Published On: Sat, Feb 23rd, 2019

Part 2: After The Falling Rockets From Lebanon Interrelated Commentaries On Israel’s Performance And Survival

Israeli planners must consider the prospect of Israeli nuclear preemption against enemy hard targets. Ironically, this prospect could be heightened to the extent that Israel puts off non-nuclear preemptions against developing enemy nuclear assets

(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

Logic, Persuasion, American Guarantees and Preemption

Regarding judgments of rationality and deterrence, Israeli planners must never fail to put themselves into the shoes of enemy decision-makers. What will impact these decision-makers, and therefore Israel’s safety, will not be Israeli perceptions or even some “objectively correct” set of facts, but only what they perceive as real. Hence, what may well appear prudent and rational in Tel Aviv could be taken as cowardly and irrational in Teheran or Damascus. I have in mind, for example, differential views on Israel’s decision not to retaliate for 39 Iraqi Scud missile attacks during the 1991 Gulf War. What will be the long-term effects of this decision on Israel’s overall deterrence posture? This is an important question, one that needs to be asked again and again and again. Surely it didn’t help in Lebanon, where in the summer of 2006 Hizbullah had been emboldened.

* * *

Israeli planners focus, of course, on enemy capabilities and intentions. But do they focus on each variable as separate and discrete, or rather as interdependent and synergistic? As one can affect the other, only the latter orientation is correct and productive.

* * *

Most Palestinian communities across the world were jubilant on September 11, 2001. More recently, these same communities expressed outrage at the successful American assassination of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. For them, the murderous mastermind of al-Qai`dah in Iraq had been a great hero. Dead, he was now a “martyr”.

But the Palestinian link to al-Qai`dah has become much more than mere sympathy and friendship. Extending beyond a common visceral hatred of the United States, it also concerns networks of tactical cooperation. Today there are several shadowy alignments that involve information sharing, weaponry, safe houses, and scientific expertise. The purpose of these alignments is terror attacks against both Israel and the United States. These planned operations could certainly include chemical, biological or even nuclear technologies.

None of this should be a surprise. Immediately after September 11th, not only Hamas approached al-Qai`dah, but so did Arafat’s own forces. In fact, Fatah, first formed as Arafat’s movement within the PLO, had openly embraced “martyrdom operations” against Israeli women and children. Although Palestinian terrorists hardly needed al-Qai`dah to prod them to further acts of unspeakable cruelty, the example of September 11th seemed to offer them both great comfort and new resolve. For its part, al-Qai`dah has been more than pleased that its Palestinian collaborators cite frequently to the sacred Hadith: “Oh Allah, annihilate the Jews and their supporters…”

The idea of killing for the sake of Islam is glorified both by the principal Palestinian terror groups and by al-Qai`dah. In addition to the usual sanctifications of “suicide bombing”, both also approve of religion-based killing within the Islamic community. Both term Muslims who allegedly collaborate with the United States as murtaddun (apostates) and both prescribe the sentence of murtadd harbi; (to wit, the “ally with Satan”) a Fatwa, (a death-sentence). The pertinent Qur`anic verse is this: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Prophet and strive to make mischief in the land, is only this – that they should be murdered or crucified, or their hands and feet should be cut off on opposing sides…” There is no difference here between man and woman: “It is permissible to shed the blood of a woman who is a heretic (Harbiyya), even if her fighting is limited to singing.”

Al-Qai`dah’s hatred of the United States has little to do with American support for Israel. If Israel ceased to exist, its contempt for this country would continue unabated. This is because of the unforgivable “sin” of American ties to “apostates and criminals” who rule in such Islamic countries as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, the Emirates and Pakistan.

