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Israel: Nuclear and Conventional Deterrents
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Concepts of National Security > Nuclear and Conventional Deterrents


The concept of deterrence assumed a new dimension with the introduction of nuclear weapons into the equation. In December 1974, President Ephraim Katzir announced that "it has always been our intention to develop a nuclear potential. We now have that potential." Ambiguously, Israeli officials maintained that Israel would not be the first nation to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Experts assumed that Israel had a rudimentary nuclear capability. In September 1986, the testimony and photographs provided by Mordechai Vanunu, a technician who had worked at Israel's Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev Desert, led experts to conclude that Israel had a nuclear capability far greater than previously thought.

Although viewed as its ultimate guarantor of security, the nuclear option did not lead Israel to complacency about national security. On the contrary, it impelled Israel to seek unquestioned superiority in conventional capability over the Arab armies to forestall use of nuclear weapons as a last resort. The IDF sought to leverage its conventional power to the maximum extent. IDF doctrine and tactics stressed quality of weapons versus quantity; integration of the combined firepower of the three branches of the armed forces; effective battlefield command, communications, and real-time intelligence; use of precision-guided munitions and stand-off firepower; and high mobility.

The debate over secure borders rested at the heart of the controversy over Israeli's national security. Some strategists contended that only a negotiated settlement with the Arabs would bring peace and ensure Israel's ultimate security. Such a settlement would entail territorial concessions in the occupied territories. Proponents of exchanging land for peace tended to be skeptical that any border was militarily defensible in the age of modern warfare. In their eyes, the occupied territories were a liability in that they gave Israel a false sense of security and gave the Arabs reason to go to war.

Others believed Israel's conflict with the Arab states was fundamentally irreconcilable and that Israeli and Arab territorial imperatives were mutually exclusive. They held that ceding control of the occupied territories would bring at best a temporary peace and feared that the Arabs would use the territories as a springboard to attack Israel proper. Israeli military positions along the Golan Heights and the Jordan Rift Valley were said to be ideal geographically defensible borders. Others viewed the occupied territories as an integral part of Israel and Israeli withdrawal as too high a price to pay for peace. Extending beyond national security, the controversy was enmeshed with political, social, and religious issues -- particularly the concept of exchanging "land for peace" that formed the basis of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Israel was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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Section 157 of 206


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