Country Listing

Israel Table of Contents


Nuclear and Conventional Deterrents

The concept of deterrence assumed a new dimension with the introduction of nuclear weapons into the equation. In December 1974, President Ephraim Katzir announced that "it has always been our intention to develop a nuclear potential. We now have that potential." Ambiguously, Israeli officials maintained that Israel would not be the first nation to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Experts assumed that Israel had a rudimentary nuclear capability. In September 1986, the testimony and photographs provided by Mordechai Vanunu, a technician who had worked at Israel's Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev Desert, led experts to conclude that Israel had a nuclear capability far greater than previously thought (see Nuclear Weapons Potential , this ch.).

Although viewed as its ultimate guarantor of security, the nuclear option did not lead Israel to complacency about national security. On the contrary, it impelled Israel to seek unquestioned superiority in conventional capability over the Arab armies to forestall use of nuclear weapons as a last resort. The IDF sought to leverage its conventional power to the maximum extent. IDF doctrine and tactics stressed quality of weapons versus quantity; integration of the combined firepower of the three branches of the armed forces; effective battlefield command, communications, and real-time intelligence; use of precision-guided munitions and stand-off firepower; and high mobility.

The debate over secure borders rested at the heart of the controversy over Israeli's national security. Some strategists contended that only a negotiated settlement with the Arabs would bring peace and ensure Israel's ultimate security. Such a settlement would entail territorial concessions in the occupied territories. Proponents of exchanging land for peace tended to be skeptical that any border was militarily defensible in the age of modern warfare. In their eyes, the occupied territories were a liability in that they gave Israel a false sense of security and gave the Arabs reason to go to war.

Others believed Israel's conflict with the Arab states was fundamentally irreconcilable and that Israeli and Arab territorial imperatives were mutually exclusive. They held that ceding control of the occupied territories would bring at best a temporary peace and feared that the Arabs would use the territories as a springboard to attack Israel proper. Israeli military positions along the Golan Heights and the Jordan Rift Valley were said to be ideal geographically defensible borders. Others viewed the occupied territories as an integral part of Israel and Israeli withdrawal as too high a price to pay for peace. Extending beyond national security, the controversy was enmeshed with political, social, and religious issues--particularly the concept of exchanging "land for peace" that formed the basis of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

Data as of December 1988