At some point in the near or not-distant future, the State of Israel will face the question of nuclear retaliation. Consider the following not unlikely scenario: A nuclear-armed nation, or nuclear-armed terrorists, detonate enough nuclear devices to destroy utterly the land of Israel and most of its people, rendering it uninhabitable.
Israel has been called “a one-bomb state” in that a single megaton-sized bomb detonated in Tel Aviv could accomplish such destruction. Many prefer to live in denial of this possibility. The people of Israel don’t have this luxury. If you don’t think they’ve war-gamed this possibility, think again. Many focus on Iran’s potential nuclear weaponry and the statements of Iranian leaders such as Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani that Iran would “welcome” a nuclear exchange with Israel because while it might lose 15 million people there would be a billion and half Muslims left on earth and no Jews in what was once Israel. But there is less focus on the current reality of the so called “Islamic bomb”—Pakistan’s 60 to 100 nukes, now ever more vulnerable to takeover by Taliban al-Qaida sympathizers. Seizable by or salable to terrorists.
What happens if it happens? A “second Holocaust”? One thing we can be fairly certain of: Israel will have the capacity for nuclear retaliation. Israel has purchased and put into operation at least three German-manufactured (!) long-range “Dolphin class” submarines, capable of being fitted out with nuclear weapons.
There has been all sorts of information and disinformation about the disposition of these subs, but most analysts seem to believe they are cruising the waters of the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea, within range of the most likely targets. And, many believe, they are armed with nuclear-tipped Harpoon cruise missiles. Ready to retaliate.
This is complicated by the potential of an attack from a terrorist “bomb with no return address,” smuggled across any one of three borders, or lobbed in from off shore. Whom to retaliate against? And is retaliation moral under Jewish law?
From How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III by Ron Rosenbaum. Copyright © 2011 by Ron Rosenbaum. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Ron Rosenbaum, the author of How the End Begins , Explaining Hitler and The Shakespeare Wars, is a columnist for Slate. He lives in New York.
This is the unshakable foundation of Halbertal’s thinking: “You cannot save your life at the expense of actual targeting of innocent people.” But his thinking can lead to some surprising conclusions such as his argument that in certain cases a preemptive nuclear strike can be moral while retaliation after being struck by nuclear weapons cannot be.