At the risk of damaging the stereotype of atheists as unflinching supporters of Israel (which would not be my first time trying), I am going to discuss the Nixon-Kissinger team’s recently declassified documents, reported on by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The report is available to subscribers only, but a truncated version can be found here.
It does not paint a pleasant picture.
The officials – cabinet secretaries and senior advisers who wrote the documents – withdrew step after step from an ambitious plan to block Israeli nuclearization, until they finally acceded, in internal correspondence – the content of the conversation between Nixon and Meir is still classified – to recognition of Israel as a threshold nuclear state.
Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity – which for the sake of deterrence does not categorically deny some nuclear ability but insists on using the term “option” – appears, according to the newly released documents, as an outcome of the Nixon-Meir understandings, no less than as an original Israeli maneuver.
The declassified material deals only with events in 1968 and 1969, the end of the terms of President Lyndon Johnson and Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, and the beginning of the Nixon-Meir era. However, it contains many contemporary lessons. Among these are the decisive nature of personal relations between a president like Obama and a prime minister like Benjamin Netanyahu; the relationship between the diplomatic process of “land for peace,” American guarantees of Israeli security in peace time, supplies of weapons to Israel and Israel’s nuclear status; and the ability of a country like Iran to move ahead gradually toward nuclear weapons and remain on the threshold of military nuclear weapons. [Emphasis added]
The Johnson and Nixon administrations concluded that, in talks with Rabin, it had been stated in a manner both “explicit and implicit” that “Israel wants nuclear weapons, for two reasons: First, to deter the Arabs from striking Israel; and second, if deterrence fails and Israel were about to be overrun, to destroy the Arabs in a nuclear Armageddon.”
Why didn’t this insanity in itself alarm our officials to the fact that they needed to stand firmly against nuclearization, to prevent mushroom clouds from sprouting all over the Middle East?
However, “it is not really possible to deter Arab leaders – and certainly not the fedayeen [suicide attackers, in today’s lingo]– when they themselves represent basically irrational forces. The theory of nuclear deterrence that applies between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. – a theory that requires a reasoned response to provocation, which in turn is made possible by essentially stable societies and governments – is far less applicable in the Near East.”
Four years before the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 and the general scorn for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the Nixon administration wrote that Israel “would never be able to rule out the possibility that some irrational Arab leader would be willing to sustain great losses if he believed he could inflict decisive damage on Israel.”
That is essentially the same idea for which Sam Harris has been shredded to pieces. It turns out, our top politicians knew that decades before Harris spoke the truth!
But while for reasons of politics, American officials ended up “acceding to recognition of Israel as a threshold nuclear state”, as the article phrases it, the synopsis of the article tells us what some of them already know would follow if they went down this path-and that is exactly what has materialized.
Documents reveals contacts between Washington and Jerusalem in late 1960’s, when some Americans believed the nuclear option would not deter Arab leaders but would trigger an atom bomb race.
And hence the damage inflicted by the Nixon-Kissinger team will be with us for a very long time, making the world a less safe place for us all. Where is Christopher Hitchens when you need him?