Can Israel be trusted with the nuclear bombs it steadfastly refuses to admit owning?
On the evidence of events in Gaza, I think not. Here’s why.
In the last week of December, when Israel lost patience over a series of rocket attacks from Gaza that killed three Israelis in as many days, on top of 25 more who had been killed in the same manner in the eight years preceding, the Israeli armed forces retaliated with sustained and overwhelming attacks on the entirety of densely populated Gaza.
Under intense Israeli bombardment and tank fire, over 1,300 Gazans, a third of them children, were killed in the 21 days of the Israeli onslaught — a stunningly great number of them under circumstances that have opened Israel to charges of committing war crimes.
Mark the ratio: 1,300 Palestinian lives, fighters and civilians, taken in skewed payment for the original three Israelis, whose deaths were the proximate cause — call it the last straw after eight years of rocket attacks from Gaza — of the assault on Gaza.
And mark the overwhelming swiftness of the reaction. It took Israel a mere 22 days to present the people of Gaza with a definitive version of the type of blunt lesson that the Hamas government of Gaza had been trying for eight years of intermittent rocket attacks to teach Israel.
With those ratios in mind — the 1,300 Palestinian deaths achieved in 22 days and the 28 Israeli deaths inflicted in eight years — it’s fair to ask how might an Israel in possession of an arsenal of nuclear weapons react if instead of a ragtag force of guerillas like that of Hamas it were threatened by a modern army like its own, equipped with tanks and attack jets. If, say, as happened with Gaza, a major Israeli city were to undergo an assault of 22 days duration that turned a great part of it into rubble, and caused a thousand Israeli deaths.
On the showing of the overwhelming scale of its punitive assault on Gaza, could we expect Israel to show restraint — nuclear restraint — in the event of an assault by an armed force more nearly matching its own? When there is no other lesson on earth, militarily speaking, that can be taught as swiftly and conclusively as the one the nuclear bomb teaches?
In the calculus of death, how many lives of the “other” will the taking of the life of a single Israeli, or three, or a thousand, be worth, finally, tomorrow and the next day and the last day of all?
JULES RABIN is a writer, political critic, and longtime resident of Marshfield, Vermont.