I have recently referred to the Israeli nuclear weapons as “useless” and that Hezbollah would eventually be in a position to force a solution on Israel. I was then asked the following question:
Why wouldn’t Israel use nukes? Because it would guarantee a nuclear counter-response in the future? Because they wouldn’t be effective against spread out missile launchers? Also, I’d like to hear your thoughts on how a future war with Hizballah, Israel, Syria and Iran might play out? How could Hizballah get to a position in which it could “force a solution”?
This is a very interesting topic and, I think, the source of a lot of misunderstandings which I would like to address here. I will begin with the issue of nuclear weapons and their possible uses.
Historically, the purpose and use of nuclear weapons has undergone several major conceptual revolutions. First, nuclear weapons were seen as an “unstoppable crushing fist”, a kind of “super weapon” which could, by its huge power, totally annihilate any enemy. These were the years of the so-called “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD) in which the USA and the Soviet Union basically convinced themselves that having nukes makes you almighty. The flaw in that logic eventually appeared when US strategists understood that if both sides have powerful nuclear forces and if they can totally destroy each other then, paradoxically, conventional forces become the only ones which can be used without risking a mutual holocaust. The USA and NATO also believed that Soviet conventional forces in Europe were far more powerful than their NATO opponents and that put the Atlantic Alliance into a conceptual quandary: since the Soviets could retaliate in kind to any US use of nuclear weapons, then US nuclear weapons could not deter a Soviet conventional attack in Europe. In other words, US nuclear weapons were pretty much close to useless to address the “Soviet threat”. Eventually, US strategists came up with something they called Flexible Response, a doctrine which was supposed to make it possible to fight on all levels of warfare, from the conventional tactical to the strategic nuclear. Concurrently to this doctrine, the USA began to differentiate the possible targets of a nuclear strike into so-called “Counter-value” (basically cities) and “counter-force” (basically, military forces) categories. The underlying goal of all this work was to move nuclear weapons away from their exclusive deterrence function into a war-fighting tool.
This illustrates the kind of problem which has haunted military strategists for decades: what if deterrence fails?
Interestingly, the more the US nuclear force posture was moving towards a nuclear war-fighting doctrine and capability, the stronger the European anti-war movement became. This is quite logical, in fact. Think about it: in the days of MAD, Europeans, Americans and Soviets were all in the same situation: if war broke out, it would be over for everybody (this was never quite true, but that was the prevailing perception anyway). Now that the USA had developed a nuclear war-fighting capability Europeans gradually began to realize a very simple but terrifying reality: if a nuclear war was to be actually fought, it would be on their territory with, presumably, no nuclear strikes on the USA or the Soviet Union itself (again, the reality was more complex, but that was the prevailing perception). At a time when the USA was busy “burning Vietnamese villages in order to save them from Communism” this was a very, very scary thought.
It was quite clear to all that even if US (or Soviet) nuclear strikes would be tactical and limited to military objectives (say a Soviet tank battalion in the Fulda Gap
) the consequences of such a strike for Germany would be quite horrendous.
It would be far beyond the scope to look into the details of the various concepts and doctrines which were developed by the USA to fight a war in Europe (those interested might want to take a look at this
to get a feel for what some of these ideas were). My point is simply to show another often overlooked problem with nuclear weapons: they tend to destroy the very things which are being fought over.
Now let us consider the case of Israel. First, I want to point out a crucial difference between what took place in Europe and case of Israel: unlike Europe where the Soviet conventional forces were, indeed, superior to NATO forces, Israel does enjoy a conventional superiority over all of its neighbors combined. In the best of all worlds, at least from a Zionist point of view, Israel would never have to use nukes at all (of course, that is not quite true and we know that the Zionists did seriously consider using nuclear weapons in 1973). Regardless, what we are looking at here is not whether Israel will one day use nuclear weapons but rather what it could achieve should it decide to use them.
