As tensions in the Middle East have now spilled over (yet again) into an actual war, the question on everyone’s mind is: Could this war between Hamas and Israel turn nuclear?
The answer is more nuanced that the headlines and talking heads would make it seem.
On the one hand, we have a group of people who do not care about civilian casualties. Hamas’ opening attack was designed against civilian rather than military targets as Hamas attacked civilian structures and kidnapped at least 130 people, holding some hostage and executing others. Further attacks came against Israel cities rather than military sites as Hamas sought to inflict unacceptable carnage on Israel. Rockets were fired from civilian areas as Hamas used civilians as shields, hoping Israel would not retaliate if innocents were in the way.
Would it really be such a stretch for Hamas to resort to a nuclear weapon if it had one to use against Israel?
On the other side, Israel is a nuclear-armed nation fighting for its existence against an enemy that attacks with impunity, is surrounded by people who want to see Israel destroyed, and faces at least one enemy (Iran) who has a stated policy to destroy Israel and is actively pursuing nuclear weapons (not withstanding claims made by Iran and others to the contrary).
Would Israel really hold back nuclear use if the alternative was its destruction?
Looking only at that last question, we have to acknowledge that nuclear war is certainly a possibility. During the Yom Kippur War, Israel came very close to using its nuclear weapons until a reversal of fortune in the war saw the enemy unexpected routed. If Israel was similarly threatened, there is no reason to doubt that they would resort to any means necessary to ensure their survival. What country would not?
When looking at that question, we have to ask if it is even possible for Israel to find itself in the situation of possible extermination.
Of course, Hamas does not have the military might to destroy Israel or threaten its existence.
This does not mean, though, that what we see today in the war will not be what we see tomorrow. There are others who want to get into the fight. Hezbollah, backed by Iran, has been making moves to enter the war, though they have not yet. Iran has a formidable force that could be used against Israel. If Iran were to enter the war with Hezbollah, that would change the calculus. What if others either see an opportunity to finally be rid of Israel or are prompted by their population to attack? Certainly, public sentiment in their Middle Eastern countries is against Israel. One merely has to look at the celebrations that took place both in Gaza as well as across the entire Middle East when Israel was attacked.
While Hamas itself can not destroy Israel, a coalition certainly has the chance. And it could lead Israel to take strong steps to repel such a force.
Does this mean that this will happen? It doesn’t look like it. Iran is hated by the Middle East, most countries seem reluctant to join in the fight, and Lebanon doesn’t want Hezbollah involved, fearing its territory would come under attack. Hamas, at this time at least, seems to be on its own.
But what about Hamas? Since civilian casualties mean nothing to them — Israeli or their own — what about that?
Nuclear weapons come in many forms. Most people know about the city-killing missiles, but there are smaller ones. Tactical bombs designed to destroy small areas. Or dirty bombs which are intended not to kill large populations but to inflict psychological damage.
Hamas likely has no access to nuclear missiles. Or large bombs.
But small bombs? Or a dirty bomb? We have to acknowledge that such is within the realm of possibility.
What would Israel do if a dirty bomb went off in the middle of Tel Aviv?
Better question: What would the world do if a dirty bomb went off in the middle of Tel Aviv?
Or the possibility of a dirty bomb in their own Western countries? Would the United States be more reluctant to assist Israel if the thought that it could lead to New York becoming under threat?
Does Hamas or a supporter have access to the nuclear material to make a nuclear weapon? Truth is, we don’t know. Some could argue that the mere fact that it hasn’t happened yet is evidence that they don’t. That’s a good argument. But it doesn’t change that what is true today may not be so tomorrow. Iran, North Korea, and even Russia are sources of nuclear material which can be had for the right price. For Iran, it may not take much to convince them to supply what is necessary for a dirty bomb.
We have to understand that we are dealing with two sides that have motivation to use nuclear weapons. Israel who will do anything it needs to in order to survive and an enemy whose morality does not prevent them from using nuclear weapons to achieve their goals. Again, notwithstanding any claim made by Iran to the contrary.
Will nuclear weapons be used in the Hamas-Israel war? Probably not. Could they? Only a fool would believe it is impossible.