On December 2, 2002, al-Qai`dah first announced the establishment of the “Islamic al-Qa`idah Organization in Palestine”. The announcement declared “a vow of allegiance to the Emir of the Mujahideen, the leader Osama bin

Laden, by means of whom Allah strengthened the Nation of Islam.” Calling for an end to regimes that “serve only the murderous Jews and the Great

Satan”, the announcement ends with a plea to

our brothers in Islam in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to attack the American interests and the heretical institutions of apostasy… Death to the Jews and Zionism; death to America; strength to Allah, Allah is great, and victory to Islam.

Al-Qai`dah now operates secretly in Judea and Samaria and openly in Gaza at the express invitation of both Fatah and Hamas. Years back, Yasir Arafat first imported Hizbullah fighters to assist with terror attacks against Israel. Today, Osama bin Laden’s Islamic fighters are part of the deadly terrorist mix. Arafat had first gathered together a diverse collection of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hizbullah, Popular Front-General Command, various Iraqi military intelligence units (Palestinian terrorists had always been extremely close to Saddam Hussein, even sending Palestine Liberation Army units to help torture Kuwaitis in 1991), the pro-Iraqi Arab liberation Front, and, since April 2002, al-Qai`dah. This same crosscut of Islamic terrorist groups presently exists in the United States – although here (let us take comfort) they function “only” as sleeper cells.

It is important in any war to distinguish friend from foe. Coordinated megaterror strikes against Israel and America are currently being planned by joint Palestinian/al-Qai`dah teams. It follows that both Israel and the United States should immediately cease any and all assistance to the Hamascontrolled Palestinian Authority. Above all, it is time for Washington to stop sending American tax dollars to support arch-enemies of the United States.

* * *

Israel is unable to ensure its security, even its survival, through reliance on ballistic missile defense and US guarantees. Rather, barring radical transformation of enemy regimes, Jerusalem could have no existential choice but to preemptively destroy certain enemy unconventional weapons and supporting infrastructures in a timely manner. Although the currently fashionable idea of a “multilayered defense” has its attractions (above all, it puts off the preemption imperative by highlighting far more palatable tactical options), in the end it could mean too little. It follows that Israeli planners should look closely and immediately at the following threat dimensions: (1) expected probability of enemy first-strikes over time; (2) expected disutility of enemy first-strikes over time (itself dependent, inter alia, on nature of enemy weaponry, projected enemy targeting doctrines, and multiplication/dispersion/hardening of Israeli unconventional forces); (3) expected collaborative prospects between enemy states (and possibly between enemy state and non-state actors); (4) expected schedules of enemy unconventional weapons deployments; (5) expected efficiency of enemy active defenses over time; (6) expected efficiency of Israeli active defenses over time; (7) expected efficiency of Israeli hard-target counterforce operations over time; and (8) expected world community reactions to Israeli preemptions. It goes without saying that Israel’s commitment to the so-called “Peace Process” has greatly impaired its essential preemption option, and that such commitment is even more injurious to Israeli survival than is commonly understood.

* * *

The dangers to Israel of a Palestinian state must be understood within the general context of concern for Israeli nuclear strategy and regional nuclear war. Should the “Peace Process” or “Road Map” produce a state of

Palestine, which is now rather plausible, Israel’s substantial loss of strategic depth will be recognized by enemy states, especially by Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria, as a significant liability for Jerusalem. Such recognition, in turn, will heat up enemy state intentions against Israel, occasioning an accelerated search for capabilities and, consequently, a heightened risk of war initiated from Teheran or Baghdad or Cairo or Damascus. Israeli planners, of course, might foresee such enemy calculations and seek to compensate for the loss of territories in a number of different ways. For example, Jerusalem could decide to take its bomb out of the “basement” (as a deterrence-enhancing measure) and/or it could accept a heightened willingness to launch preemptive strikes against enemy hard targets. Made aware of such Israeli intentions, intentions that would accrue from Israel’s new vulnerabilities, enemy states could respond in a more or less parallel fashion, preparing more openly for nuclearization and/or for first-strike attacks against the Jewish state.

