(January 2007) This four-part series by Professor Louis Rene Beres (Ph.D., Princeton 1971) is adapted from ACPR Policy Paper No, 166; The Ariel Center for Policy Research, Shaarei, Tikva, Israel; January 2007; with a special Foreword by Ambassador Zalman Shoval. Ambassador Shoval’s Foreword concludes as follows: “One can only hope that this analysis by Professor Beres will be diligently studied by Israel’s strategic planners.”
Louis René Beres
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Language, Thinking, Dialectic and Contemplation
I am aware that the juxtaposition of Israel and Jewish extermination inherent in references to “destruction of the Third Temple Commonwealth” is so dreadful that it borders on sacrilege. Yet, it is a juxtaposition that should not be ignored or disregarded. Should Israeli planners fail to take it seriously, the concentration of millions of post-Holocaust Jews in an area smaller than a large county in California could prove a blessing to those among Israel’s enemies who would refashion genocide as war. But if we do take seriously the connections between Zionist objectives and Jewish vulnerability in the Third Commonwealth, we will have taken the first critical steps toward ensuring Israeli security, toward making certain that Jewish liberation does not become Jewish misfortune.
* * *
Applied to Israel and the Middle East, the fashionable concepts of “security regime” and “confidence building measures” are sheer nonsense, the deleterious fabrications of academics dedicated to looking away from an uncomfortable reality. Exploiting Israeli frustration and fatigue, such concepts appear enormously tempting. They are, however, unforgivably dangerous, generating faith in a “Peace Process” that has always pointed only to Israel’s dismemberment and disappearance.
* * *
There is a marked tendency in Israel to imitate American strategic thinking. This is a serious mistake, as virtually all American academic strategists are paid not to think and, above all, not to depart from prudent (and therefore intellectually sterile) forms of prescription. To use the language of Jose Ortega y Gasset, whose Revolt Of The Masses (1932) is one of the most important books of our century, today’s Ph.D. “expert” in Washington or Tel Aviv is too-often a “learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with all the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line.”
* * *
For Israel, the future cannot be separated from the past. They are indissolubly interconnected. To prepare for the future, Israel’s leaders must look closely at the past, not only from 1948 onward, but for 5000 years. The point is more than the clichéd imperative to learn the “lessons of history”. It is to understand that Jewish history is altogether sui generis, that Israel’s history is an integral part of this Jewish history, and that an erroneous “cosmopolitanism” (i.e., “Jews are just another people in the worldwide community of humankind”) could be a particularly serious mistake.
* * *
Regarding the methods of Israeli strategic analysis, it is essential that they be based upon an appropriate dialectic. Hence, analysts must approach their problem as an interrelated series of thoughts, where each thought or idea about, for example, enemy capabilities/intentions presents a complication that moves inquiry onward to the next thought or idea. Contained in this strategic dialectic is an obligation to continue thinking, an obligation that can never be fulfilled entirely (because of what the philosophers call the “infinite regress problem”), but that must still be attempted as fully and as competently as possible. Without such a dialectic, those who work on Israeli security matters will continue to focus only upon discrete moments in time, on static phenomena (e.g., numbers of weapons; types of weapons; leadership personalities, etc), rather than upon appropriately dynamic and generic interactions (synergies).
* * *
The term “dialectic” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. Today, a common meaning is that dialectic is a method of seeking truth via correct reasoning. From the standpoint of our concerns, the following operations may be identified as essential but non-exclusive components of a strategic dialectic: (1) A method of refutation by examining logical consequences; (2) A method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) Logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) Formal logic; and (5) The logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to a synthesis of these opposites.
* * *
Dialectic likely originated in the 5th century BCE, as Zeno, author of the famous Paradoxes, was recognized by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophical/analytic method. In one of these dialogues, Plato describes the dialectician as someone who knows how to ask and to answer questions. This is what should now be transposed to the study of Israeli security matters. We need, in these all-important matters, to know how to ask and to answer questions. This knowledge must precede compilations of facts, figures, and power “balances”.
* * *
The advantages of a new Israeli strategic dialectic will depend, in part, upon the coherence of the overall academic enterprise. Israel does not face a random set of discrete and wholly separate military threats. Rather, there is a general threat environment within which discrete threat components fit. The task for Israeli academic strategists is not to figure out in advance each and every specific threat component (this is a task of certain government intelligence analysts), but to identify a strategy which will accommodate the understanding of a broad variety of possible threats. This means, inter alia, an obligation to fashion a strategic “master plan”, a body of generalized and interrelated propositions from which specific policy options can be derived.
Such a plan would not contain all or even most of the “answers”, but it would offer a comprehensive and informed framework within which all of the important questions might be addressed. Significantly, such a plan would never be “completed”. It would serve those who oversee Israel’s security needs continually, incrementally and directly, as an ongoing and expanding set of purposeful guidelines.
* * *
“In the areas with which we are concerned,” wrote Walter Benjamin, “insight only occurs as a lightning bolt. The text is the thunder-peal rolling long behind.”2 For us, such an “area” is Israeli strategic studies. It is an area that will be ill-served by standard thinking and texts. It is an area that can only be served productively by flashes of understanding that defy (and quite probably contradict) mainstream assessments and analyses.
* * *
The current and ongoing disintegration of the world is creation in reverse. For Israel, the Jewish state, there are therefore special lessons to be learned from this disintegration. The geometry of chaos, in a strange and paradoxical symmetry, reveals both sense and form. How shall they be discovered? This is an important question, one that goes far beyond the usual sorts of On War and Transformation of War queries. It must not be ignored.
* * *
Israel, it seems, can contemplate the end of the Third Temple Commonwealth every day, and yet persevere quite calmly in its most routine and mundane affairs. This should not be the case if Israel could begin to contemplate the moment of its collective disappearance. It follows that Israel must begin immediately to replace reassuringly abstract conceptualizations of End Times with unbearably concrete imaginings of catastrophe. Only then could the leaders of Israel take the steps needed to survive well into the Third Millennium.