The second big difference between the situation of Western Europe and Israel is that Western Europe had strategic depth. Even in the context of the most paranoid scenarii about the Soviet forces reaching the Atlantic shores of France is one week, nobody seriously considered that the Soviets would also invade the UK, take over all of the Iberian Peninsula or establish a complete control of the North Atlantic. If anything at all, the example of Nazi Germany during WWII had clearly shown that even an almost full control of continental Europe does not stop a war on the Western front. In contrast, Israel has no strategic depth at all. Take a good look at this map and see for yourself that Israel combines the worst possible features for defense: no depth, most key cities concentrated in a small area, no natural barriers and very long borders. Still, the Israeli conventional superiority is such that I do not expect that it will be threatened by a conventional military attack (in particular not when Egpyt and Jordan are firmly in the Zionist camp, Syria is rather lame and Lebanon has no conventional military to speak of).
Still, let’s ask ourselves the following questionl: if Israel is ever threatened to be overrun by some (yet to be defined) conventional military attack where could it use its nuclear forces to defend itself? In such a scenario any use of tactical nuclear forces on Arab conventional forces would mean striking if not inside Israel proper, then very close to its borders. What about a counter-value attack? Would, say, nuking Damascus do much to stop advancing Syrian forces? I don’t think so.
Here we are right back to the dilemma of US force planners: what if deterrence fails? How do you actually use nuclear weapons as a farfighting capability?
As I said, I don’t see a conventional military force over running Israel in the foreseeable future. A far more likely type of conflict would be a “second round” of the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. This scenario raises even more issues than a conventional military attack.
First, a key aspect of Hezbollah’s doctrine is not to present any useful target to the Israelis. In 2006 the Israelis used all their huge conventional capabilities to hunt down and destroy not only Hezbollah fighters on the ground, but also Hezbollah rocket launchers and even Hezbollah headquarters and objectives such as TV and radio stations. And what did all this orgy of firepower achieve? Absolutely nothing.
To repeat: Israel used all its formidable conventional arsenal for 33 days and throughout the depth of Lebanon and achieved exactly nothing. Does anybody seriously think that nuclear weapons would have made any difference at all here? Of course not! Other than deepening the PR disaster for Israel, nuclear weapons would not have served any useful purpose.
There are some commentators out there who like to fantasize about the use of small yield tactical nuclear weapons as “super bunker-busters” and, in theory, they are correct. A small yield tactical nuke, especially if detonated underground, could destroy a deeply buried bunker without producing too much residual radiation. The flaw in this logic is that it assumes that Israel’s adversaries would rely on the protection offered by rocks rather than on concealment. The basic rule of modern warfare is simple: “if I can see you, you are dead”. This is true for both nuclear and conventional capabilities. This is why the use of camouflage, maneuver and deception are so important in modern warfare.
Remember NATO’s massive air campaign against the Serb forces in Kosovo? Over 1000 NATO aircraft launched in excess of 38’000 air sorties including over 10’000 actual strikes against Serbian targets. This orgy lasted from March 24th through 9 June 1999 and what did it achieve exactly? According to Wikipedia, 462 soldiers killed, another 299 wounded, plus 113 cops killed; plus 7 destroyed aircraft and 22 armored vehicles and artillery pieces. Compare that with the Serbian order of battle in Kosovo which featured over 100’000 soldiers, 20’000 police, 15’000 volunteers and the hardware of a regular Yugoslav Army Corps. The truth is that NATO failed to even marginally dent the Serbian combat capabilities in Kosovo. The fact that Milosevic was bought-off by the US and that betrayed his own people (again! he already had done so with the Bosnian-Serbs and the Krajina Serbs) does not change the fact that NATO’s air campaign in Kosovo was one of the worst military defeats in the history of modern warfare.
Just like Hezbollah, the Serbs did not have any super-weapons to defend themselves. What they did have is superb deception and camouflage skills and the courage to ride out the onslaught of a technologically vastly superior enemy. Though we will never know for sure, but I am quite sure that a NATO ground operation into Kosovo would have resulted in a NATO nightmare quite similar to what Hezbollah inflicted on Israel in 2006. Alas, the betrayal of the Serbian people by Milosevic turned a Serbian victory into a complete defeat.
Question: does anybody seriously believe that had NATO used nuclear weapons in Kosovo the outcome would have been different? Of course not!
Now, if Israeli nuclear weapons are unneeded in a conventional war against Syria, Egypt or Jordan, and if they are no help against Hezbollah, then this begs the question of what kind of war they could be used to prevent or, should deterrence fail, to fight.
