What’s the moral reasoning behind the restraint on using nuclear weapons? The preference given to conventional warfare means societies are okay with their soldiers dying at a slow rate over considerable time rather than quickly. Societies shield civilians who vote to send soldiers to war from nuclear retaliation. In monarchic wars, soldiers were subject to limited war, and civilians to limited immunity. But in democratic states, people—rather than monarchs—wage wars. So why should the very voters who opted for war—whether of aggression or refusal to submit—be immune?

Nuclear weapons have several uses. They can provide a radiological barrier for defense. For example, Israel could have bombed empty areas of the Sinai on the opening day of the 1973 war to preclude an Egyptian advance over the contaminated areas. Such use of nuclear weapons is hardly objectionable. It can extend to nuclear blasts a few dozen miles before the enemy troops to secure the path against their advancement and terrorize the enemy. Low-yield nuclear weapons, detonated on the Syrian downhill of the Golan Heights, could blockade Syrian troops without noticeably contaminating Israeli Galilee.

Israel nuclear strategy

Like chemical weapons, nukes are tactically defensive. Their offensive capability is limited to home-front attacks. A tactical nuclear explosion over enemy troops would make one’s own advancement impossible, and the radiological cloud would pose an immediate danger to the soldiers. So the battlefield use of nuclear weapons, even of micro-charges, is very limited. Nukes are inherently intended for politically incorrect actions against civilians, who should properly be called voters.

In any major war, we must nuke the enemy’s population centers. That’s what war is about—crushing the will to fight. In any case, civilians in modern war have a tendency to be attacked because they are engaged in war-making to an unprecedented degree: they pay taxes, vote for militant governments, send their children into the army, and work at military factories. On other hand, there are signs of decreasing manpower on the battlefield as the battles come to be waged by machines, such as rockets and drones.

Few voters protest their government’s war effort by refusing conscription, hiding or maiming their children to keep them from army service, or refusing to pay taxes. In democratic and semi-democratic states, voters are an integral part of war-making. In any modern economy, popular support is indispensable to war: people pay taxes and work at factories which produce military and dual-use supplies.

Terrorism—fighting by soldiers without insignias who are indistinguishable from the population—is the latest step in the deterioration of the standards of romantic war. Ancient armies rolled over towns, but at some point in the Middle Ages fighting became a specialized occupation with limited harm to noncombatants. Knightly warfare deteriorated into warfare conducted by mass armies (mercenaries, then serfs, then conscripts). The knightly manner of marching under fire in brightly colored uniforms gave way to trench warfare in khaki uniforms. The shift to terrorism, state sponsorship of terrorism, and proxy wars is only logical: the aggressors retain their war-making capability, but limit their liability by refusing to acknowledge their involvement. Aggressors have moved all the way back to the ancient standard, which lacked moral conventions during wars, and defenders can only survive by similarly refusing moral conventions. We don’t reject the legitimacy of moral restraints, but recognize their conflict with our survival.

Nuclear war is not meant to conquer territory or economic resources because the contamination makes them non-viable. The nuclear option is based on fear and hatred. Arabs will see any restraint in employing nukes on Israel’s part as a sign of fear—which provokes hatred. In human cognizance, it is safe to hate a fearful opponent. Israel’s reluctance to use her nuclear weapons moves Arabs to strike at her.

Nuclear credibility depends on one’s madness. A rational government, so the reasoning goes, won’t employ such a horrendous weapon (as if the Truman Administration was crazy). Nuclear doctrine is inherently irrational, and only a mad government can maintain nuclear deterrence. A legalistic government, too, can be credible if it establishes a system of automatic triggers for nuclear attack, such as was done in the Egyptian re-militarization of Sinai. Israel’s politicians, widely known for dishonesty, lack that option. Israel would be best served by the doctrine of mutual nuclear suicide, where one side fires a single weapon first with the purpose of achieving only minimal casualties; essentially a demonstration. If the other side fails to hang up, it is presumed ready for an all-out war, and the nuclear power of both sides is directed toward total destruction.

Nuclear weapons are most effective as a first-strike option. After the enemy army has moved to the front, even tactical nukes involve a considerable risk of friendly casualties. The enemy should be attacked preferably at the time of his mobilization, when a nuclear strike wreaks the most havoc on the still disorderly troops, and the enemy is not yet mobilized for large-scale retaliation. The necessity of first strike became manifest after Pakistan obtained nuclear weapons and probably passed some of them to Saudi Arabia. In any conventional war with Israel, Muslim troops might nuke the front, sacrificing their own troops along with Israel’s entire force. That assumption isn’t far-fetched: in 1973, the Egyptian Minister of War clashed with Sadat over bombing Sharon’s troops, who had crossed the Suez along with Egyptian soldiers. In any confrontation, populous and rogue Muslim states would be more eager than Israel to sacrifice their citizens and infrastructure. In a near-equal balance of terror, Israel would always lose. Thus the objective is to devastate the opponent before he has fully prepared the threat.

The existence of a nuclear arsenal along with political restraint on its use provokes terrorism. Consider an Arab country such as Syria. It knows that in a major military confrontation Israel might use the Samson Option, and so is very cautious about attacking Israel. Or at least is cautious about attacking so massively as to possibly overwhelm Israel’s conventional forces, forcing her to use nuclear ones. On other hand, Syria knows that Israel won’t nuke it over minor incidents, and so resorts to low-intensity warfare through guerrilla proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Nuclear deterrence hinges on second-strike capability: being able to absorb the enemy’s first or retaliatory strike and still being capable of a devastating nuclear attack. Large countries achieve that capability by secretly positioning mobile launchers of nuclear ballistic missiles. Israel, a very small country, inherently lacks the second-strike capability, and therefore is under great pressure to launch the first strike. In a war with Syria in which Israel is pounded by hundreds of missiles simultaneously, there would be no guarantee that Israeli nukes could be hidden safely. The survival of just one or two nuclear bombs is not enough to deter the subsequent Syrian invasion. Israel must use her nukes first, even to the extent of nuclear preemption against a major conventional attack.

The fewer nuclear weapons our enemies possess, the more dangerous they are. Countries with many nuclear warheads plan their strategies based on the possibility of absorbing the first strike and still retaining their nuclear capability. Small nuclear players (such as Pakistan, probably Saudi Arabia, and soon other Muslim countries) cannot afford to suffer the first strike, which could leave their nuclear potential destroyed. They therefore are tempted to use their few nuclear weapons first. They will also imagine such a strategy to be viable: nuking a major Israeli city and threatening to nuke others if Israel switches from conventional to nuclear retaliation. Starting a war with a nuclear strike and then switching to conventional war with a demoralized opponent is a likely and viable strategy.

Conventional weapons are employed on the presumption, “It seems that I’m stronger than you.” With nuclear weapons, the decision-making is different, “I know that you know that I know and therefore you will and therefore I must.” The difference is due to any country’s reluctance to risk being attacked with nuclear weapons. Large countries can absorb the first conventional blow, but remain hysterical about a nuclear one. But a major conventional blow is too much for small Israel. The Israeli attitude toward suffering the first conventional strike is akin to the American attitude toward absorbing a first nuclear strike: it is to be prevented at all costs. In the war of 1973, Egypt was four days from Jerusalem.

Possessing a vast depth of defense in the Sinai, Israel was able to play by the rules in 1973, and failed to preempt. In any present-day war, Israel’s only chance of survival would be to preempt, landing the first blow and taking the war deep into the enemy’s territory. At such distance from Israeli population centers and military bases, nuclear weapons are the only feasible ones, the only ones safe enough for the Jews.