It was back in the 1980s actually that investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published a book called THE SAMPSON OPTION, looking ahead in history to where Israel seemed to be leading itself. We are now closer.
Sharon eyes 'Samson option' against Iraq
ROSS DUNN IN JERUSALEM
[Scotland on Sunday - 3 Nov]:
IN BIBLICAL times, the Israelites relied on God to
triumph over their enemies. These days the Israeli
government puts its faith in the godlike power of its
formidable arsenal of nuclear weapons to annihilate
The alarming prospect of Israel unleashing its weapons
of mass destruction is high on the list of concerns of
strategic planners and analysts as the United States
prepares to attack Iraq as part of its ‘War on
According to experts, a retaliatory nuclear strike
against Baghdad in the event of a chemical or
biological weapons attack against Israel has never
been more likely - particularly with Ariel Sharon in
Saddam Hussein has good cause to think twice about
going a step further than he did during the Gulf War
in 1991, when 39 conventionally-armed Scud missiles
were fired against Israel. If he uses biological or
chemical weapons, the consequence could be that he and
his country would be obliterated.
Sharon - who is courting extreme right-wingers to prop
up his teetering government following the withdrawal
of the Labour Party last week - has spoken openly of
his willingness to strike back, and strike back hard,
should his country be attacked by Iraq.
The Israeli military has already said anti-radiation
pills will be distributed as part of its civil defence
preparations. And Sharon’s latest appointment, General
Shaul Mofaz, the new defence minister, is well known
for his hawkish views and the harsh tactics he has
used to suppress the Palestinian uprising.
"Israel is not interested in being involved in the
campaign against Iraq," said Sharon.
He added: "If our citizens are attacked seriously - by
a weapon of mass destruction, chemical, biological or
by some mega-terror attack act - and suffer
casualties, then Israel will respond."
The commander of the Israeli air force, Major General
Dan Halutz, has made similarly ominous noises: "You
can’t take what happened then in 1991 and think that
it will also happen this time, neither in the way the
war will be conducted... nor in the manner of Israel’s
Many believe Sharon would be prepared to use his
deadly arsenal. As Israel’s most respected military
affairs commentator, Ze’ev Schiff, put it: "If Iraq
strikes at Israel with non-conventional warheads,
causing massive casualties among the civil population,
Israel could respond with a nuclear retaliation that
would eradicate Iraq as a country."
The possibility of Israel using its secret arsenal
against Iraq was raised during the Gulf War by the
then US defence secretary, Dick Cheney, who is now
"This assessment has only been strengthened since then
because, according to all the signs, Iraq now has
biological weapons that could cause mass casualties,"
During the conflict in 1991 the US struck a deal with
Israel’s then prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, not to
retaliate, arguing that to do so would shatter the
Arab coalition. But Shamir’s restraint was not met
with universal support. One of the leading dissenters
was Sharon, who claimed Israel was abandoning
responsibility for defending its citizens.
The prospect of nuclear retaliation by Israel was also
highlighted in 1991 by the Pulitzer-award winning
American journalist Seymour Hersh in his seminal work
The Samson Option.
Hersh warned: "Should any Arab nation fire missiles
again at Israel… a nuclear escalation, once
unthinkable except as a [last] resort, would now be a
He added that "the size and sophistication of Israel’s
arsenal allow men such as Ariel Sharon to dream of
redrawing the map of the Middle East, aided by the
implicit threat of nuclear force".
Earlier this year, Professor Anthony Cordesman, a
fellow at the Centre for Strategic Affairs, raised the
same horrifying scenario in his presentation to the US
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stating: "Israel
has also concluded that the credibility of its
deterrent would be undermined if it rode out another
series of such attacks, as it did during the Gulf
Officially, Israel does not admit that it has nuclear
weapons. Since 1965 it has "refused to confirm or
deny" claims that it possesses a nuclear arsenal . It
has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty, saying it cannot rely on international
safeguards when it is in a permanent state of war with
much of the Arab world.
In 1999 the US Department of Energy placed Israel
sixth on its list of nations possessing nuclear
weapons. The document claims Israel has 300kg to 500kg
of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to produce at least
250 nuclear warheads.
Sharon’s blunt admission that a retaliatory strike
would be ordered in the event of an attack on Israel
with non-conventional weapons came after discussions
with US President George W Bush.
Israeli officials later interpreted the president’s
stance as giving the green-light to Sharon to attack
Baghdad only if Iraq launched a pre-emptive strike
against the Jewish State before an American military
campaign had got underway.
The officials said if an American military offensive
had already begun, then Israel should show restraint
and allow the US forces to retaliate.
1949 Israeli Defence Force Science Corps begins
surveying the Negev desert seeking uranium reserves.
1952 Israeli Atomic Energy Commission is created. Its
chairman, Ernst David Bergmann, advocates an Israeli
bomb to ensure "that we shall never again be led as
lambs to the slaughter".
1953 Process for extracting the uranium found in the
1957 France agrees to provide Israel with a research
reactor at Dimona.
1958 US first becomes aware of Dimona after the
facility is spotted by U-2 spy planes.
1967 Six Day War.
1968 CIA concludes Israel has started production of
1973 Egypt and Syria attack Israeli forces in Sinai
and Golan Heights on the Jewish fast in Yom Kippur
1986 Mordechai Vanunu a Dimona technician, is abducted
by Mossad agents in London and sentenced to 18 years
in jail for providing information about Dimona,
including pictures, to a British newspaper.
1999 US Department of Energy document ranks Israel
sixth among countries with nuclear weapons, ahead of
India and North Korea.
2000 Knesset debates Israel’s nuclear weapons
programme for first time.