February 18, 2020

The Problem with the Begin Doctrine

“For more than 50 years, Israel’s national security has been guided by the Begin Doctrine, named after the country’s sixth prime minister. It holds that no regional enemy committed to destroying the Jewish state can be allowed to obtain weapons of mass destruction. To that end, Israel’s air force destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s al Kibar plutonium-producing facility in 2007.

Today’s cascade of nuclear technologies across the Middle East, however, is raising serious questions about Israel’s ability to enforce this mandate going forward. The debate over the Begin Doctrine’s viability will not only have a profound impact on Israel, but also on security in the broader Middle East. Israel has proven more than once to be the only regional player willing to curtail by force the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue states, despite the international opprobrium the Jewish state has reaped for its actions. But current concerns inside Israel reflect just how much the threat of nuclear proliferation has increased in recent years as the countries of the Middle East have changed and transformed the region.

Israel views Iran as by far the most likely regional power to acquire nuclear weapons in the near term and has openly vowed to use military force to stop it. But a slew of other Mideast countries, some nominally Israel’s allies or strategic partners, have also made significant advances in their nuclear programs. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly warned in September that Ankara could seek to develop atomic weapons in response to its changing relationship with the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto leader, Mohammed bin Salman, has said his country would match any nuclear technologies that Iran, Riyadh’s arch rival, acquires.”

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