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On Iran, Israel’s Policy of Nuclear Ambiguity Is Outdated and Dangerous

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei visits the Iranian centrifuges in Tehran, Iran, June 11, 2023. Photo: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

Israel’s nuclear posture remains “deliberately ambiguous.” In the past, this stance appears to have been sensible, even incontestable. Today, however, during a continuing Gaza War and following unprecedented missile aggressions from Iran, it requires fundamental reconsideration. In essence, there are compelling reasons to argue that Israel’s traditional “bomb in the basement” posture is no longer tenable.

There are clarifying particulars. A prudent nuclear posture for Israel should necessarily be based upon calculable assessments of all plausible options. At a minimum, any cost-effective changes of Israeli nuclear ambiguity would need to be readily identifiable but also not be gratuitously provocative. For a time, such changes might need to remain implicit in the small country’s codified military doctrine.

Israel, after all, is less than half the size of America’s Lake Michigan.

A comprehensive Israeli strategic doctrine represents the general framework from which any specific posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity or selective nuclear disclosure would be extracted. More precisely, the principal importance of Israeli nuclear doctrine lies not only in the several ways that it can animate, unify, and optimize the state’s armed forces, but also in the more-or-less efficient manner in which it could transmit cautionary messages to enemy state Iran and sub-state surrogate Hamas.

Understood in terms of Israel’s many-sided strategic policy, any continuous across-the-board nuclear ambiguity could have existential consequences. This is because effective deterrence and defense policies call for a military doctrine that is at least partially recognizable by adversary states and terrorist proxies. Today, as Israel decides on whether to re-ignite a multi-front war with Iran — a war that could prove indispensable to preventing Iranian nuclear weapons — such “wise counsel” is conspicuously urgent.

For Israel, any ultimate and durable military success against Iran must lie in credibly-layered nuclear deterrence options, never in nuclear war-fighting. Recalling ancient Chinese military thought offered by Sun-Tzu in The Art of War, “Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Soon, in the overriding matter of nuclear deterrence, Israeli decision-makers will need to acknowledge that there are occasions when too much further secrecy would degrade the country’s national security.

Israel’s nuclear weapons should always be oriented to deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post. Nuclear weapons can succeed only in their calculated non-use. By definition, once they have been used for actual battle, nuclear deterrence will have failed, perhaps irremediably. Once they were used in any possible form, tactical or strategic, all traditional meanings of “victory” would immediately become moot.

Israel’s nuclear deterrence posture could have certain counter-terrorism benefits, but only with direct regard to Iran. Reciprocally, allowing itself to be weakened by Iran-backed terrorists (Sunni or Shia) could enlarge Israel’s existential vulnerabilities to the Islamic Republic. In evaluating such perplexing interconnections, Israeli planners will have to devote continuous attention to all possible synergies and “force multipliers.”

The original Cold War is over; still, “Cold War II” is underway between the United States, Russia, and (this time) China. If Iran is allowed to become nuclear, Israel’s deterrence relationship with Iran would never be comparable to what earlier was obtained between the US and the USSR. In such unique or sui generis circumstances, any unmodified continuance of total nuclear ambiguity could cause an already-nuclear Iran to underestimate or overestimate Israel’s nuclear retaliatory capacity. Either kind of misestimating could lead to catastrophic war.

The world is a system. Accordingly, various uncertainties surrounding Israel’s nuclear posture could lead other enemy states to reach similar kinds of misunderstanding. For example, Israel’s willingness to make good on any threatened nuclear retaliation could sometime be taken as inversely related to weapon system destructiveness. Ironically, therefore, if Israel’s nuclear weapons were thought “too destructive,” they might not deter.

Any continuing Israeli posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity could cause terrorist-mentoring Iran to overestimate the first-strike vulnerabilities of Israel’s nuclear forces. This could be the result of a too-rigorous silence concerning measures of protection deployed to safeguard Israel’s nuclear weapons and infrastructures. Alternatively, such an over-estimation could represent the product of Israeli doctrinal opacity regarding the country’s potential for defense, an absence of transparency that would be wrongly interpreted as fragile or “porous” ballistic missile defense.

Though any such Iranian conclusion would seem preposterous after Israel’s extraordinary recent success at active defense, anything less than a 100% probability of interception would be inadequate vis-a-vis Iranian nuclear attacks.

To deter an enemy state attack or post-preemption retaliation against Israel, Jerusalem must always prevent a rational aggressor, via threats of unacceptably damaging retaliation or counter-retaliation, from deciding to strike first. Understood in such a “classic” context, Israel’s national security should now be sought by convincing a presumptively rational Iranian attacker that the costs of any considered attack on Israel would exceed the expected benefits.