* * *
There exists, among Israel’s enemies, a voluptuousness all their own; the voluptuousness of conflict against the Jewish state as such. It is in Israel’s strategic interest not to lose sight of this voluptuousness. Israel’s enemies, in good part, do not read Clausewitz. They are, in good measure, animated by more primal needs and expectations.
* * *
E.M. Cioran, the most dazzling and devastating French philosophical voice since Paul Valery (and an original thinker in the tradition of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein) writes of the Jews as a “People of Solitaries”, a
People, for all of its recognized lucidity, that
readily sacrifices to illusion: it hopes, it always hopes too much… With so many enemies, any other people, in its place, would have laid down its arms; but this nation, unsuited to the complacencies of despair, bypassing its ageold fatigue and the conclusions imposed by its fate, lives in the delirium of expectation, determined not to learn a lesson from its humiliations…
How true, how especially true is this observation of a “nation” for the State of the Jews, the State of Israel.
* * *
When Pericles delivered his Funeral Oration and other speeches, with their praise of Athenian civilization, his perspective was largely military. Recorded by Thucydides, an historian whose main interest was to study the growth and use of power for military objectives, the speeches of Pericles express confidence in ultimate victory for Athens, but they also express grave concern for self-imposed setbacks along the way: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies is our own mistakes.” Although Pericles exaggerated the separateness of enemy strategies and Athenian mistakes (they were, of course, interrelated and even synergistic), there is an important lesson here for Israel. In observing enemy preparations for war, do not forget that the effectiveness of these preparations will always depend upon Israel’s particular responses.
* * *
Under contemporary international law, the right of self-defense is not confined to post-attack circumstances. Rather, it extends, under carefully defined conditions, to preemptive or “anticipatory” strikes. In this connection, Israel’s leaders and planners should recall Pufendorf’s authoritative argument in his On the Duty of Man and Citizen According To Natural Law:
…where it is quite clear that the other is already planning an attack upon me, even though he has not yet fully revealed his intentions, it will be permitted at once to begin forcible self-defense, and to anticipate him who is preparing mischief, provided there be no hope that, when admonished in a friendly spirit, he may put off his hostile temper, or if such admonition be likely to injure our cause. Hence, he is to be regarded as the aggressor, who first conceived the wish to injure, and prepared himself to carry it out. But the excuse of self-defense will be his, who by quickness shall overpower his slower assailant. And for defense, it is not required that one receive the first blow, or merely avoid and parry those aimed at him.
* * *
A passage in The Odyssey speaks of two gates, one of horn and one of ivory. Through the ivory gate false dreams pass to humankind, and through the gate of horn go only the true and prophetic dreams. At this moment, in its always precarious history, Israel is sorely tempted by the ivory gate, choosing to base preservation of the Third Temple Commonwealth upon fanciful visions of a “Peace Process”, “confidence building measures” and “security communities”. Israel would be far better off, however, to pass instead through the gate of horn, preparing to use military force selectively and preemptively in order to endure. This decision will likely occasion greater pain and uncertainty in the short run, but it would base preservation of the Third Temple Commonwealth upon altogether sober assessments of realpolitik and would affirm, rather than reject, the essential obligations of international law.
* * *
According to al-Da`wa (The Mission), an Islamic publication, the status of Israel is identical to the status of the individual Jew. What is this status? “The race (sic) is corrupt at the root, full of duplicity, and the Muslims have everything to lose in seeking to deal with them; they must be exterminated.” Historically, the Islamic world’s orientation to extermination of the Jews has not been limited to phrasemaking. Even before Israel came into existence in May 1948, on November 28, 1941, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin, met in Berlin with Adolph Hitler. The declared subject of their meeting was nothing less than “the final solution of the Jewish Question”. This meeting, which followed Haj Amin’s active organization of Muslim SS troops in Bosnia, included the Mufti’s promise to aid German victory in the war.
Later, after Israel’s trial and punishment of Adolph Eichmann in 1961, Iranian and Arab newspapers described the mass murderer of Jews as a “martyr”, congratulating him posthumously for having “conferred a real blessing on humanity” by liquidating six million “sub-humans”.
* * *
Regarding American orientations to genocide in the Middle East, Israel would do well to recall Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations’ indifference to extermination of the Kurds. Iraqi documents seized during the Kurdish uprising in March and April 1991 detail mass slayings of civilians, including videotapes of executions, beatings and torture. United States authorities, for years, encouraged Kurdish revolt, and then betrayed this unfortunate people to genocidal destruction. During the late 1980s, the US stood by silently as Saddam Hussein’s regime systematically demolished Kurdish villages and towns, and forcibly transferred a half million or more Kurds into speciallycreated concentration camps. In March of 1991, after encouraging the Iraqi Kurds to rise up against the Baghdad regime, the Bush administration did nothing to prevent new crushing genocidal blows against the Kurds by the Iraqi army.
* * *
From the standpoint of international law, we must distinguish preemptive attacks from preventive ones. Preemption represents a strategy of striking an enemy first, in the expectation that the only alternative is to be struck first oneself. A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack. A preventive attack, however, is launched not out of concern for imminent hostilities, but for fear of a longer-term deterioration in the pertinent military balance. Hence, in a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is very short, while in a preventive strike the interval is considerably longer. A problem for Israel, in this regard, is not only the practical difficulty in determining imminence, but also the fact that delaying a defensive strike until imminence is plausible could be fatal.
* * *
In the strict jurisprudential sense, because a state of war exists between Israel and Iran (at Iran’s particular insistence), the Jewish state does not need to meet the requirements of anticipatory self-defense. Rather, as there can be no authentic preemption in an ongoing belligerency, an Israeli “first strike” against Iran would need only to fulfill the expectations of the laws of war, i.e., the rules of discrimination, proportionality and military necessity. A legal state of war can exist between two states irrespective of the presence or absence of ongoing hostilities between national armed forces. The principle affirming that the existence of a legal state of war depends upon the intentions of one or more of the states involved, and not on “objective” phenomena, is known variously as the “state of war doctrine”; “de jure war”, “war in the legal sense” and “war in the sense of international law”.
