For Israel, there is no immediately obvious military solution to the expanded threats posed by this 23rd Arab state. At the same time, the prospects for any negotiated solutions are negligible to nonexistent. There are certain options, however.by Prof. Louis René Beres
Egypt is microcosm. The disarray, the ritual violence, the rancor, the intermittent anarchy; indeed, the endless cycle of replacing one tyranny with another, this is also the predictable future for “Palestine.” There is, however, one very notable caveat.
Inevitably, “Palestine”, borrowing certain complementary disintegrative behaviors from Syria as well as Egypt, will be far worse.
In the short term, Palestinian Arab authorities in West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and Gaza will vie fixedly for national power. Unsurprisingly, Hamas and Fatah fighters will obligingly kill and torture one another as they have in the past. Choosing sides carefully, Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda, and still-unknown or little-known Jihadist groups, will enthusiastically enter the fray.
Periodically, the warring factions will stop briefly to exhibit cooperation on the one “higher philosophy” that can ultimately hold them together – a conspicuously binding, intellectually barren, and ecstatic hatred of Israel. In turn, this rehearsed antipathy will trace its core origins to a meticulously cultivated and antecedent loathing of “the Jews.”
Hillary Clinton notwithstanding, Palestinian opposition to Israel has never really been about land. It has always been about God.
To a determinable extent, we have seen this movie before. Now, however, a still thoroughly-corrupted Palestinian Authority, openly failing to meet any and all of the legal requirements of statehood that are strictly defined at the Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934), has managed to gain firm international support from the U.N. General Assembly. To those many U.N. members that voted on behalf of the PA petition, an unfounded request to upgrade Palestine to the status of a “nonmember observer state,” all that really mattered was to act “pragmatically.”
In the end, of course, the unfortunate result of the PA’s end-run around international law will turn out to be more than “merely” illegal. It will also prove radically destabilizing and sorely deconstructive.
What, exactly, can we expect from Palestine? After initial periods of egregious intra-Arab conflict and corollary war crimes, periods during which the competing Palestinian factions will fashion crisis-cross alignments with willing elements in other parts of the Islamic world, the crushing war with Israel will resume in earnest.
Now, endowed with unprecedented geopolitical advantages against a substantially diminished Israeli min-state, a Lake Michigan-sized country with gravely-reduced strategic depth, the newest Arab state will fire much more advanced rockets, coordinated and in tandem, from the two more-or-less disjointed sectors of Palestine. Simultaneously, we may confidently expect, there will be resurgent attacks upon Israeli schools, buses, and hospitals, unleashed by the next heroic wave of Palestinian “martyrs.”
In partial response, following the alleged success of Iron Dome in Israel’s recent Operation Pillar of Defense, the Jewish State will plan to rely heavily upon its uniquely capable active defenses. As long as the incoming rockets from Gaza, “West Bank” and possibly Lebanon (Hizbullah) were to remain entirely conventional, the inevitable “leakage” from Iron Dome and (possibly) David’s Sling (aka Magic Wand), may be “acceptable.”
But the moment these rockets are fitted with chemical and/or biological materials, such leakage could promptly prove to be intolerable and overwhelming.
The most serious security problem posed to Israel by a new state of Palestine will be one involving anticipated collaboration with Iran. Nowhere is it written that the developing Iranian nuclear threat must remain strategically and tactically unrelated to a seemingly discrete Palestinian Arab threat. On the contrary, it is entirely plausible, in time, that Iran could mount its own attacks upon Israel, and with much longer-range ballistic missiles. Unsurprisingly, this could be accomplished together with its dedicated allies in Hamas, Hizbullah, and possibly elsewhere.
Most ominously of all, should Iran be allowed to go fully nuclear, which now seems likely, it could plan to fire its advanced ballistic missiles, now fitted with nuclear warheads, against Israeli cities. This plan could be undertaken in close operational coordination with non-nuclear rocket attacks launched at the same time from Gaza, “West Bank”, and/or southern Lebanon.
Here, Israel’s primary ballistic missile defense system, the Arrow, would require a literally 100% reliability of interception against the incoming Iranian missiles.
Achieving such a level of perfect reliability, however, is inconceivable.
Here, obviously, the leakage of a single incoming Iranian missile would be unacceptable.
Here, Israel’s too-great a reliance upon ballistic missile defense could prove existential.
Long before missiles and anti-missiles, Sun-Tzu, in Chapter 4 of his classic essay, The Art of War, had argued famously: “Those who excel at defense bury themselves away below the lowest depths of the Earth. Those who excel at offense move from above the greatest heights of Heaven.”
This sound advice was offered almost 2,500 years ago. In the Middle East, at least, it is still valid. Ideally, following Sun-Tzu, Israel will be able to meet the various impending and intersecting strategic threats soon to emanate from Palestine Iran, and other potential state and sub-state enemies, and to do so without having to engage in actual fighting.
In principle, this optimal sort of success would mean very problematic, but ultimately gainful, excursions into complex and multi-lateral forms of diplomacy. In reality, however, when facing a many-sided enemy that looks disdainfully upon Israel as a commonly despised object for indispensable extermination, the true prospects for any residually useful negotiations are few.