Assuming that Iran values its national self-preservation more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences, and that it would always choose rationally among all alternative options, that enemy state will refrain from launching any attack on an Israel that is believed willing and able to deliver unacceptably damaging reprisals.

The “bottom line” should be clear in Jerusalem. Israel’s security posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity is outdated and dangerous. With Israel’s operational nuclear forces and doctrine kept locked away in its metaphoric “basement,” Iran could conclude, rightly or wrongly, that a first-strike attack or post-preemption reprisal against Israel would be rational and cost-effective. But if relevant Israeli doctrine were made more obvious to Tehran, Israel’s nuclear forces could more reliably serve their existential security functions.

Another critical success factor of Israeli nuclear doctrine is “presumed willingness.” How can Israel convince Iranian decision-makers that it possesses the resolve to deliver an appropriately destructive retaliation or counter retaliation? The answer to this core question lies in antecedent strategic doctrine, in Israel’s estimated strength of commitment to carry out such an attack and in the tangible nuclear ordnance that would likely be available.

Any continued ambiguity over Israel’s nuclear posture could create the erroneous impression of a state that is unwilling to retaliate. Conversely, any doctrinal movement toward some as-yet-undetermined level of nuclear disclosure could heighten the impression that Israel is actually willing to follow-through on its pertinent nuclear threats.

What if Iran were ultimately allowed to become nuclear? To be deterred by Israel, a newly-nuclear Iran would need to believe that a critical number of Israel’s retaliatory forces could survive an Iranian first-strike and that these forces could not subsequently be prevented from hitting pre-designated targets in Iran. Concerning the “presumed survivability” of Israeli nuclear forces, continued sea-basing (submarines) by Israel would be self-evidently gainful.

If carefully articulated, expanding doctrinal openness or selective nuclear disclosure would represent a rational and plausibly imperative option for Israel. The operational benefits of such an expanding doctrinal openness would accrue from certain deliberate flows of information concerning Israeli weapons dispersion, multiplication or hardening of nuclear weapon systems and other technical weapon features. Most importantly, doctrinally controlled and orderly flows of information could serve to remove any intermittent or lingering Iranian doubts about Israel’s nuclear force capabilities and intentions. At some point, if left unchallenged, such doubts could undermine Israeli nuclear deterrence with unprecedented suddenness and lethality. This is the case, moreover, whether Iran were pre-nuclear or already-nuclear.

A summarizing thought dawns. As Israel confronts a state enemy that would best be countered while still in its pre-nuclear form, Jerusalem should understand that avoiding active warfare with Iran need not be in Israel’s best security interests. Ipso facto, if Israel could fight a law-based and comprehensive war against a still pre-nuclear Iran, it could plausibly avoid a nuclear war in the future. Under authoritative international law, such a defensive war could represent a fully permissible expression of “anticipatory self-defense.”

Looking ahead, Israel must do whatever possible and lawful to prevent a nuclear Iran. In this genuinely existential obligation, a pronounced shift in strategic posture from deliberate nuclear ambiguity to selective nuclear disclosure would represent Israel’s most expressly rational decision. By drawing upon such “wise counsel,” Israel could prudently plan for a no-choice war against a still non-nuclear Iranian foe.

The author is Emeritus Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he is the author of twelve major books dealing with international relations, military strategy and world affairs. Dr. Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland on August 31, 1945, and lectures and publishes widely on issues of terrorism, counter-terrorism, nuclear strategy and nuclear war. Professor Beres’ latest book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016; 2nd ed. 2018).  A version of this article was originally published by Israel National News.

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Assault charge laid, arrest made related to incident near the University of Toronto encampment—while its president speaks in Ottawa on antisemitism, and the school seeks a removal injunction

Toronto Police have arrested and charged a man for assault over an incident May 9 near the protest encampment at the University of Toronto’s King’s College Circle on its downtown campus.  Toronto Police Services (TPS) say they responded at 3:45 p.m. that day to a call for assault in the area of the road around […]

The post Assault charge laid, arrest made related to incident near the University of Toronto encampment—while its president speaks in Ottawa on antisemitism, and the school seeks a removal injunction appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘Any Chance the Media Would Cover This?’ New Video Shows Terrorists in Gaza Using Humanitarian Aid to Help Prepare Rockets

Terrorists in Gaza using humanitarian aid bags to prop up rockets. Photo: Screenshot

Terrorists in Gaza have been using humanitarian aid bags to prop up rockets they were preparing to shoot at Israelis, new video circulating on social media reveals, underscoring the challenges of delivering aid to Palestinian civilians in the Hamas-ruled enclave without it being stolen.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — which is the armed wing of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbasused bags from Turkey and UNRWA — the UN agency responsible for the Palestinians — to prop up the rockets, according to the video.