* * *
Confronting what he calls “our century of fear”, Albert Camus would have us all be “neither victims nor executioners”, living not in a world in which killing has disappeared (“we are not so crazy as that!”), but one wherein killing has become illegitimate. This is a fine expectation, to be sure, yet unless it is fashioned with a promising view toward effective non-lethal measures of preserving order and justice, the result will certainly be an enlargement of pain and terror. Deprived of the capacity to act as lawful executioners, states facing aggression would be forced by Camus’ reasoning to become victims. Why is Camus so sorely mistaken? Where, exactly, has he gone wrong? The answer, it would seem, lies in his presumption, however implicit, of a natural reciprocity among human beings and states in the matter of killing. More specifically, we are asked to believe that as greater numbers of people agree not to be executioners, still greater numbers will follow upon the same course. In time, the argument proceeds, the number of those who refuse to sanction killing will become so great that there will be fewer and fewer victims. The problem, of course, is that Camus’ presumed reciprocity does not exist. The will to kill, as we have learned from so many for so long, is unimpressed by particular commitments to “goodness”. It follows that executioners may have their rightful place in world politics, and that without them there would only be more victims.
Assassination, Anarchy, Rules and Dogmas
In the realm of world politics, executioners sometimes function as assassins. Although such functioning is almost always an instance of wrongful execution, there are certain carefully circumscribed and residual cases where it may be rightful, permissible, and even distinctly law enforcing. Understood in terms of Israel’s security needs, this points to the option of assassination as a form of anticipatory self-defense.
In determining whether or not a particular instance of assassination would qualify as such a form under international law, the act: (1) must not be designed to achieve a prohibited objective, but only to forestall destruction of Israel’s land and people; and (2) must meet the legal test known to international lawyers as the Caroline – i.e., the danger that gives rise to the preemptive attack by Israel must be judged “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation”. Thus, if the assassination is undertaken only to destroy the potential threat of the enemy (as a preventive action), it would not qualify as permissible under international law. If, however, the assassination were undertaken in anticipation of immediate enemy aggression (as a preemptive action), it could qualify as an instance of anticipatory self-defense. There are several problems here.
First, in the real world, judgments concerning the immediacy of anticipated aggression are exceedingly difficult to make.
Second, even where such judgments are ventured, it can never be altogether clear whether the degree of immediacy is sufficient to invoke preemption rather than prevention.
Third, in meeting the afore-stated legal requirements of defensive intent (#1 above), Israel may have to act preventively rather than preemptively (because waiting to allow a threat to become more immediate could have decisively negative strategic/tactical consequences.
And fourth, the actual state-preserving benefits that might accrue to Israel from assassination of enemy leaders are apt to be contingent upon not waiting until the danger posed is “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation”. Assessments of the lawfulness of assassination as anticipatory self-defense must also include comparisons with alternative forms of preemption.
If, for example, the perceived alternative to assassination is large-scale uses of force taking the form of defensive military strikes, a utilitarian or “balance of harms” criterion could surely favor assassination. Such a choice may well have to be made sometime soon in Jerusalem, especially as the territories are transformed into a Palestinian state.
Here, deprived of strategic depth, Israel could calculate that it had only three real options: (1) do nothing, rely entirely on deterrence, and hope that enemy states remain dissuaded from striking first; (2) strike preemptively with military force against selected hard targets in enemy states, and hope that substantial reprisals are prevented by persuasive intra-war deterrence, i.e., by compelling Israeli threats of unacceptably damaging counter-retaliation; or (3) strike preemptively by assassination, and hope that this will reduce the overall threat to Israel without escalating into full-fledged military encounters. Although impossible to determine in the abstract, Option 3 might well prove to be the most cost-effective one available to Israel in certain circumstances.
* * *
Jurisprudentially, of course, it would be reasonable to examine assassination as a possible form of ordinary self-defense, i.e., as a forceful measure of self-help short of war that is undertaken after an armed attack occurs. Tactically, however, there are at least two serious problems with such an examination. First, in view of the ongoing proliferation of extraordinarily destructive weapons technologies among Israel’s enemies in the Middle East, waiting to resort to ordinary self-defense could be very dangerous, if not altogether fatal. Second, assassination, while it may prove helpful in preventing an attack upon Israel in the first place, is far less likely to be useful in mitigating further harm once an attack has already been launched.
* * *
Martin Van Creveld writes, in The Transformation of War, that as the lines between political violence and criminal violence become blurred, assassination of enemy leaders will become more fashionable:
Over the last three centuries or so, attempts to assassinate or otherwise incapacitate leaders were not regarded as part of the game of war. In the future, there will be a tendency to regard such leaders as criminals who richly deserve the worst fate that can be inflicted upon them.
From the standpoint of international law, a case in point is Saddam Hussein. Based upon the peremptory principle of law known as Nullum crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” leaving Saddam in power, unpunished, was altogether unjust. At Nuremberg, the words used by the Court, “So far from it being unjust to punish him, it would be unjust if his wrong were allowed to go unpunished,” represented an authoritative reaffirmation of this principle. The earliest statement of Nullum crimen sine poena can be found in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728-1686 BCE); the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 BCE); the even-earlier code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 BCE), and, most significantly for Israel, the Lex Talionis or law of exact retaliation, presented in three separate passages of the Torah. For ancient Hebrews, when a crime involved the shedding of blood, not only punishment – but punishment involving a reciprocal bloodletting – was required. Shedding of blood is an abomination that must be expiated, “for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of him who shed it.” (Num. 35:33)
* * *
Israel, the Jew in macrocosm, has become uncomfortable with the use of power, especially that form of power based upon armed force. In a world of growing international anarchy, this development represents a serious liability. Left unchecked, it could become fatal.
