If we follow the psalmist's advice, ditching Trident will make us safer | Giles Fraser

In Israel, the concept of bitachon now speaks of security not as trust, but as a human-made, often military, phenomenon

The root of the Hebrew word bitachon is batach (or b.t.ch), which literally means to rely on something or someone. In the Bible, it gets used as a word for faith – not faith as in an unproven intellectual proposition about the world, but faith as in trust (which, by the way, is more closer to what the Judeo-Christian tradition really means by faith than is often assumed in current debates between believers and non-believers). Thus, as the King James version of psalm 118 puts it: “It is better to trust in the Lord than put confidence in princes.”

But as Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair has pointed out, one of the consequences of secular Zionism is that this word has shifted its meaning, thus effectively reversing the psalmist’s advice. For in current use in Israel, bitachon now speaks of security as a human-made, indeed often as a military, phenomenon. Thus, for example, the Ministry of Defence is the Misrad habitachon.

Likewise, bitachon is the security checks one goes through on a flight into Ben Gurion airport. These days, bitachon doesn’t so much mean the Lord Almighty. It means Iron Dome, the missile defence system, designed to intercept rocket attacks on Israel. During operation Pillar of Defence, in 2012, during which Hamas fired over 100 rockets from Gaza into Israel, Iron Dome was seen to have been about 85% successful. The technology is impressive and is set to get even more so. Iron Dome is a game-changer.

This week the British government launched the Trident alternatives review, ahead of the decision in 2016 on how to replace our nuclear weapons capability – NB: how to, but not whether to. It was heralded by the Liberal Democrats, pointing us beyond the grim binaries of the cold war logic of mutually assured destruction. But it was no such thing, simply an examination of the options for replacement. This is old-school thinking, with the military still rehearsing the plans for their last battles and not the next ones.

It is obvious that the greatest threat now comes from non-state actors. Al-Qaida will hardly be deterred by the existence of Trident. And the idea that we ought to retain Trident “just in case” – in case, say, of a militarily aggressive China – is quite absurd. If we target them, they target us. And we are certainly not gonna win that one.

It is noteworthy that many boys on the estates of south London carry knives for their own personal bitachon. But you are more likely to get stabbed if you are carrying a knife than if you are not. Defence looks a lot like threat if you are standing in front of the pointy end. Thus carrying a knife makes you much more vulnerable to attack. The same logic applies with Trident.

I think that argument is enough, in itself. But on top of …read more