The case of a war against Iran is the one that immediately comes to mind. Regardless of whether Iran does or does not have a nuclear weapons (it does not) or even a covert nuclear weapons program (it does not have that either), let us assume for the sake of the argument that Iran has both and look whether nuclear weapons would have Israel against Iran.
Here we must first look at the kind of war Iran and Israel could have. The two countries do not share a common border and in order to reach each other they would first have to acquire the technological capability to project forces. I would say that the Iranian Air Force and the Iranian Navy present no threat to Israel whatsoever. Iranian missiles, however, do. If we assume that the Iranians will develop (or have already developed) a nuclear warhead for its missiles, all of Israel would become a potential target for an Iranian nuclear strike. However, before jumping to conclusions we need to consider the fact that the US has promised that it would “totally obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel and that the Iranians, being perfectly aware that the USA, being just a vassal state of Israel, will do anything the Israeli leaders and their Lobby in the USA tells them to do. We also need to consider a back issue here, what would be the purpose of an Iranian attack on Israel?
Regardless, in theory, one could say that Israeli nuclear weapons could be used to deter a major regional power like Iran from attacking it or, should deterrence fail, Israeli nuclear weapons could be used to target Iranian missiles and the infrastructure which supports them. However, since there no conceivable scenario in which Iran would consider an exchange of nuclear strikes with a country like Israel whose nuclear forces are far bigger than anything the even the Neocons might imagine in their worst nightmares about a “nuclear Iran”.
A far more likely scenario is the following one: Israel would use its Air Force to strike at Iran and then would rely on its nuclear deterrent to persuade Iran not to strike back with its missiles (whether conventional or nuclear). In 2007 I wrote an analysis describing how such a war could unfold
and, though some elements of that piece are now dated, the basic logic behind it is, I think, still sound. And just as in 2007, the main question is this: what would be the point of such an attack? I can only repeat what I wrote 3 years ago:
For the Israeli government, a nuclear strike on Iran would have many positive aspects. A nuclear strike by Israel:
* would not involve the already overstretched US forces (at least not officially);
* would provide the Olmert administration with a much-needed “victory”;
* would serve as a show of power and resolve on the part of the humiliated Israeli military and
* would cater to the dearly held belief by many Israelis that “Arabs only understand force” (nevermind that the Iranians are Persians, not Arabs).
The political price for Israel to pay for such an aggression would really be minimal: Israel is already the most hated country on the planet and the only country whose public opinion would matter to the Israeli leaders would be the USA where the mantric repetitions of the word “Holocaust”, “new Hitler” and “existential threat” will immediately “bring on board” the entire US corporate media and all of Congress. The American public might not be fully convinced this time, but since the Neocons have an iron grip on both political parties the public would have little to say about it.
The main problem for Israel is that it can only execute a very limited nuclear strike which, while possibly destroying some deeply buried Iranian installation or killing some Iranian leaders, would really fail to achieve anything significant beyond the short-term. Horrible as this may sound, an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran would probably be a combination of psychotherapy for its hapless leaders and of a public relations gambit for the confused and frustrated Israeli population. I really doubt that the Israeli military commanders would go along with that even if the political leadership demands it.
Replace “Olmert” with “Netanyahu”, the “logic” for an Israeli strike still holds today. As for the current Israeli military leadership, following the Mavi Marmara fiasco I expect them to be even dumber than I thought. Still, the inability to achieve any tangible results even with a nuclear strike on Iran only confirms the fact that Israeli nuclear weapons are useless.
To fully show how utterly useless Israeli nuclear weapons are, we now need to come back to the old Clausewitzian motto that “war is the continuation of political by other means” and look at what kind of regional dynamics the ZIonist state is really facing.
1) The blockade of Gaza is an absolute disaster and cannot be sustained. Not only that, but there is no way to “gently” back down from this one without loosing face. Israel will have to cave in and unconditionally give up its crazy dream of maintaining the biggest open-air concentration camp on the planet (even “Netanyahu’s poodle” (Barak Obomb’ya) now says that the blockade is “unsustainable”). Ken O’Keefe promised that in 2011 a radically different flotilla will break the blockade and “render the entire Israeli military useless” and I absolutely believe him.