* * *
The obligation to use armed force in a world of international anarchy forms the central argument of Realpolitik from the Melian Dialogues of Thucydides and Cicero to Machiavelli, Locke, Spykman and Kissinger. “For what can be done against force without force?”, asks Cicero in one of his Letters. Later, in our own century, Nicholas Spykman replies: “In a world of international anarchy, foreign policy must aim above all at the improvement or at least the preservation of the relative power position of the state.” Such arguments are assuredly not incorrect, but it is likely that, today, they have become markedly trivial. The anarchy we confront in world politics today is vastly different from its predecessors; it is more far-reaching, extending not only between states but within them. It is almost primordial, the anarchy of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies; it is sui generis. What does this suggest about Israel’s particular security options? How should Israel’s leadership plan in the face of this new kind of anarchy? How will Israel be affected by anarchy amidst its enemies? And how will it be affected by anarchy amongst its “friends”?
* * *
Van Creveld’s Transformation of War is right on the mark in underscoring humankind’s seemingly irrational delight in the use of armed force, an authentic joy in the spirit of war. This observation is an indispensable corrective to the popular notion that everyone is always agreed upon the undesirability and unattractiveness of war, a notion with origins in the poetry of the Classical Age, the poetry of Pindar: “Sweet is war to him who knows it not, but to those who have made trial of it, it is a thing of fear.” Similar expressions are found in the less-than-exultant tone of the herald’s tale of victory in the Agamemnon; the harsh words of Euripides for that same victory in the Troades; the poignant words of Pericles regarding those who had perished in Samos: “It was as if the spring had been taken from the year.” Yet, even before Van Creveld, Michael Howard pointed out:
In Western Europe until the first part of the seventeenth century, warfare was a way of life for considerable sections of society, its termination was for them a catastrophe, and its prolongation, official or unofficial, was the legitimate objective of every man of spirit.
In the 18th century, war was accepted by many as an essential element of social life, one needed to combat what the philosopher Kant called “mere commercial spirit, and with it a debasing self-interest”.
* * *
There is a dramatic affinity between war and the personal fear of death.
Although it is unlikely that Israeli planners will read Lucretius’ great poem, On the Nature of Things, the “message” of the Epicurean text has serious implications for Israeli security. What the young Virgil, citing Lucretius, called fear of “the doom against which no prayer avails” leads humankind to destroy life. Because the individual fails to understand the balance between destructive and creative forces, he/she is anxious about personal dissolution. This individual, to use the mythical terms set forth by Lucretius himself, will be on the side of Mars rather than Venus, reaching out to the rest of the world aggressively rather than compassionately. Persons, and therefore collectivities of persons known as States, have an incorrect attitude toward death that turns them to the terrible pleasures of violence. The very last scene of Lucretius’ poem is a bloody battle that would not have occurred if individuals had understood death. Humankind surrenders to death and dismemberment precisely because it fears death and dismemberment. How characteristic and insightful, indeed prophetic, are these ancient observations regarding current Islamic thought about war, terrorism and “infidels”. Israel should take note.
* * *
“Men as a rule willingly believe what they want to believe!” So says Caesar in Chapter 18 of the Gallic War. For Israel, the impact of Caesar’s insight became evident on October 6, 1973, with the start of the Yom Kippur War. Until then, the country had been committed to something known generally as “the concept”, the kontzeptziya, the contrived idea that the Arabs were unwilling and incapable of renewing hostilities against the Jewish state. Aman’s (military intelligence) overall assessment of enemy designs, lasting until October 5, 1973, was that war was “highly improbable” or “improbable”. It was this fundamentally incorrect assumption that created a monumental intelligence blunder – the “mehdal” in post-war Hebrew parlance. This is a blunder that could be repeated at far greater cost in the future. Until quite recently, the principal source of such a prospective blunder has been the sentiment that sustains the “Middle East Peace Process”.
The stillborn Oslo Agreements are null and void according to international law. All states are obligated by international law to seek out and prosecute the perpetrators of crimes of war, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. The same obligation extends to crimes of terrorism. Derived from the peremptory norm of Nullum crimen sine poena! (“No Crime without a Punishment!”), this obligation was violated flagrantly by Israel’s “peace” agreements with a terrorist organization. Indeed, recognizing that, according to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, any agreement “…is void, if at the time of its conclusion, it conflicts with a peremptory norm of general international law,” the Oslo agreements, witnessed officially by representatives of the United States, should be disregarded. Conflicting with a peremptory or jus cogens norm, a norm that, according to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention is “a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted…,” the agreements confer no jurisprudential responsibilities of any kind.
* * *
The Palestine Liberation Organization was treated as a terrorist group in the Klinghoffer v. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) suit. Here, the court determined, inter alia, that the federal court had jurisdiction over the PLO. In this civil action, which alleged that “the owner and charterer of the Achille Lauro, travel agencies and various other entities” failed to thwart the attack, jurisdiction was proffered on the basis of the Death on the High Seas Act (46 USC. App. Secs. 761-767; 1982), diversity of citizenship and state law.
* * *
It is generally (but erroneously) believed that the peace treaty in force between Israel and Egypt constrains the latter from joining with other Arab states against the former. But a Minute to Article VI, paragraph 5, of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty provides that it is agreed by the parties that there is no assertion that the Peace Treaty prevails over other treaties or agreements, or that other treaties or agreements prevail over the Peace Treaty. (See Treaty of Peace, March 26, 1979, Egypt-Israel, Minute to Art.
VI (5), 18 I.L.M., 362, 392.)
