The Future of Israel's Nuclear Deterrence

Debates about Iran and Palestinian statehood will have an effect on Israel's mode of self-defense.


However unforeseen, Palestine, already a "nonmember observer state" at the United Nations, would have measurably corrosive effects on power and peace in the Middle East.  As, by definition, the creation of this particular Arab state would come at the territorial expense of Israel, the Jewish state's strategic depth would promptly and irretrievably diminish. Over time, Israel's conventional capacity to ward off enemy attacks could be commensurately reduced. 

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If certain enemy states were to perceive Israel's own sense of expanding weakness and possible desperation, this could imply a strengthening of Israel's nuclear deterrent.  If, however, front-line enemy states did not perceive such an enhancement among Israel's decision-makers, these states, animated by Israel's conventional force deterioration, could be encouraged to attack. Paradoxically, for Israel, even the "successful" defeat of Arab/Islamic state enemies in an unconventional war could prove intolerable. Here, after all, the results of a nuclear war, or perhaps even a chemical or biological war, could prove calamitous for the "winner," as well as the "loser."

To be sure, a meaningful risk of regional nuclear war in the Middle East exists independently of any Palestinian state. Still, this unprecedented risk would be further enlarged if a 23rd Arab state were to appear more-or-less simultaneously with Iranian nuclear weapons. Above anything else, Israel must now do what is needed to prevent such coinciding and mutually-reinforcing and existential perils.

Louis Rene Beres is a professor of International Law at Purdue University. Born in Zurich, Switzerland at the end of World War II, he is the author of many major books and articles dealing with world politics, law, literature and philosophy.

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