Israel's Job Number One: Avoiding A Second Auschwitz

A second Holocaust would use WMDs - and Israel must be prepared to defend itself.

May 5 of this year was Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Ha'shoah. Appropriately, the central message of this uniquely somber day is "never again." But it is every day that Israel, as the institutionalized form of the Jewish surviving remnant, must interpret this message on another level. Israel must remember the Holocaust not only to memorialize the past, but also to protect a still-uncertain Jewish future.

Israel faces a complex and multilayered responsibility. The tiny country's sacred obligations now extend far beyond offering protection to diasporic Jews against any traditional genocide, to assuring its own survival as a durable and separately sovereign state. The almost unbearable question, "Can Auschwitz return?" must now be examined more broadly than in the narrowly literal interpretation.

At present, the most plausible threat of "a second Auschwitz" is not from any expected attempts to round up individual Jews in different parts of the world, and bring them to the gas chambers. Nor is it from any Jihadist terror that is focused on Jewish civilian populations, whether in Israel, Europe or the United States. Rather, the most fearful and conspicuous exterminatory threat to Jews is from enemy acquisition of nuclear bombs, and from certain conceivably corollary preparations to shower such lethal "gas" upon the whole of Israel.

Left to themselves, it is easy enough to imagine some of Israel's potentially nuclear adversaries could bring the Jewish state (we may think of Dante) into eternal darkness, fire and ice. It is plain, therefore, that the country's leadership should soon take all appropriate steps to ensure that any identifiable failure of national deterrence would never spark a nuclear attack. In this connection, it is especially important for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to continue to plan conceptually and operationally around the following absolutely core understanding:

Nuclear deterrence and conventional deterrence are never separate or discrete security postures. Always, these indispensable protective strategies are mutually reinforcing and critically interrelated.

Nuclear war in the Middle East is no longer out of the question. This is the case, moreover, even if Israel were somehow to remain the only nuclear weapons state in the increasingly chaotic region. How is this possible?

Significantly, a bellum atomicum could arrive in Israel not only as a bolt-from-the-blue enemy nuclear missile attack, but also as a result of escalation. If, for example, certain Arab/Islamic states were to begin hostilities by launching conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem could decide to respond, sooner or later, with thoughtfully calculated and correspondingly graduated nuclear reprisals. Alternatively, if these enemy states were to commence conflict by releasing large-scale conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem's conventional reprisals could then be met, sometime in the not-too-distant future, with particular enemy nuclear counterstrikes.

If it hadn't been for Israel's earlier preemptive operations against both Iraq and Syria (Operations Opera and Orchard, respectively), the Middle East could already have been rife with Arab or Islamist nuclear forces. Looking back upon these specially focused expressions of national self-defense, Israel had then effectively ensured that such assorted terror groups as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah would not now be nuclear. In fact, the still generally unrecognized benefits of these extraordinary operations have impacted not only Israel, but also the United States and its allies that are fighting Jihadists in a rapidly disintegrating theatre of conflict.

The regional future, however, is apt to be even less secure. For one thing, with a potentially nuclear Iran the derivative risks of nuclear terrorism could become intolerable. Some of these newer risks might not stay contained to the Middle East. Instead, in some form or another, they could carry over to the scarcely protected American and European homelands.

However, by planning ahead, and by maintaining a maximally credible conventional deterrent, Israel could reduce its exposure to any eventual nuclear war fighting. A fully persuasive Israeli nonnuclear deterrent, at least to the extent that it would prevent enemy conventional attacks, could expectedly lower Israel's overall risk of any escalatory vulnerabilities to nuclear war. In the impressively arcane lexicon of nuclear strategy, this means that Israel could likely reap considerable security gains by staying in conspicuously firm control of “escalation dominance.”

Such gains could turn out to be genuinely existential. They could actually serve to prevent a second Auschwitz.

But why should Israel require a conventional deterrent at all? Wouldn't its nuclear deterrent alone, whether still ambiguous, or perhaps more expressly disclosed, reliably deter any and all national aggressions? Wouldn't all enemy states, at least those that were determinedly rational, resist launching just conventional attacks upon Israel?

This reasonably presumed reluctance would stem from a determinably well-founded fear of Israeli nuclear retaliation.