* * *
In all world politics, but especially in the Middle East, we are present at the gradual unveiling of a secret, but the nucleus of meaning, the essential truth of what is taking place, is what is not said. For the immediate future, the enemies of Israel will continue their preparations for chemical/biological/nuclear war. Altogether unaffected by parallel public commitments to “peace process”, “self-determination”, “regional coexistence”, “security regimes” and “confidence building measures”, these preparations will proceed on their own track, culminating, if unobstructed, in new and substantially more portentous aggressions against Israel. It follows that Israel must not close its eyes to such enemy preparations or to the associated and synergistic dangers of a Palestinian state, one-sided denuclearization and one-sided peace settlements.
* * *
In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, Israel – intra-war threats notwithstanding – decided not to respond with any retaliatory strikes to Iraq’s 39 missile attacks. If Israel had decided to respond, presumably against Baghdad’s pertinent military assets, this response could have been characterized by Jerusalem as any one of the following: (1) reprisal; (2) selfdefense; or (3) anticipatory self-defense. Alternatively, Israel could have argued persuasively that: (4) a condition of war had existed between the Jewish state and Iraq since 1948 at Iraq’s insistence, and that Israel’s latest military strikes were not measures of self-help short of war (i.e., not instances of reprisal, self-defense or anticipatory self-defense) but rather just one more legitimate use of force in an ongoing conflict. In the final analysis, the lawfulness of Israel’s counterstrike and the reasonableness of its characterization would have depended upon such facts as general moves toward peace underway in the region, amount of time elapsed between Iraq’s aggression and Israel’s response, and the level of continuing danger to Israel from the Baghdad regime. If Jerusalem had opted for number 4, supra, its military counterstrike would have been prima facie lawful so long as it had fulfilled the settled peremptory criteria of the laws of war – namely the expectations of discrimination, proportionality and military necessity.
Uncomfortable truths travel with great difficulty. Among these truths, one of the most distressing concerns the certain failure of the so-called nonproliferation regime. Highlighted by the Nonproliferation Treaty, which entered into force in 1970, this body of authoritative norms under international law is incapable of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the world. This means that reliance upon such a body of rules, however “prudent” and well-intentioned, will likely hasten rather than inhibit the onset of nuclear war. What shall Israel do? When, at Arab insistence, Jerusalem is asked yet again to join the NPT, as a non-nuclear member, how should it respond? If it should resist, the global community of “civilized” nations would surely be aroused, declaring that, once again, a recalcitrant Israel had refused to follow the codified rules of international law. Should it accede to the Treaty, it would trade-off critical safety in exchange for presumptively favorable world public opinion. Of course, it could also do what Iraq and other Islamic states have always done, i.e., sign the Treaty but act as if no obligations whatever had been incurred – but such hypocrisy has never been Israel’s style, nor should it be. It should also be recalled here that Israel has never obstructed diplomatic remedies to regional security. In addition to the agreements on Palestinian “autonomy”, note the following: In January 1993, Israel became a charter signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), while Egypt, Syria and most other states in the area rejected the Treaty. Israel ratified the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1964. It is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and has safeguards agreements for several minor facilities. It has consistently supported the concept of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone for the Middle East (MENWFZ).
* * *
In calculations of strategic deterrence, Israel’s planners must always recall that what matters is whether a prospective attacker perceives secure Israeli retaliatory forces. Where a prospective attacker perceives vulnerable retaliatory forces, it might judge the first-strike option against Israel to be entirely cost-effective. This means, inter alia, that Israel’s intelligence estimates must always keep close watch on enemy perceptions, and that when these estimates determine enemy perceptions of Israeli retaliatory force vulnerability, Israel’s own preemption option may become more compelling. It also follows, of course, that Israel must always do whatever possible to encourage enemy perceptions of Israeli nuclear force invulnerability, an imperative that could include not only enhanced active defenses, but also, among other things, removing the bomb from the “basement”.
* * *
No discussion of Israeli nuclear deterrence can be complete without careful consideration of the disclosure issue. From the beginning, Israel’s bomb has been secluded in the “basement”. For the future, however, it is by no means certain that an undeclared nuclear deterrent will be capable of meeting Jerusalem’s security goals or that it will even be equal in effectiveness to an openly-declared nuclear deterrent. But why? At first glance, the issue appears inconsequential. After all, everyone knows that Israel has the bomb. What, then, would be the purpose of belaboring the obvious? Indeed, might not such unnecessary saber-rattling even be unduly provocative, occasioning Arab and/or Iranian first-strikes that might not otherwise have been contemplated? To respond, we must recall that disclosure would not be intended to reveal the obvious, i.e., that Israel has a bomb, but rather to heighten enemy perceptions of Jerusalem’s capable nuclear forces and/or Jerusalem’s willingness to use these forces in reprisal for certain first-strike attacks. What, exactly, are the plausible connections between an openlydeclared nuclear weapons capacity and enemy perceptions of Israeli nuclear deterrence? One such connection concerns the relation between disclosure and perceived vulnerability of Israel’s nuclear forces to preemptive destruction. Another such connection concerns the relation between disclosure and perceived capacity of Jerusalem’s nuclear forces to penetrate the attacking state’s active defenses. To the extent that removing the bomb from the basement, or disclosure, would encourage enemy views of an Israeli nuclear force that is sufficiently invulnerable to first-strike attacks and/or is capable of piercing enemy active defense systems, disclosure would represent a rational and prudent option for Israel. Here, the operational benefits of disclosure would accrue from deliberate flows of information about dispersion, multiplication, hardening, speed and evasiveness of nuclear weapon systems and about some other pertinent technical features of certain nuclear weapons. Most importantly, such flows would serve to remove enemy doubts about Israel’s nuclear force capabilities, doubts which, left unchallenged, could undermine Israeli nuclear deterrence. Removing the bomb from Israel’s basement might also heighten enemy perceptions of Jerusalem’s willingness to make good on its nuclear retaliatory threats. For example, by releasing information about its nuclear forces that identifies distinctly usable forces, Israel could remove any doubts about Jerusalem’s nuclear resolve. Here, a prospective attacker, newly aware that Israel could retaliate without generating intolerably high levels of civilian harms (possibly because of enhanced radiation and/or subkiloton weapons) would be more apt, because of Jerusalem’s disclosure, to believe Israel’s nuclear threats.
