The Death of the Ambiguity

Yediot Ahronot
November 25, 1999
By Alex Fishman (Yediot Ahronot senior military analyst)

The argument that was heard all day long yesterday, that the publication of the transcripts from the Vanunu trial caused harm and ate away at Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity, is ridiculous.

The policy of ambiguity, that has accompanied Israel since the sixties, says in fact: "I want you to think that I have an atom bomb, but I won't declare it and I won't expose that weapon to the public." That policy has long been redundant. The signs of the times and the changing reality have gradually eroded it, very thoroughly. That policy is not only old-fashioned, but it long ago ceased to be efficient. The declaration or non-declaration of Israel's nuclear capability will not change the fact, that in the area of non-conventional weapons in the Middle East, we have not been alone for quite some time.

At the time, there were several aims on which the policy of ambiguity were based: deterring the Arab world from endangering the very existence of Israel; an attempt to slow down or block the non-conventional arms race in the region, in order to maintain an Israeli monopoly in that field; and avoiding international pressure against Israel to maintain a regime of supervision over Israeli nuclear development.

For many years that policy served Israel well. But it became so convincing - that no one in the Arab world, and in the world in general, today doubts that Israel has nuclear-military capability.

True, that capability constituted a weighty element in the considerations of the Arab world, when it conducted its wars against Israel. But simultaneously, they made an effort to obtain their own non-conventional weapons. So that Israel today is surrounded by states that possess nuclear weapons and chemical and biological weapons, that are termed "poor people's nuclear weapons." The estimate in the West is, that by the middle of the next decade, Iran will also join the nuclear club.

The Israeli monopoly in the non-conventional field has long been nonexistent. The publication or non-publication of Israel's nuclear capability will not change that tendency. If in the future there are large scale violent confrontations, they will, in any event, be based on formulas taken from the era of the Cold War between the superpowers.

The argument that the policy of ambiguity prevents international pressures is also questionable. Countries that wish to pressure Israel - Egypt, for example - are not foiled by the remnants of the smoke screen that still remains from the policy of ambiguity.

As far as Israel is concerned - the expression "a system of international pressures" has only one meaning in Hebrew: pressure from the U.S.A. And as long as the peace process in the Middle East continues - such pressure will exist, if only not to damage Israel's sense of security, which enables it to proceed towards difficult and painful arrangements.