Why Didn’t Israel’s Nuclear Weapons Move The Hands On The Doomsday Clock?

On Tuesday, January 23, 2024, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published its annual update and reset of the iconic Doomsday Clock. The Clock is a symbolic design that warns the public about how close humanity is to destroying the world with dangerous technologies and trends of our own making. It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet. When it was created in 1947, the greatest danger to humanity came from nuclear weapons, in particular from the prospect that the United States and the Soviet Union were headed for a nuclear arms race. The Atomic Scientists considered possible catastrophic disruptions from climate change in its hand-setting deliberations beginning in 2007. 

In January 2023, the Atomic Scientists set the Clock at “90 Seconds to Midnight” – the most dire setting since the first proclamation in 1947. This year, they held the Clock setting at  “90 Seconds to Midnight”, citing threats to planetary survival, citing the widespread and growing reliance on nuclear weapons, increased risks of nuclear escalation, climate chaos, biological threats. and artificial intelligence (AI). Pointing to an undiminished nuclear threat and a new arms race,” the Atomic Scientists highlighted U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons modernization efforts against the backdrop of the Russo-Ukraine war and ongoing potential for a nuclear faceoff there. Also mentioned were Russian President Putin’s decision to “suspend” the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START); his decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus; the Russian Duma’s October 2023 vote to revoke Moscow’s ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; concerns over a possible nuclear arms race between China and the U.S.; a recent U.S. congressional commission report that argued that the “U.S. and and its allies must be ready to ‘deter and defeat’ both Russia and China” to avert a nuclear war. And North Korea’s advancing nuclear provocations; the quiet growth in India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals; and the lack of U.S. seriousness in re-establishing an Iran nuclear deal all were mentioned.

But conspicuously missing from the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock assessment is any mention of Israel’s controversial nuclear warfighting capacity. The sole mention of Israel in the risk assessment appears in this passage which bemoans the dangers of uncontrolled Iran nuclear enrichment: 

Because the [Iran] nuclear agreement remains in limbo, international monitors are increasingly unable to capture data on Iran’s nuclear efforts. This is a particularly worrisome development, given the escalating war in Israel/Gaza, which raises the possibility of a wider conflict in the Middle East. Iran now has the means to rapidly produce the fissile material for a small number of weapons within weeks of a decision to do so.

How is it that, with more than 26,700 Palestinians dead (as of January 30, 2024) in a genocide that has seen over 29,000 bombs dropped on the Gaza Strip in a record-breaking carpet bombing by an out-of-control army, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists saw fit to excoriate Iran for supposedly being weeks away from having the Bomb yet completely omitted mention of Israel’s massive 60-year-old nuclear arsenal? 

For years after beginning its weapons program in the 1950’s, Israel actively concealed the fact from its best friend and ally, the U.S. A highly successful Israeli deception and disinformation campaign convinced U.S. inspectors that the Dimona complex was for civilian use, including a fake control room at the reactor complex, complete with false control panels that seemed to be running a faked 24 megawatt research reactor. Israel began gleaning spent fuel from Dimona for plutonium in 1966 and was probably building nuclear bombs by the time of the 1967 war. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger provided Israel cover in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s by hiding Israel’s true purpose for buying U.S. warplanes, to drop nuclear bombs. Kissinger accepted Israel’s ambiguous pledge to not “be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East.”  

This U.S. acquiescence allowed Israel to develop an outlaw, deliverable nuclear weapons arsenal secretly and outside of the reporting and inspection controls of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Presently, Israel has at least 90 warheads, deliverable via aircraft, land-based ballistic missiles, and submarine-based cruise missiles. Israel’s Jericho III intercontinental ballistic missiles are capable of delivering a nuclear warhead from 4000 miles away, which means that Iran, Pakistan (another outlaw nuclear state) and all of Russia west of the Urals – including Moscow – are within range of Israeli nuclear bombs should the rogue Netanyahu regime decide to use them.

Israel’s provocative approach to foreign relations before and since commencing the genocidal invasion of Gaza certainly suggests that nuclear weapons might be used against real or imagined existential threats to Israel. In May 2023, Prime Minister Netanyahu assessed that “95 percent of Israel’s security problems come from Iran” and then in September, he insisted at the  United Nations that “[A]bove all, Iran must face a credible nuclear threat.” The current Israeli government, widely deemed to be the most politically reactionary in Israel’s history, has uttered more than 500 incitements to genocide against Palestinians, including use of nuclear weapons in Gaza

Compounding this bleak picture, Israel has been set back militarily by its invasion and is having difficulties achieving military objectives such as destruction of Hamas and dominance over Lebanon’s Hezbollah military. Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza is stressing the decades-long Iran-Israel shadow war. Israel’s repeated conventional bombings of its neighbors threaten to provoke war beyond the genocide. After repeated Israeli airstrikes on Syria, Russia on January 18, 2024 deployed warplanes to patrol the border to deter Israeli attacks, and has reoccupied two previously vacated outposts built to monitor violations of the demilitarized zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The U.S. has been drawn into attacking the Houthis in Yemen and in effect is protecting Israel’s genocidal campaign. The genocide is pushing Iran to move closer to development of nuclear weapons which will likely lead Saudi Arabia to follow suit.  

Given significant, recently-compiled information about the illegal and highly controversial Israeli nuclear weapons arsenal in the Atomic Scientists’ own archives, one wonders whether their nonmention of Israel’s menacing nuclear capabilities was intentional. This failure to properly frame the fragile, growing Middle East crisis undermines the Doomsday Clock’s 76 years of objective warning. 

Israel has an outsized arsenal, routinely considers nuclear war to be a policy option, and is headed by an incompetent and malign government causing a spiraling crisis of global dimensions. Humanity is much closer to the brink of using nuclear weapons than at any time since 1947, and certainly is inside of 90 seconds to midnight. Israel is sabre-rattling its arsenal. This is not the moment for the Doomsday Clock to stop telling the world exactly what time it is.  

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