* * *
An interesting question arises: To what extent, if any, would Israel’s removal of the bomb from the basement affect its inclination to abandon nuclear deterrence in favor of prompt preemption? An antecedent question asks the following: To what extent, if any, might transformation of the territories into “Palestine” encourage such removal? For the moment, Israel, still buffered somewhat from a hot eastern border, can possibly better afford to keep its bomb in the basement. When, however, this territory becomes Palestine, Israel will almost surely feel compelled to move from “deliberate ambiguity” to disclosure, a shift that could substantially improve the Jewish state’s nuclear deterrence posture, but could also enlarge the chances of a nuclear war should this posture fail.
* * *
Israel’s enemies might be judged irrational, but this does not necessarily mean that they are “crazy”. Indeed, Israeli nuclear deterrence could be immobilized by enemy behavior that is entirely rational, but reflective of what would ordinarily be construed as a fanatical preference ordering. For example, Iran could conceivably act upon a preference ordering that values the destruction of the Jewish state and the fulfillment of presumed Islamic expectations more highly than any other value or combination of values. Here Iran would neither be irrational nor crazy.
* * *
Truly, reading the accounts of genocide in Rwanda, one loses altogether the distinction between sane and crazy. For the most part, the perpetrators of this genocide, like virtually all genociders in history, were perfectly sane. Perhaps this suggests that Israeli planners would do best to draw their strategic theories and inferences from the genre of the absurd, from the “preposterous” theater of Beckett, Ionesco, Adamov, Genet and Albee. Can Israel endure in a sane world?
* * *
Speaking of sanity, if President Bush and Secretary of State Rice have their way, a twenty-third Arab state will soon begin to take shape. Whether or not this state of Palestine would meet the settled expectations of international law codified at the 1934 Montevideo Convention, it would surely and substantially change the complex power relations of competition and conflict in the Middle East. Indeed, from the standpoint of both the American-led War on Terror and the existential requirements of Israeli security, the new Palestinian state would be severely destabilizing.
Following recent problems in the campaign against Hizbullah, prudent Israeli war planning must now look much more closely at the global and regional “correlation of forces”. Drawn from the military lexicon of the former Soviet Union, this concept is usefully applied as a particular measure of armed forces, from the subunit level to major formations. It can also be used to compare resources and capabilities on both the levels of operational military strategy and of “grand strategy”. This meaning is closely related to the concept of “force ratios” used more commonly in Western armies.
Today, with renewed American pressure to create a Palestinian state – pressure wholly contrary to world peace and security – Israel must undertake comprehensive assessments of enemy states with particular reference to the resultant “correlation of forces”. Here, however diminished by its misguided senior ally in Washington, it must quickly seek more than an “objective” yardstick for measuring opposing forces. Although the IDF is assuredly comparing all available data concerning both the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of unit strength, including enemy personnel, weaponry and equipment, its commanders will need to know far more in order to establish meaningful Israeli force superiority on the future battlefield. This is especially the case in matters of grand strategy, where opposing Arab/Islamic forces (following American and Israeli unwillingness to undertake pertinent preemptive attacks against Iran and North Korea) could soon be endowed with weapons of mass destruction.
What, exactly, should be the IDF concept of “correlation of forces”?
First, it must take very careful account of enemy leaders’ intentions as well as capabilities. Such an accounting is inherently more subjective than assessments of personnel, weapons and basic logistic data. Such an accounting must be subtle and nuanced, relying less on fancy scientific modeling than upon carefully informed human profiles. In this connection, it will not do to merely gather masses of relevant data from all of the usual intelligence sources. It will also be important to put Israeli strategists “into the shoes” of each enemy leader, determining precisely what Israel looks like to them.
Second, the IDF correlation of forces concept must take painstaking account of enemy leaders’ rationality. An adversary that does not conform to the rules of rational behavior in world politics might not be deterred by ANY Israeli threats, military or otherwise. Here the logic of Israeli deterrence would be immobilized and all bets would be off concerning expected enemy reactions to Israeli policy. This point now pertains especially to growing existential threats from Iran. There, if (as expected) the Islamic regime is permitted to complete its still-planned nuclearization, Israel could find itself face-to-face with a suicide bomber in macrocosm.
Third, IDF assessments must also consider the changing organization of enemy state units; their training standards; their morale; their reconnaissance capabilities; their battle experience; and their suitability and adaptability to the next battlefield. These assessments are not exceedingly difficult to make on an individual or piecemeal basis, but the Ministry of Defense needs to conceptualize them together, in their entirety. To get this more coherent picture will require a special creativity and imagination, not merely the ordinary and tangible analytical skills valued by modern armies.
Fourth, IDF assessments must consider with great care the capabilities and intentions of Israel’s non-state enemies; that is, the entire configuration of anti-Israel terrorist and guerrilla groups. Following the recent Lebanon conflict, such assessments must offer much more than a group by group consideration. Rather, the groups must be considered synergistically, in their holistic expression, and as they interrelate with one another vis-à-vis Israel. Also, these groups need to be considered in their interactive relationship with enemy states. This last point might best be characterized as an IDF search for dominant synergies between state and non-state adversaries.
Fifth, IDF assessments must take special note of the ongoing metamorphosis of a non-state adversary (PLO) into a state adversary (Palestine). With this transformation, Israel’s strategic depth will shrink to less manageable levels, and a far-reaching enemy momentum to transform Israel itself into part of the new Arab state will be energized. How shall Israel “live” with Palestine? In one respect, the US-blessed institutionalization of disparate enemies into a sovereign “Palestine” may even provide some small geo-strategic benefit to Israel (now reprisal and retaliation will likely be easier and more purposeful), yet there will also be a corresponding and truly consequential loss of vital territories.
