A comprehensive and verifiable weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East is in Israel’s best long-term interest. Israel should be leading an effort to establish a regional security regime, for three principal reasons.
First, in contrast to what most Israelis seem to believe, Israel’s nuclear deterrence has been patently ineffective. Israel was not able to prevent or stop missile and rocket attacks on its population centers by Saddam Hussein in 1991, by Hezbollah in 2006, or by Hamas from 2007 to '09. It was diplomacy and moderation that led to peace with Egypt and Jordan, not nuclear deterrence. Paradoxically, raising the specter of a nuclear Iran indicates that Israel’s leaders do not trust their own nuclear deterrence. What is the use of a deterrence policy that does not deter?
Second, Israeli nuclear monopoly in the Middle East is not sustainable over the long run. An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations would buy Israel some time at best, at a high cost. Iran and others will ultimately find a way to acquire such weapons. Moreover, several Middle Eastern states possess chemical and biological weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. Ultimately, Israel would have to choose between a nuclearized and a nuclear-free Middle East. The former poses far greater risk to its security and survival than the latter.
Third, Israel could use its nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip that would help the nation define the terms of the regional security regime. It could supplement the “land for peace” principle with the “nukes for security” principle.
Israel’s military strategy has been daring and creative, while its peace strategy has been hesitant and reactive. It is time Israeli diplomacy caught up to its military ingenuity.