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A Discussion on Project Daniel - an Israeli Nuclear Advisory Group - 2004-08-26

VOA's Ed Warner recently spoke with Political Science Professor Louis Rene Beres, about Project Daniel - a group advising Israel's prime minister on nuclear weapons policy.

Ed Warner - Tell us about Project Daniel and its importance to Israel’s nuclear policy?

Louis Rene Beres, Political Science and International Law Professor, Purdue University and Chairman of Project Daniel Group

Project Daniel is a small group advising the Israeli Prime Minister on nuclear questions. It’s a private group, and we have given our report to the prime minister called Israel's Strategic Future and our recommendations are very far reaching. The members of the committee of the group include several senior figures retired from the Israeli Ministry of Defense, including a former member of the IDF general staff.

The recommendations concern issues of nuclear ambiguity, nuclear retaliation and preemption. A main focus of this report is that Israel codify an expanded doctrine of preemption vis-?-vis states that threaten Israel with weapons of mass destruction. There is particular concern these days for Iranian nuclearization,and as professor of international law, I have been careful to assure that our recommendations are consistent with the expectations of anticipatory self-defense. We also talk about what we call a purposeful end to nuclear ambiguity. That means that in certain circumstances, Israel could strengthen its nuclear deterrent by revealing something about the nature of its nuclear deterrent, and in this connection we talk about second strike reprisals against enemy states that would launch nuclear and/or biological attacks against Israel. And very specifically we talk about massive counter-value reprisals against pertinent Arab and/or Iranian cities if there were an Arab or Iranian nuclear first strike against Israeli cities. So it’s clear that Israelis never ever consider the first use of nuclear or biological weapons in war, but that we advise a substantial reprisal in the event that Arab states and/or Iran attacks first.

Mr. Warner- That seems comprehensive and reasonable. Let me just ask you a basic question: how important are nuclear weapons for Israel today?

Mr. Beres - Utterly, existentially required. I believe firmly that in the absence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, the generally genocidal attitudes in the Arab and Iranian worlds would translate into massive conventional attacks. If you look at the ratios of size and the demographics of the Middle East, you realize that short of the nuclear option, Israel could not conceivably deter a massive Islamic attack. Keep in mind Israel is half the size of Lake Michigan.

Mr. Warner - Now as far as we know, no other power in the region has nuclear weapons. Do you foresee their acquiring them?

Mr. Beres - There is no Arab enemy state presently that has nuclear weapons. Pakistan, a non-Arab Islamic state in a related region in Southwest Asia, does have nuclear weapons. There is always the fear that Pakistani weapons might get into the hands of more frontline foes of Israel, and the purpose of the Project Daniel among other things is to advise the prime minister not to allow nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of any Arab state or Iran. And I think it’s quite clear that if any Arab state or Iran were allowed to get nuclear weapons, Israel would likely continue to survive at the pleasure of its genocidal enemies. Sometimes we forget that on June 7, 1981 when Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor outside of Baghdad before it went on line, it saved the lives of thousands of Americans who would otherwise have died facing nuclear weapons in the 1991 Gulf War. There is a place for preemption in international relations and international law, and we believe a conventional, non-nuclear preemption by Israel would be preferable if necessary to sitting back and allowing Arab and/or Iranian nuclear weapons.

Mr. Warner - So what was done in Iraq in '81 could be done to Iran if it seems on the verge of producing nuclear weapons?

Mr. Beres - I think it would be advisable if it got to a certain stage, although operationally and technically a preemptive attack, which we call anticipatory self defense under international law, would likely be more difficult against pertinent Iranian targets today then there was against Iraqi targets on June 7, 1981.

Mr. Warner- Is that because they are more dispersed or varied?

Mr. Beres - Exactly. There is a problem of dispersion. They have learned from the Iraqis and have multiple sites. From a purely operational point of view, this is not an easy thing to do.

Mr. Warner - Now there is talk of a nuclear free zone in the region. Any chance of that ever happening?

Mr. Beres - I wrote this article in The Indianapolis Star against it several days ago, arguing that if Israel were ever to accede to a Middle Eastern nuclear weapon free zone, it might wind up the only country without nuclear weapons. The Arab states in the region and Iran would surely continue to violate this expectation as they have others. The Iranians essentially have already violated the NPT to which they are a party and this would be a virtually suicidal step by Israel to accede a nuclear weapons free zone. In the best of all possible worlds, in a world in which one could actually trust the denuclearization promises of its enemies, a nuclear free zone would make sense. But in this situation, where these enemies could not conceivably be trusted, it would be a suicidal step.

Mr. Warner - And finally I see Mr. Vanunu was recently released after serving his term. Does this have any significance? Does it matter?

Mr. Beres - Vanunu believed that by disclosing elements of what was going on at Israel's Dimona reactor, he would be contributing to world peace. Of course, what he did was exactly the opposite. I think it’s clear that he is no longer conversant with current elements of Israel’s nuclear infrastructure. I don’t think he poses any particular hazard, and I think that is just a regrettable episode in the Israeli nuclear past.