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Strategic Doctrine

The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was preceded by more than 50 years of efforts by Zionist leaders to establish a sovereign nation as a homeland for Jews. The desire of Jews to return to what they consider their rightful homeland was first expressed during the Babylonian exile and became a universal Jewish theme after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. and the dispersal that followed. After the end of World War II, and the near-extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis, international support for Jews seeking to settle in Palestine overcame British efforts to restrict immigration, and laid the foundation for establishing a Jewish state. On 14 May 1948 the State of Israel was proclaimed. The following day, armies from neighboring Arab nations entered the former Mandate of Palestine to engage Israeli military forces.

The State of Israel has always had a single defense goal - to ensure the existence of Israel and the security of its citizens. Israel is tiny (smaller than New Jersey) when compared to its Arab neighbors. More pointedly, it lacks strategic depth. A hostile fighter could fly across all of Israel (40 nautical miles wide from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea) within four minutes, while traveling at "only" subsonic speed. Israel is unable to field a large standing force compared with those it faces and must rely on its reserves. Israel's small population also increases its sensitivity to civilian and military losses. To make up for quantitative disadvantages, Israel maintains as large a qualitative lead as possible. The IDF makes up for its lack of size by superior maneuverability and firepower, and by relying on intelligence.

Israeli national security strategy is founded on the premise that Israel cannot afford to lose a single war. Because the best way to avoid losing a war is to not fight it in the first place, Israeli strategy begins with the maintenance of a credible deterrent posture, which includes the willingness to carry out preemptive strikes. Should deterrence fail, Israel would seek to prevent escalation, and determine the outcome of war quickly and decisively. Since it lacks strategic depth, Israel must prevent the enemy from entering its territory, and must try to quickly transfer the battle to enemy territory.

Israel applies its nuclear weapons to all levels of this formula. The total Israeli nuclear stockpile consists of several hundred weapons of various types, including boosted fission and enhanced radiation weapons ("neutron bombs"), as well as nuclear artillery shells. Strategically, Israel uses its long-range missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft (and, some say, submarines with nuclear-armed cruise missiles) to deter both conventional and unconventional attacks, or to launch "the Samson Option", an all-out attack against an adversary should defenses fail and population centers be threatened. In addition, despite Israel's insistence that it "will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East," these systems represent an effective preemptive strike force. At the same time, Israel deploys tactical systems designed to rapidly reduce an invading force. Following the 1973 war, Israel fielded at least three batteries of atomic-capable self-propelled 175mm cannons equipped with a total of no less than 108 warheads, and placed atomic land mines in the Golan Heights during the early 1980s.

Nuclear weapons need not be detonated to be used as weapons. Early in the 1973 war, Israel went on a nuclear alert, partly in the knowledge that it would be detected by the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets, Israel assumed, would restrain their Arab allies while the Americans would speed up resupply efforts. While the USSR did inform Egypt that Israel had armed three nuclear weapons, the extent to which Israel's nuclear alert affected the timing of Washington's subsequent decision to rearm Israel is not clear.

Israel does not have an overt nuclear doctrine beyond its insistence that it will not introduce nuclear weapons into the region. Instead, it follows a policy of what Avner Cohen calls "nuclear opacity" - visibly possessing nuclear weapons while denying their existence. This has allowed Israel to enjoy the benefits of being a nuclear weapons state in terms of deterrence without having to suffer the international repercussions of acknowledging their arsenal. Israel also has a strong commitment to preventing its potential adversaries in the region from becoming declared nuclear weapon states, as evidenced by Israel's 1981 raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear installation.

Given the very long range of the Jericho-2 missile, some analysts have speculated that this system was developed to deter Soviet intervention in the region. The USSR has always been one of the primary targets of Israel's nuclear force, as Israeli assumptions hold that no Arab nation would attack Israel without Soviet support. The purchase of fifty F-4 fighters from the US in 1968 provided Israel with a platform capable of delivering a nuclear payload as far as Moscow, and it has actively pursued imagery and other information necessary for targeting weapons against the USSR. In 1979, the US agreed to provide Israel with access to high-resolution images of its neighbors taken by the KH-11 satellite. Israel was able to use this agreement to view targets of interest in western Russia (as well as to obtain targeting information for the attack on the Osirak reactor). Israel received more such data during the mid-1980s through the espionage activities of Jonathan Pollard.

Although commonly viewed as the ultimate guarantor of its security, the nuclear option has not led Israel to be complacent about national security. On the contrary, it has impelled Israel to seek unquestioned superiority in conventional capability over the Arab armies to forestall use of nuclear weapons as a last resort - as early as 1962-63, prime minister David Ben-Gurion eschewed restructuring the IDF to base it on nuclear weapons. Instead, IDF doctrine and tactics stress 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.

As of 2000, Israel had not acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1968). It was, however, a party to the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water (1963).

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