In his recent pronouncements about Israel’s military might, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is recklessly breaching the long-held approach to nuclear ambiguity
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At the ceremony marking the arrival of Israel’s first F-35 stealth fighter planes at the Nevatim air base last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established a new strategic rule: the Bibi Doctrine. This doctrine challenges the policy of ambiguity of all Israeli governments since the 1960s, as well as the foundations of the understandings with all U.S. administrations in Washington.
Netanyahu noted that the new planes “could operate in any arena, near or far.” There is no need to explain who lives far away (but, a clue, they speak Persian). “Anyone who is thinking of attacking us will be attacked,” he added. So far, so routine – if the pretension to read minds is a popular version of intelligence. The enemy who plans to attack will suffer a preemptive strike, the first blow.
But Netanyahu did not make do with this, nor his earlier remarks on how submarines represent Israel’s insurance policy. Once more he penetrated deep into the consciousness of “all those who think to destroy us.” He declared on Wednesday that Iran “is putting itself in grave danger.”
This is not just another recycled promise to attack the Iranian nuclear program, as is common in these parts. It’s not even a warning in the style of then-Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin to Damascus in 1966, in order to force a lull or escalation. Instead, it’s a declaration that, under certain circumstances, Israel would want to, and is able to, destroy an enemy nation. This is the second-strike capability, “the payback,” attributed to Israel.
Netanyahu says he has the capability to annihilate, which he will use in some scenario against an entire nation. This is not the “Samson Option,” because Samson killed the Philistine commanders and the 3,000 civilians who were with them, but did not wipe out Philistia.
Since the conversation between U.S. President John F. Kennedy and then-Deputy Defense Minister Shimon Peres in the White House in 1963, Israel has stuck to the formula that it “will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.” In contacts toward the end of the Johnson administration over the issue of supplying Phantom jets to Israel (which made a commitment not to use them to carry nuclear weapons), the word “introduce” was refined and it was agreed its intention would be not to do so publicly, as well as no tests. These understandings were confirmed in the meeting between leaders Richard Nixon and Golda Meir in 1969.
Nixon figured that his political strength was OK only for one move to uproot Israel from a held position, and he preferred to focus on “land for peace,” not on nuclear matters. Or, to use modern terms: Amona, not Dimona. And in order not to outrage the Arabs, Soviets and U.S. Congress, an iron rule was laid down: silence.
But now, Netanyahu is breaking the silence, throwing out the rules of the game. Flaunting, exposing, presenting, taunting, inviting President-elect Donald Trump to breach the agreement with Iran – in opposition to the view of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the mutual friend of Trump and Defense Minister Lieberman.
This is Netanyahu’s personal doctrine. It has no foundation in cabinet decisions, and is not even based on official positions from his staff. The Israel Defense Forces’ strategy, signed by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, is wary of any such boasting. It only aims to guarantee the existence of the country, to defend the integrity of its territory – whose boundaries are not defined – and the security of its citizens and residents. It is formulated in defensive, moderate terms: Preserving values; striving for peace; effective deterrence; rebuffing confrontations; having global, and especially U.S., support.
Intelligence bodies – Israeli as well as American – estimate that no Iranian nuclear threat will exist in the next few years. This frustrates Netanyahu. He is provoking a war of mutual destruction because in Iran, too, they can also read thoughts. If the devil wills it, they will panic, feel Netanyahu is coming to kill them and rise up to strike first – which will finally allow him to carry out the threat to their existence.