In narrowly military parlance, the overriding core problem facing Israel is one of critical “synergies” or “force multipliers.” Working together against the Jewish State, Palestine, Iran, and assorted other enemies could quickly pose a cumulative hazard that is tangibly greater than the arithmetic sum of its parts. Perhaps, in already anticipating this dire prospect, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to speak hopefully of a Palestinian state that would be “demilitarized.”
But any such expectation is strategically naive and legally unsupportable. In effect, whatever else it may have agreed to in its pre-state incarnation, any presumptively new sovereign state is fully entitled to “self-defense.” Under authoritative international law, this right is fundamental and immutable. It is “peremptory.”
Recognizing the inherent limits of its active defenses, Israel will soon need to improve and refine its current strategies of deterrence. At the same time, Israel’s leaders will have to accept that certain of its existential enemies might sometime not conform to the usual criteria of rationality in world politics, criteria that are always an essential pre-condition of successful deterrence. In such circumstances. Jihadist adversaries in Palestine, Iran, and/or Lebanon might simply refuse to back away from contemplated aggressions against Israel.
Moreover, these enemies would exhibit such evident recalcitrance even though they could expect an utterly devastating Israeli military reprisal.
If you like Egypt, you’ll love Palestine. For Israel, there is no immediately obvious military solution to the expanded threats posed by this 23rd Arab state. At the same time, the meaningful prospects for any purposefully negotiated solutions are negligible to nonexistent.
Hillary Clinton notwithstanding, Israel has no sincere peace “partners” in the region. It has only more or less lascivious adversaries. For a time, the incontestable superiority of the IDF may still allow Israel to undertake certain cost-effective preemptions, up to, but not likely including, Iranian nuclear infrastructures.
Yet, any such defensive first-strikes directed against specifically Palestinian targets, however feasible in operational terms, and however justifiable in law as “anticipatory self-defense,” would elicit widespread and near-visceral howls of indignation. Unhesitatingly, for the commendably good citizens of the United Nations “international community,” Israel’s reluctant resort to force in order to stave off national extermination would cheerfully be labeled as “aggression.”
The cry “Death to Israel,” like the kindred call, “Death to Jews,” is always screamed in chorus. A hater of Israel, like a hater of individual Jews, is always attached to a crowd, to a mob, to what Nietzsche, and later Freud, insightfully called the “herd,” or the “horde.” In such primal hatreds, one can never be absolutely alone.
It is precisely this comforting tradition of communal hatred that draws myriad adherents to continually mobilize against the Jewish State. There is utterly no point for Israel to try to transform this insidious inclination, as it plainly satisfies a grotesquely desperate human need to belong. Instead, Israel’s leaders should now focus only on enemy calculations that can still be changed.
Above all, Israel must take appropriate steps to assure that (1) it does not become the object of non-conventional aggressions, and (2) it can successfully avoid all forms of non-conventional conflict with adversary states and sub-state foes in the region.
To accomplish this vital objective, which pertains especially to Iran, and to a still-transforming Palestine, it must strive to retain recognizably far-reaching conventional superiority in both weapons and manpower. Such a retention could reduce the likelihood of ever actually having to enter into chemical, biological or even nuclear exchanges. Simultaneously, Israel must begin to move very deliberately away from its longstanding and increasingly fragile posture of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.”
By moving toward selected and partial kinds of “nuclear disclosure,” by taking its bomb out of the “basement” in certain calibrated and visible increments, Israel could better ensure that its several cooperating adversaries will remain suitably subject to Israeli nuclear deterrence. In this connection, Israeli planners will first have to understand that the efficacy or credibility of the country’s nuclear deterrence posture may vary inversely with enemy views of Israeli nuclear destructiveness.
In other words, however ironic and counterintuitive, enemy perceptions of a too-large and too destructive Israeli nuclear deterrent force, or of an Israeli force that is not sufficiently invulnerable to first-strike attacks, could render this deterrence posture less compelling.
It is similarly necessary that all of Israel’s prospective strategic adversaries see the Jewish State’s nuclear retaliatory forces as assuredly able to penetrate any Arab or Iranian aggressor’s active defenses.
In the final analysis, Israel should continue to strengthen its abundantly superior active defenses, but also do everything possible to improve each critical and intersecting component of its deterrence posture. In this very complex matter of strategic dissuasion, the Israeli task may also need to include more explicit disclosures of nuclear targeting doctrine, and, correspondingly, a steadily expanding role for cyber-defense and cyber-war.
Even before undertaking such important refinements, Israel will need to rigorously distinguish between adversaries according to leaderships that are presumably rational, irrational, or “mad.” This is because the ultimate success of deterrence will be contingent upon having an informed prior awareness of enemy preferences, and enemy hierarchies of preferences.
In a few months, “Palestine” will begin to look very much like Egypt, or perhaps even Syria. Although it may already be too late to prevent “Palestine” as a presumptively legal entity, Israel can still better prepare to face expected synergies between its principal enemies.
Potentially most urgent among these foreseeable interactions are those unprecedented force multipliers that will soon emerge between “Palestine” and Iran.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University. In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel (2003). Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945, and is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies
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