2) The West Bank is about to sink deep into a crisis. The Israelis being the arrogant idiots that they are they have come up with yet another brilliant idea of how to torpedo their own puppet (Abbas and Fatah) with their latest lunacy about a “pledge of allegiance to a Jewish and democratic state”.
3) In Lebanon Hezbollah is as strong as ever, both militarily and politically. The Israelis now not only they cannot win a military confrontation with Hezbollah, but their entire “masterplan” of killing Rafik Hariri and thereby taking Lebanon under their control has totally collapsed. Even the lame 11th hour attempt to shift the blame for the murder from Syria to Hezbollah has now backfired with Hassan Nasrallah’s revelations about Israeli agents in Lebanon.
4) Mubarak is still in power, but he is “sitting on bayonets” and any worsening of the political situation in the Middle-East (and things can *only* get worse there!) will further threaten his rule. In many ways, Mubarak is in exactly the same situation as the Shah was in Iran, and we know what happened there.
5) Iran is gradually becoming powerful and it is slowly pulling Iraq and Syria into its political “orbit”, and there is little that Israel can do about that.
6) as for Israel itself, it is becoming the new Apartheid South Africa, armed to the teeth and yet politically crippled by the obscenely racist nature of its society and the inevitable social crises which racism generates.
Now put all these elements together and you can only conclude that a “perfect storm” is about to hit Israel in the near future. If anything, the latest lunacy about making everybody pledge to a “Jewish state” will only accelerate this process (imagine if the White Boers in Apartheid South Africa had attempted to force all the Blacks to pledge allegiance to a “White South African” state!).
If anything, the stubborn reliance of the Israelis on brute force makes it harder for them to achieve their political objectives; in a way, we can say that the Israelis have reversed Clausewitz – for Israel “war is the continuation of national suicide by other means“. Once this fact is fully assessed, we can only see why it will probably be Hezbollah which will play the key role in forcing a solution upon the Israelis.
Hezbollah is now militarily de-facto invulnerable (at least as long as no Iranian or “Lebanese Milosevic” comes to power in Tehran or at the helm of Hezbollah – and that is highly unlikely). Not only that, but Hezbollah is in the enviable situation of being able to expect that any use of force by Israelis will only further strengthen it both politically and militarily. While Hezbollah does not have the kind of military force which could occupy Israel, it does have the means to pretty much paralyze the Israeli society and that is almost an “existential threat” to a society like the Israeli one, which features a unique blend of paranoia, cowardice and hedonism.
The weak link in anti-Israeli environment is the clueless Palestinian leadership which has none of the qualities required to engage Israel in a long-term struggle. The fact that Fatah and Abbas are even seriously considered as possible partners for a “national unity” government just goes to show how clueless Hamas really is. The other weak link are the Palestinians themselves, both in the West Bank and inside Israel proper, whose main characteristic seems to be their total absence from any real efforts to resist against Abbas and his goons, nevermind resisting against the Israelis themselves. Still, the Palestinians are passively resisting just by being there, by not leaving their homes, refusing to give up their fundamental right and, last but not least, by having babies.
[I might be mistaken here, but I tend to think that the Palestinian cause has been greatly harmed by all the secular, progressive or nationalist ideologies which have hindered the development of a real culture of resistance amongst the Palestinians. I am even dubious about the more Islamic ideology of Hamas which seems to suffer from a lack of clear vision of what it stands for or wants to achieve (the contrast with the crystal clear vision of Hezbollah could not be greater). Still, resistance is a dialectical process and, sooner or later, the Palestinians will gradually come together under a new leadership.]
History is full of examples of societies armed to the teeth which rapidly collapsed because the ruling elites deluded themselves into believing that their weapons were adequate to protect them. Israel is just the latest example of a society falling into the same trap. Its nuclear weapons only make that kind of self-deception more powerful, yet they provide absolutely no real protection to the Zionists. If anything at all, they are a liability.
The Essential Saker IV: Messianic Narcissism's Agony by a Thousand Cuts
The Essential Saker III: Chronicling The Tragedy, Farce And Collapse of the Empire in the Era of Mr MAGA