In the matter of synergies, the IDF must also consider and look for “force multipliers”. A force multiplier is a collection of related characteristics, other than weapons and force size, that make a military organization more effective in combat. A force multiplier may be generalship; tactical surprise; tactical mobility; or command and control. The presence of a force multiplier creates synergy. The unit will be more effective than the mere sum of its weapons. IDF responsibility in this area concerns (1) recognizing enemy force multipliers; (2) challenging and undermining enemy force multipliers; and (3) developing and refining its own force multipliers. Regarding number (3), this means a heavy IDF emphasis on air superiority; communications; intelligence; and surprise. It may also mean a heightened awareness of the benefits of sometimes appearing less than completely rational to one’s enemies. This last point is uniquely important, as Israel’s field tactics and associated order of battle have become devastatingly predictable.
Correlation of forces will largely determine the outcome of the next Middle Eastern war. It is time, therefore, for Israel to go far beyond the usual numerical assessments to much “softer” considerations, and to focus determinedly upon the cumulative importance of unconventional weapons and low-intensity warfare in the region. A key dilemma in this focus will be the understanding that, in certain crucial circumstances, preemption is both indispensable and infeasible, and that any suitable expression of “anticipatory self-defense” would now produce very large-scale civilian casualties in the target country.
* * *
I am thinking about the apparent contradiction between Herman Kahn and
Yehoshafat Harkabi. Kahn, in his Thinking about the Unthinkable in the 1980s, says
It is unacceptable, in terms of national security, to make nonuse of nuclear weapons the highest national priority to which all other considerations must be subordinated. It is immoral from almost any point of view to refuse to defend yourself and others from very grave and terrible threats…
Harkabi, in The Bar Kokhba Syndrome, draws this “operative guidance” from the Bar Kokhba Rebellion:
In choosing a style of fighting, be wary of warfare in which the reaction required of the enemy, from the enemy’s point of view, may lead to an action detrimental for you. …This is an important lesson in nuclear circumstances: refrain from a provocation for which the adversary may have only one response, nuclear war.
The contradiction arises because Kahn demands a willingness to maintain the nuclear option while Harkabi sees just such willingness, inter alia, as an invitation to disaster (as “unrealistic”). The contradiction would disappear if it could be assumed that nuclear weapons use by Israel would not provoke nuclear war, but this would happen only if Israel’s pertinent enemy were non-nuclear or lacked second-strike capability. Also, Kahn speaks of nuclear weapons in terms of “defense”, a reference that could make sense within the context of certain ATBM systems, but that strays from the more usual context of deterrence. Depending upon the breadth of Kahn’s meaning of defense, the contradiction with Harkabi will be more or less substantial.
* * *
Elsewhere Harkabi is virtually incoherent. At one point he argues as follows:
The nuclear era thus generates terminal situations for decision making (emphasis in original). But the mutuality of threat and of destiny moderates the situation and perhaps will, over the course of years, prevent nuclear war.
Why “mutuality”? Whose “destiny”? What evidence for “moderation”? Such anti-thought dramatizes the requirement for a new strategic dialectic.
* * *
Harkabi’s marked descent into incorrect reasoning continues. Consider the following:
Nuclear war is absurd, for no national gain could offset the damage such a war would cause. What is the point in attempting to keep a certain asset by threatening to use nuclear weapons, if, as a result of their use, all assets will be lost? The threat to launch a nuclear war is not reasonable, and, thus, not credible. The threat is nevertheless effective because there inheres a residue of doubt that, despite its irrationality, it may be carried out. These contradictions become even more severe, for, even if nuclear war is absurd, it is not absurd for the nuclear powers to plan for such warfare. That is, the preparation of the means to realize the absurd is not absurd. These difficulties lead to a situation where the great powers today are unsuccessful in developing for themselves cohesive doctrines of nuclear strategy, for the absurdity of nuclear war spills over into the extravagances of the strategy of such warfare.
It is difficult to imagine a more incoherent elucidation of nuclear strategy and nuclear war. Not only are the separate components of the “argument” intrinsically (and prima facie) wrong, they invalidate one another.
* * *
I return, again and again, to Eugene Ionesco, the Rumanian-born playwright whose journal, Present Past/Past Present: A Personal Memoir, bears comparison with Pascal’s Pensees. In July 1967, he permitted himself this important observation:
…in the end, very few people accord the state of Israel the right to exist. This country bothers everybody: it bothers the Russians, it bothers the Americans, it bothers the French…it bothers the Jews who must take a stand…it bothers everybody because the existence of something strong, powerful, unarguable always creates insoluble problems.
Shall Israel become less of a “bother”? I hope not.
* * *
“We are often asked,” said the late Italian Jew and survivor Primo Levi in The Drowned and the Saved, “as if our past conferred a prophetic ability upon us, whether Auschwitz will return…” However we choose to answer so terrible but unavoidable a question, our past seems to have conferred precious little in the way of prophetic abilities. On the contrary, by persistently deluding ourselves that not seeing is a way of not knowing, we have distanced ourselves from the most indispensable forms of warning. Israel take notice.
* * *
Israel is a macrocosm. Like the individual Jew surrounded by mobs of would-be murderers, the Jewish state stands encircled among a crowd of other states that cries fervently for its extinction. Where it stands stubbornly and defiantly for survival, the Diaspora Jew will have a proud and unparalleled incentive to endure. And wherever the Diaspora Jew chooses to endure, Israel will be prodded to face its own precarious future with open eyes.
* * *
Jews don’t like to be bearers of harm; until now, we have been victims rather than executioners. But much as we should like to be “neither victims nor executioners” (to borrow a phrase again from Albert Camus’ essay of the same name), this is simply not possible. The will to mass murder of Jews, as we have learned from so many for so long, is unimpressed by persistent expressions of Jewish goodness. It follows, regarding both Israel and the Diaspora, that Jewish “executioners” have their rightful place and that without this place there would be not diminished pain, but only whole legions of new Jewish and non-Jewish sufferers.
