes some strong points, but let me explain why I think they are not knock-out blows to my argument.

First, I agree that Iran's nuclear program is probably not solely motivated by a desire to match Israel. Tehran perhaps feels a nuclear force of its own could deter a US invasion, and it may also want nuclear weapons for prestige reasons and to dominate the region. For all those reasons, unilateral Israeli disarmament might turn out to be a useless gesture, with Iran still plowing on with its enrichment program. But as I've already argued, that's a manageable risk for Israel, as it could maintain a 'virtual deterrent' through its civilianised nuclear program. In an emergency, Israel could then rebuild its nuclear arsenal at short notice.

I would also add that, if Iran is hell-bent on nuclear weapons (and we don't know this for sure), a gesture like this from Israel may actually change Tehran's mind. States don’t judge their interests in a myopic way; numerous interests constantly compete for priority. So if unilateral Israeli disarmamant advances a number of Iran’s other interests (primarily, a more secure Iran, safe from the threat of Israeli annihilation), Tehran may decide that abandoning its own nuclear program in return is a worthwhile price.

Raoul's next point is that, in leaning heavily on the fall-back of a 'virtual' Israeli nuclear arsenal, I am at best suggesting faux-disarmament that still employs the logic of nuclear deterrence. I plead guilty on that charge, but would add that practising nuclear deterrence without actual existing stocks of nuclear weapons is still a victory for strategic stability and would lead to a safer Middle East.

Yes, Iran would still have reason to feel insecure against the threat of Israel's virtual arsenal, and that might encourage Iran to maintain its nuclear program. But as I hinted at in my previous post, I would think that an Israeli gesture of the kind I am advocating would come in the context of a regional disarmament agreement. Such an agreement would allow for stringent IAEA verification and might even need to include chemical and biological weapons, so that a post-nuclear Israel does not feel exposed to Syria's WMD capability. That wouldn't resolve this sense of insecurity, but it would at least enhance transparency and thus promote stability.

It is surely in the interests of all sides to see a regional nuclear arms race checked before it gets started. It can be achieved if Israel takes the first step.