The threat of nuclear terrorism against Israel

Published 24 May 2010

Former Israeli deputy national security adviser writes that the threat of nuclear terrorism Israel faces may be more likely to materialize than an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel — should Iran acquire nuclear weapons; he recommends a staunch and uncompromising deterrence policy, based on “retaliate first, no questions asked” — and a study of potential targets of high value to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations which would be destroyed in a retaliatory attack

For the past fifteen years, Israel has been preoccupied with the Iranian nuclear program. A nuclear Iran would pose a threat to Israel — some argue it would amount to an existential threat. The preoccupation with Iran, however, may have distracted Israel from another threat, one which may be no less likely and which may be more difficult to counter: nuclear terrorism.

Experts and policymakers are divided on the probability of nuclear terrorism, much as they are on the likelihood of Iran using nuclear weapons if it succeeded in attaining them. There is an agreement, though, that the threat of nuclear terrorism is not just a mirage.

This new BESA Center study by Israel’s former deputy national security advisor, and now a senior fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School, focuses on the threat of nuclear terrorism facing Israel. Chuck Freilich’s “The Armageddon Scenario: Israel and the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism” (.pdf) begins with an overview of the nature of the threat, before turning to the potential perpetrators of nuclear terrorism against Israel, possible delivery mechanisms and targets, and the specific scenarios under which the threat to Israel might materialize. The study then presents possible policy options for Israel to deal with the threat, both unilaterally and in conjunction with the United States.

Among Freilich’s policy recommendations:

Israel should adopt and further elucidate a staunch and uncompromising deterrent policy, such as the “retaliate first, no questions asked” approach outlined in the paper


intensive study must be devoted by governmental agencies, in cooperation with outside experts around the world, to examine potential targets of high value to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, as the basis for deterrence, since Israel cannot simply allow itself to consider them un-deterrable

the threat of nuclear terrorism should become an integral part of Israel’s strategic dialogue with the United States in a variety of forms