Myth, Heroism and Unending Struggle
In ancient myth, the Greek gods condemn Sisyphus to roll a great rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone will inevitably fall back of its own weight. By imposing this terrible judgment the gods had prescribed the dreadful punishment of interminable labor. But they also revealed something vastly more difficult to understand, namely, that even such useless labor need not be altogether futile. Such labor, they knew, could also be heroic.
This is where Israel stands today, after the falling Hizbullah rockets from Lebanon. For a combination of very complex reasons, Israel now faces the monumental and prospectively endless task of pushing a massive weight up the “mountain”. Always. For no ascertainable purpose. And, almost for certain, the great rock will always roll right back down to its point of origin. There is, it would appear, simply no real chance that it will remain perched, fixedly, securely, at the summit.
For Israel, there is no clear and expected solution to its essential and existential security problem. Rather, in the fashion of Sisyphus, the Jewish state must now accept the inconceivably heavy burden of a possible suffering without predictable end. There is, of course, always hope, but – for now at least – the only choice seems to be to continue pushing upward with no apparent relief or to sigh deeply, to lie prostate, to surrender and to die.
What sort of sorrowful imagery is this? Can anyone be shocked that, for the always imperiled people of Israel, a Sisyphean fate must lie far beyond their ordinary powers of imagination? Not surprisingly, the Israelis still search for ordinary solutions. They look, commonly, into politics, into new leaders, into concrete policies. They seek remedies, answers, peace settlements, “road maps” – they examine the whole package of ordinary prospects that would allegedly make Israel more “normal” and therefore more “safe”. But Israel is not normal, nor can it (or should it) ever be normal. For reasons that will be debated and argued for centuries, Israel is altogether unique. To deny this uniqueness, and to try to figure out ways in which the great tormenting stone might finally stay on the top of the mountain forever, is to seek banal answers to extraordinary questions. Above all, it is to misunderstand Israel’s very special and very sacred place in the universe.
Appropriately, let us recall immediately that Sisyphus is an heroic and tragic figure in Greek mythology. This is because he labored valiantly in spite of the apparent futility of his efforts. Today, however, Israel’s leadership is sometimes still acting in ways that are neither tragic nor heroic. Increasingly unwilling to accept the almost certain future of protracted war and terror, the prime minister of Israel may still embrace various intended codifications of national suicide. Whether it is named Oslo or the “Road Map” makes no difference. The diplomatic promise of peace with a persistently genocidal adversary is a sordid and persistent delusion. To be sure, protracted war and terror hardly seem a tolerable or enviable outcome, but this fate – at least for the moment – remains better than the undiminished Arab/Islamic plan for a relentlessly Final Solution. To be sure, protracted war and terror are bad options, but they are certainly better than death, and death is the only plausible promise of Oslo and the Road Map.
The futile search for ordinary solutions by the people of Israel must never be dismissed with anger, disdain or self-righteousness. After all, one can hardly blame them for denying such terrible and unjust portents. But Israel exists in a world where the terms justice and Jews can never be uttered in the same breath, and where navigating according to rules of logic and reasonableness will always be fatal. It is a world wherein unreason trumps rationality and where survival is sometimes dependent upon accepting and enduring what is manifestly absurd.
Sisyphus understood that his rock would never stay put at the summit of the mountain. He labored nonetheless. Like Sisyphus, Israel must soon learn to understand that its own “rock” – the agonizingly heavy stone of national security and international normalcy – may never stay put at the summit. Yet, it must still continue to push, upwards; it must continue to struggle against the ponderous weight – if for no other reason than to continue, to endure. For Israel, true heroism – and perhaps even the true fulfillment of its unique mission among the nations – now lies in recognizing something well beyond normal understanding: Endless pain and insecurity are not necessarily unbearable and must sometimes even be borne with complete faith and equanimity. Failing such a tragic awareness, the government of Israel will continue to grasp at illusory peace prospects and to welcome repeatedly false dawns.
Of course, Israel is not Sisyphus, and there is no reason to believe that Israel must necessarily endure without great personal and collective satisfactions.
Even fully aware that its titanic struggle toward the recurring summits may lack a definable moment of “success” – that these summits may never be truly “scaled” – the Jewish state could still learn that the struggle itself carries manifold benefits. The struggle has its essential accomplishments, its unheralded blessings, its more or less palpable rewards. Now newly tolerant of ambiguity, and consciously surviving without any “normal” hopes of completion and clarity, the people of Israel could achieve both spiritual and security benefits in their personal and collective lives. Most importantly, their now enlarged lucidity could immunize them from the lethal lures of ordinary nations.
Israel’s feverish search for a solution has led it down a continuing path of despair. Today, even after the falling Hizbullah rockets from Lebanon, Israel’s leaders may still prepare to relinquish the country’s last shreds of national dignity and national security. For Israel, basic truth often emerges from paradox. To survive into the future, Israel’s only real chance is to keep rolling the rock upwards. Unlike Sisyphus, Israel and its people can still enjoy many satisfactions along the way, but – like Sisyphus – all Israel must still recognize that its individual and collective Jewish life may require a tragic and possibly unending struggle.
1 The people who choose the term “homicide bomber” over “suicide bomber” make only a very obvious point at the expense of “sacrificing” a much larger and much more subtle point (that is, that the “suicide” is not only authentic murder, but that it is also driven by the desperate need of the terrorist to avoid death. Paradoxically, the so-called “martyr” kills himself to avoid dying himself/herself.
2 In den Gebieten, mit denen wir es zu tun haben, gibt es Erkenntnis nur blitzhaft. Der Text ist der langnachrollende Donner, Walter Benjamin, Das PassagenWerk, N. I.I.
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