Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Political-Military Impact

Looking back on the history of the Middle East, the political-military impact of the various nuclear programs, both the Israeli one (which according to all reports has borne fruit) and the rest (which have not yet done so) has been considerable. After 1961, the year when the existence of the Israeli reactor in Dimona was made public, hardly a week passed without the Arab media explaining why the Israeli program was unacceptable to the Arabs and that they would not simply take it lying down.

With Nasser at their head, many key Arab leaders did the same. Several leading Egyptian statesmen went to the West in an attempt to have it put pressure on Israel.

By 1973 many international sources were claiming that Israel already had nuclear weapons – the number was put at thirteen – as well as the necessary delivery vehicles in the form of F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers and Jericho ballistic missiles. Whether true or false, these reports must have reached the ears of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and his Syrian colleague Hafiz al-Assad. Though the details are not known, they almost certainly played a role in the decision to limit hostilities and refrain from any attempt to advance deep into Israeli-held territory.

Since 1973 there have been no more large-scale wars between Israel and its neighbours. During the following decade and a half, Syrian and Egyptian military writers often asked how such a war might be launched in the face of Israeli nuclear superiority. None came up with an answer, and all ended up falling silent. On the other hand, there is some evidence that the real reason why Egypt has decided not to develop its nuclear program is precisely because its leaders believe that they may have to confront Israel again one day. After all, for Egypt or any other Arab country to seriously fight a nuclear-armed Israel without having nuclear weapons is not an option. To do so with nuclear weapons, is even more unthinkable.