Louis René Beres
Our eighth-grade geometry teachers were not always correct. One very conspicuous “axiomatic” error was contained in stipulating postulates that ignored “synergy,” because the expected “whole” of certain global intersections could sometimes prove substantially greater than the simple sum of component “parts.” Analysts must be enabled to assess various probable outcomes with maximum nuance and specificity.
This would allow both scholars and policy-makers to examine presumptively vital relationships in all their authentic and irreducible complexity.
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In Israel, one plainly compelling area of concern is Iran and Palestine. For 2019, Israeli analysts will have to look even more closely at the pace of Iranian nuclearization and the more-or-less corresponding pace of Palestinian statehood. Ominously, as Iranian nuclearization and Palestinian statehood seem to be progressing at roughly the same pace, the cumulative security threat to Israel could at some point become overwhelming.
This prospectively unique threat should be treated with distinctly focused intellectual respect. Contrary to long-prevailing conventional wisdom, Iran and Palestine do not represent discrete or unrelated hazards to Israel. Instead, they delineate intersecting, mutually reinforcing, and potentially existential perils. It follows, that Jerusalem must do whatever possible to remove or diminish corrosive security dangers on both fronts simultaneously.
What particular steps would be involved? Among other things, Israel will need to continually enhance its multilayered active defenses. As long as incoming rocket aggressions from Gaza, ‘West Bank’, and/or Lebanon were to remain entirely conventional, inevitable “leakage” could likely be considered tolerable. But once these rockets were fitted with chemical and/or biological materials, any such porosity would quickly prove “unacceptable.”
Facing Iranian nuclear missiles, Israel’s “Arrow” ballistic missile defense system would require a fully 100% reliability of interception. To achieve any such level of reliability, however, would not be possible. Assuming that the current prime minister had already abandoned any residual hopes for a cost-effective eleventh-hour preemption against pertinent Iranian nuclear assets – an altogether credible assumption, at this late date – Israeli defense planners must look instead to credible deterrence.
In part, at least, because of the expectedly harsh interactive effects between Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian statehood, Israel will soon need to update and further refine its existing strategies of deterrence.
Israel’s leaders will have to accept that certain identifiable leaders of these overlapping enemies might not always satisfy complex criteria of rational behavior. In such improbable but still conceivable circumstances, assorted Jihadist adversaries in Palestine, Iran, Syria, Lebanon or elsewhere might sometime refuse to back away from contemplated aggressions against Israel.
By definition, these irrational enemies could exhibit such conspicuous refusals in fully considered anticipation of devastating Israeli reprisal.
Sooner rather than later, and facing a new and hard-to-measure synergy from Iranian and Palestinian aggressions, Israel will need to take appropriate steps to assure that it:
(1) does not become the object of any non-conventional attacks from these enemies; and
(2) can successfully deter all possible forms of non-conventional conflict.
To meet this ambitious but necessary goal, Jerusalem must retain its recognizably far-reaching conventional superiority in relevant weapons and capable manpower, including maintaining tactical control over the Jordan Valley.
Such retentions could reduce the overall likelihood of ever actually having to enter into any chemical, biological, or nuclear exchange with regional adversaries. Correspondingly, Israel should plan to begin to move incrementally beyond its increasingly perilous posture of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.” By preparing to shift toward prudently selective and partial kinds of “nuclear disclosure” – in other words, by getting ready to take its “bomb” out of the “basement,” and in carefully controlled phases – Israel could better ensure that its relevant enemies will remain sufficiently subject to Israeli nuclear deterrence.
In matters of strategy, operational truth may emerge through apparent paradox. Israeli planners may soon have to understand that the efficacy or credibility of their country’s nuclear deterrence posture could vary inversely with enemy views of Israeli nuclear destructiveness. Enemy perceptions of a too-large or too-destructive Israeli nuclear deterrent force, or of an Israeli force that is not sufficiently invulnerable to first-strike attacks, could sometime undermine this deterrence posture.
Also critical, of course, is that Israel’s current and prospective adversaries will see the Jewish State’s nuclear retaliatory forces as “penetration capable.” This means forces capable of penetrating any Arab or Iranian aggressor’s active defenses.
This time around, the relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow could prove helpful rather than adversarial.
Naturally, a new state of Palestine, if that should arise, would be non-nuclear itself, but it could still present a new “nuclear danger” to Israel by its impact upon the more generally regional “correlation of forces.” Thereby, Palestine could represent an indirect but nonetheless markedly serious nuclear threat to Israel.
There is more to be done. Israel should continue to strengthen its active defenses, but Jerusalem must also do everything possible to improve each critical and interpenetrating component of its nuanced deterrence posture.
In this bewilderingly complex process of strategic dissuasion, the Israeli task may also require more incrementally explicit disclosures of nuclear targeting doctrine, and, accordingly, a steadily expanding role for cyber-defense and cyber-war. And even before undertaking such delicately important refinements, Israel will need to more systematically differentiate between adversaries that are presumably rational, irrational, or “mad.”
Overall, the success of Israel’s national deterrence strategies will be contingent upon an informed prior awareness of enemy preference and of specific enemy hierarchies of preferences. In this connection, altogether new and open-minded attention will need to be focused on the seeming emergence of “Cold War II” between Russia and the United States. This time around, the relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow could prove helpful rather than adversarial.
For Jerusalem, it may even be reasonable to explore whether this once hostile relationship could turn out to be more strategically gainful for Israel, than its traditionally historic ties to the United States. At this transitional moment in geostrategic time, virtually anything is possible.
In any event, it is essential that Israeli planners approach all prospective enemy threats as potentially interactive or even synergistic. If a formalized state of Palestine does not readily find itself in the same ideological orbit as Iran – now an increasingly plausible conclusion in view of still-accelerating Shiite-Sunni fissions in the Middle East – the net threat to Israel could become more perilous than the mere additive result of its area enemies.
Jerusalem must consistently bear in mind that the adversarial “whole” could prove palpably greater than the calculable sum of its belligerent “parts.”
Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth book, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy, was published in 2016. His other writings have been published in Harvard National Security Journal; Yale Global Online; World Politics (Princeton); Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Israel Defense; Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare; Oxford University Press; The Jerusalem Post; Infinity Journal; BESA Perspectives; US News & World Report; The Hill; and The Atlantic.
His Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (Westview, first edition, 1979) was one of the first scholarly books to deal specifically with nuclear
This article was first published in Israel National News