Contributed by CAMERA intern Shoshana Kranish

There are two huge names in the Middle East that stand at the end of any and all scales and spectrums: ISIS and Israel.  if you’ve rarely seen these two in the same sentence, you’re not alone. ISIS has yet to attempt to invade Israel, nor does it seem like they will anytime soon. Israel isn’t exactly sending troops into Syria and Iraq to help fight against ISIS. So what’s the link between these two, other than the obvious geography?

The title of a recent article on the Hill says it all: “ISIS Won’t Find Nuclear Weapons in Iraq or Syria, Thanks to Israel.” Back in 1981, Israel carried out Operation Opera, destroying Osiraq, a nuclear reactor in Iraq just outside Baghdad. The Iranians had previously tried to do the same a year prior, but had caused only minor damage that had since been repaired. While Israel said the attack had been in self-defense, and that further development with the reactor could have been critical in Iraqi capabilities within the next month – they came under heavy criticism from the West, specifically the UN.

Osirak reactor ruins as photographed in 2002 (Photo: AFP)
Osirak reactor ruins as photographed in 2002 (Photo: AFP)

The Begin Doctrine—named for then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin—was formulated for Operation Opera, stating that the attack was a “precedent for every future government in Israel.” Whether this means that Israel will preemptively attack any nuclear reactors or labs that might threaten them is indeterminate. In 2007, though, the doctrine was used to justify Operation Orchard, the attack on the Syrian nuclear site of Deir ez-Zour. Much like Operation Opera, the attack was swift and successful, with minimal casualties on the enemy side.

Whether or not ISIS hopes to develop and use nuclear weapons in the future is unclear. The research and time that goes into developing nuclear weapons is extensive, and the group is unlikely to want to commit to such a project. Furthermore, who would develop these weapons? The work on the nuclear reactor in Syria was previously done by North Koreans. Yet cooperation between the two seems unlikely. ISIS views every non-Sunni Muslim to be a heretic within their view of the Muslim world, and those beyond the Muslim world—Jews, Christians, etc., are in the same boat as the Shi’is. While there is not much of a relationship between ISIS and North Korea, the likelihood of one developing is low. In North Korea, religion is discouraged. Under the Islamic State, strict adherence to their idea of Sharia law is a necessity in preventing an untimely death.

Without North Korea, who could help ISIS acquire nuclear weapons? Iran is highly unlikely for obvious reasons – the Shi’i country is actively opposed to ISIS, supporting militias who are fighting against the Sunni terror organization. Recent reports state that ISIS could purchase nuclear weapons from Pakistan within the next year, but with this information public, the world will keep a watchful eye on India’s unstable neighbor. Furthermore, if Pakistan did go ahead with the sale, their economy would come to a screeching halt, as most countries would likely agree to trade sanctions on the country.

Regardless of their success so far in capturing territory from unstable countries, ISIS is unlikely to wage a nuclear war. Their options for trade partners in such a deal are limited, as any country that would sell them nuclear weapons would come under fire themselves by the rest of the world. It is highly unlikely that ISIS is going to develop a nuclear program of their own. Thanks to Israeli actions in 1981 and 2007, ISIS’s access to nuclear weapons is now non-existent.

While the Israeli attacks were heavily condemned then by the United Nations and much of the world, where is the celebration now? If Israel hadn’t destroyed Osiraq after Iran’s failure to do so, what would the Middle East look like today? If the Israeli Air Force had not eliminated Syria’s nuclear reactor, would there be anything recognizable left of Syria today, or would ISIS have seized the weapons and used them already? Thanks to the Israelis, the world doesn’t need to think like this—but they certainly could start thanking Israel.

Information from ISIS won’t find nuclear weapons in Iraq or Syria, thanks to Israel, published in the Hill on June 5th 2015, was used in this piece.

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