At least three of the bags say they contain “wheat flour,” and the bag from Turkey specifically says it is supposed to go “to the Palestinian people.” It is unclear whether the bags had previously been opened to extract the food and then refilled with sand, for example, or if it still contained the food that was intended to feed Palestinian civilians.

“Any chance the media would cover this, yet another violation of international humanitarian law?” pro-Israel commentator Hen Mazzig wrote on X/Twitter while sharing the video.

Rafah, Gaza: Hamas is using UN humanitarian aid bags as rocket launchers today.

Any chance the media would cover this, yet another, violation of International Humanitarian Law?

— Hen Mazzig (@HenMazzig) May 29, 2024

Almost every day for the past seven months, Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist organizations have been shooting rockets into Israel from civilian areas, which is a war crime. Tens of thousands of Israelis are internally displaced and unable to return to their homes as a result.

There is mounting evidence that Hamas has also operated in civilian clothing and in civilian infrastructure such as hospitals. However, these violations of international law are rarely noted by much of the media.

The latest video of terrorists using humanitarian aid for military purposes underscores the issue of making sure such aid gets to Palestinian civilians. 

The US built a pier to deliver 2,000,000 meals daily to Palestinian civilians, but after a few weeks of operation, the Pentagon said none of the aid unloaded from the pier had made it to those who needed it. On one occasion, about 70 percent of the aid has been stolen while en route to a UN warehouse. In other cases, it just never showed up.

Israeli estimates suggest approximately 60 percent of the aid that has gone into Gaza has been stolen — either by Hamas or other groups and individuals. Oftentimes, that aid is then sold to the population at high prices, making it difficult to impossible for most Gazans to gain access to it. 

According to Ehud Yaari, an expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hamas has made more than $500 million in profit from selling humanitarian aid since Oct. 7.

The terror group began the war last October by massacring 1,200 people in Israel and taking more than 250 people hostage, about half of whom have still not been released.

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Columbia University Anti-Zionist Group Endorses Hamas

Demonstrators take part in an anti-Israel demonstration at the Columbia University campus, in New York City, US, Feb. 2, 2024. REUTERS/David Dee Delgado

Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has endorsed Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization, the latest sign of its growing extremism and willingness to embrace antisemitic violence.

“The Palestinian resistance is the only force materially fighting back against isr*el [sic],” the group said in a series of posts shared by Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus, a social media account which exposes antisemitism on college campuses. “There is no way to eliminate the resistance without ending the occupation. When you see a video of a young palestinian [sic] boy traumatized in a hospital talking about how iof [the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF] shot his pregnant mother in cold blood in front of his own eyes, do not question how he chooses to resist years later.”

.@Columbia and @BarnardCollege, @ColumbiaSJP is actively promoting terrorism and anti-Israel rhetoric on their social media channels. They are sounding more and more like Hamas spokespeople every day. When is the university going to permanently ban this “student group”?

— Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus (@CampusJewHate) May 26, 2024

Campus Reform, a higher education watchdog which first reported Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus’ posts, noted that Columbia SJP has added an “inverted red triangle” to its social media biography, further indicating its support for Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group has used an inverted red triangle in its propaganda videos to indicate an Israeli target about to be attacked, and anti-Israel protesters on university campuses have been using the symbol in their demonstrations.

Columbia SJP, a group that has reformed under multiple organizations since being suspended by school administrators during the fall semester, has been central in staging a slew of riotous demonstrations in which anti-Zionist activists verbally assaulted Jewish students with antisemitic epithets, clamorously expressed support for terrorism and Hamas, and caused thousands of dollars in damages to school property.

The group’s behavior after Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the StandWithUs Center for League Justice (SCLJ).

The complaint alleges that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, the pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library, according to the lawsuit. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

Following the incidents, pleas for help allegedly went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while SJP held its demonstrations. The school’s apparent powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

The explosion of end-of-year protests held by the group forced Columbia officials to shutter the campus in April and institute virtual learning. Later, the group occupied Hamilton Hall, forcing President Minouche Shafik to call on the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for help, a decision she hesitated to make. According to The Columbia Spectator, over 108 arrests were made.

“Yes, we’re all Hamas, pig!” one protester was filmed screaming during the fracas, which saw some verbal skirmishes between pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans. “Long live Hamas!” said others who filmed themselves dancing and praising the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization. “Kill another solider!”

Amid the chaos, a prominent rabbi at the school urged Jewish students to leave the campus for the sake of their safety. Ultimately, the university cancelled its main commencement ceremony.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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