Israel Keeps Saving the World from Nuclear Threats

September 23, 2020 | Joshua Muravchik
About the author: Joshua Muravchik is the author most recently of Heaven on Earth: The Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism (Encounter).

On July 2, an explosion shook the Iranian uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, causing considerable damage. This was but one of several mysterious fires and explosions that struck military sites in the Islamic Republic this summer. While it’s not clear that all of these were acts of deliberate sabotage, there is reason to suspect Israel intelligence services were behind some of them. If so, writes Joshua Muravchik, this is but one of several times that the Jewish state has prevented the emergence of an aggressive, nuclear-armed, rogue state:

[E]ver since an Iranian opposition group laid bare Iran’s secret nuclear program in 2002, much of the world has seemed as anxious about what Israel might do to prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout as about Iran’s quest for the bomb. Israel’s latest apparent tactic was “audacious and risky,” wrote a Washington Post columnist. It amounted to “a dangerous gamble,” warned the head of the Rand Corporation’s Middle East program.

Perhaps so: audacious and risky tactics, dangerous gambles, have been hallmarks of Israel’s self-defense, which has enabled it to survive in the face of endless threats that few other nations have had to face. It has emerged as the strongest and most stable country in the Middle East, a reality that is recognized universally by unbiased observers. What is less often acknowledged is that actions taken in Israel’s self-defense have also redounded to the benefit of America and, indeed, of the world. [Indeed, the Jewish state] has been responsible for some of the world’s most important measures of what is called “counterproliferation.”

These other instances include, most prominently, the destruction by Israel jets of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s al-Kibar reactor in 2007, and—in collaboration with the U.S.—the cyberattack that destroyed some 1,000 Iranian centrifuges in 2010. As Muravchik points out, there were likely other clandestine efforts at degrading these countries’ nuclear programs as well. And thanks to these efforts, the world is a much safer place than it would have been otherwise:

Preserving its regional nuclear monopoly manifestly serves Israel’s security. But it serves the general interest as well. Israel is neither a proliferator nor an aggressor. Not every forceful action it has taken over the years has been wise, but all have been rooted in self-defense. Its nuclear deterrent encourages its neighbors to accept that it cannot be driven into the sea, and this conduces to peace. Were a neighbor such as Syria to deploy nuclear weapons, Israel’s deterrent would be eroded, making a future large Israeli–Arab war more likely. With nuclear weapons on both sides, the region would live nearer the edge of catastrophe.

[Likewise], it is easy to see that Iran’s nuclear aspirations do not threaten only Israel, perhaps not even primarily Israel, which has a nuclear deterrent of its own. They would be brandished to further Iran’s drive to dominate the region, a shield behind which Iran could become still more aggressive and a Damoclean sword with which to intimidate its neighborhood.

Read more on Commentary: