The Israeli army was lean, mobile, and ingenuous. US military aid created a behemoth addicted to new, untested, and tremendously expensive weapons. They often do not work as advertised, become obsolete before seeing battle, and are not cost-effective. An arms race bankrupted the Soviets, and Israel cannot win one, either. Israel can do away with American military supplies and return to its trademark army: technically only moderately advanced but highly trained, motivated, smart, and ready to accept losses. Such a turnaround runs against the vested interests of both the American and Israeli military bureaucracies and military-industrial complexes and would be very difficult. Divestment from the US is the best way to achieve military reform in Israel.

Mobile, tactically superior armies have let empires prevail against numerically larger enemies. The current situation, however, is different. Imperial forces have generally fought other armies; the enemy population was little involved. Conscription changed that. Israel faces virtually unlimited Muslim enemy. Egypt can mass ten million people at the Suez and march them through the Sinai into Tel Aviv. Israel couldn’t kill a significant part of such a crowd. Egypt does not even need an army for that matter: millions of unarmed Egyptians could as well push the Jews into the sea. Implausible? Iran employed exactly such tactics against Iraq: Iran marched its teenagers through Iraqi minefields to clear the mines. Or think of unorthodox measures: how about Egypt sending a five-million-strong army into the Sinai and surrendering it, then rejecting a ceasefire? Israel won’t be able to carry on a war with five million POWs on her hands. Israel cannot always win by mobile warfare.

The doctrine of the nuclear first strike has several advantages and hardly any downside. Relying on nuclear weapons, Israel could substantially dismantle her army. The economic advantages of demilitarization are immense. The nuclear deterrent will be credible if Israel lacks other weapons. An Israeli nuclear response doctrine would practically exclude war with a regular Muslim army. None would risk the retaliation, especially if Israel announces retaliation targets like Mecca beforehand. Israel can also lay collective responsibility on the Muslims countries and promise nuclear retaliation against any or all of them, not only the attacker. Let them police each other.

Nuclear retaliation for terrorist acts is not always reasonable, though an Israeli nuclear threat against Iran would have prevented her war with Hezbollah. We don’t need a huge army to fight terrorists. Israel can retaliate with nuclear weapons against any country that attacks her with a regular army and retain small mobile forces for antiterrorist operations.

Other countries could introduce sanctions against Israel if she counters aggression with nuclear weapons. Such an outcome is extremely unlikely: Muslims won’t attack if they know Israel has only nuclear weapons. In the almost impossible scenario that a Muslim attacks a nuclear-only Israel and Israel retaliates, the West would see that Israel behaved reasonably: with no major forces to counter the aggression, she used her only—nuclear—option to survive. The sanctions, if any, would be half-hearted, temporary, and inefficient. Whatever economic damage sanctions would inflict on Israel, she will save much more by dismantling the army.

The worst sanctions imaginable would last, say, ten years and cost Israel all her exports. That would reduce the GDP by 30% at most, likely much less because of gray exports, import substitution, and reorienting some exports for internal consumption. Israel now wastes about that much on the army. In other words, we are wasting approximately what the worst sanctions might cost us. Given the infinitesimally small probability of the Muslims starting a war with a nuclear-only Israel, the effect of the compound tax rate (save money now, suffer sanctions later) and the relatively short term of the sanctions, a nuclear response doctrine is economically feasible for Israel.

The West might impose sanctions on Israel if she announced a nuclear retaliation policy before she actually used the weapons. Such sanctions would be very weak: the West hesitates to apply them even to illegal nuclear proliferators. Weak liberal democracies hesitate to counter anything but immediate threats. Strong sanctions in response to a mere policy are unlikely. If anything, the West would try to stave off nuclear confrontation by bribing Israel, offering free conventional weapons, and pressuring Muslims not to provoke Israel. Still another option is to announce the policy implicitly. Israel does not formally acknowledge even owning nuclear weapons. She could dismantle the army and leak the information about a nuclear response doctrine. Israel suffered no sanctions when she developed a nuclear bomb.

Israel is a tiny country surrounded by a sea of hostile Muslims. They have expelled Christians from the Middle East often before, even though they took decades or sometimes centuries to do it. Israel cannot survive with regular defense arrangements. The Muslims are ready to sacrifice their armies at Israel’s borders. They have failed several times but will try again and again. Their downside is limited: an army, perhaps a few cities, destroyed. Israel’s only chance to shed the Muslims is to increase the downside of aggression. Israel has enough nuclear bombs to wipe the Muslim Middle East out. The Muslims will not attack Israel if they know that a wholesale attack on Israel spells the end of their world. Muslims submit to the strong and would acquiesce to a strong Israel but never to a weak Israel that limits retaliation.

Israelis would feel much safer under a firm nuclear umbrella. Conscription will be short with few or probably no mobilizations. The tax burden will decrease. The economic distortions caused by a huge army will disappear. Her Muslim neighbors will respect a strong and dangerously mad Israel. A nice country it will be.