* * *

The phrase, “Death to Israel”, like the phrase “Death to the Jews”, is a phrase that is always uttered in chorus. A hater of Israel, like a hater of individual Jews, is always attached to a crowd or to a mob. In such hatreds, one cannot be alone. It is this communal tradition of hatred, more than anything else, which draws adherents – both among the nations and among peoples within nations. There is little point in seeking to transform this tradition, which is deeply embedded in a generically human desperation to belong. Instead, those who are responsible for Israeli safety and security from enemy attacks should now focus exclusively on what can be changed.

* * *

Israeli planners must protect Israel’s nuclear forces by some combination of multiplication/dispersion/hardening. Enemy planners, observing such measures, might perceive preparations for an Israeli first-strike. Such erroneous perceptions are all the more likely, should Israel simultaneously seek further force protection via appropriate forms of active and passive defenses. Ironically, in seeking to stabilize deterrence by signaling enemy states that its own nuclear forces are secure from enemy first strikes – i.e., that these are exclusively second-strike forces with “assured destruction” capability – Jerusalem could create the impression that it is preparing to strike first. Here, Israel’s attempts to convince enemy states that it is not preparing for preemption could backfire, generating new incentives to these enemy states to “preempt” themselves. The alternative, for Israel, would be to deliberately disguise efforts at nuclear force protection from enemy states, but such subterfuge would also carry considerable risk. After all, should Israel’s enemies calculate that Jerusalem’s nuclear forces are insufficiently protected from first-strike attacks, they would want to exploit current but potentially transient Israeli weakness. Moreover, because insufficient force protection by Jerusalem could encourage Israeli first-strikes, Israel’s enemies would have compelling reasons to launch prompt “preemptive” attacks.

* * *

Regarding the legal right to preemption, Israel’s planners may wish to recall the authoritative jurisprudential argument of Hugo Grotius in his Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty:

Now, as Cicero explains, this (justification for anticipatory self-defense) exists whenever he who chooses to wait (for formal declarations of war) will be obliged to pay an unjust penalty before he can exact a just penalty; and, in a general sense, it exists whenever matters do not admit of delay. Thus it is obvious that a just war can be waged in return, without recourse to judicial procedure, against an opponent who has begun an unjust war; nor will any declaration of that just war be required… For, as Aelian says, citing Plato as his authority, any war undertaken for the necessary repulsion of injury, is proclaimed not by a crier nor by a herald but by the voice of Nature herself.

* * *

Israel’s military planners must consider important complex relationships between C3I vulnerability and pre-delegations of launch authority. To reduce the risks of “decapitation”, an objective as essential to Israeli nuclear deterrence as protection of the weapons themselves, Jerusalem might consider increasing the number of authoritative decision-makers who would have the right to launch under certain carefully-defined residual contingencies. But because the deterrence value of such an increase would require that prospective enemies learn (however indirectly and incompletely) that Israel had taken these decapitation-avoidance pre-delegations (after all, without such learning, enemies would be more apt to calculate that first-strike attacks are cost-effective), those enemies might feel increasingly compelled to “preempt”. These preemption incentives would derive from new enemy state fears of a fully intentional Israeli first-strike and/or new fears of accidental, unauthorized or unintentional nuclear strikes from Israel.

Aware of these probable enemy reactions to its pre-delegations of launch authority, pre-delegations which might or might not be complemented by launch-on-warning measures, Israel, reciprocally, could feel compelled to actually strike first, a preemption of preemptive attack that may or may not prove to be net gainful and that may or may not have been avoided by antecedent resistance to pre-delegations of launch authority. Significantly, this entire scenario could be “played” in the other direction. Here, Iran or an Arab state enemy seeking to reduce its decapitation risks would implement pre-delegations of launch authority, thereby encouraging Israeli preemptions and, as a consequence, Iranian and/or Arab state “preemptions of Israeli preemption”. If all of this sounds dreadfully complicated, it is because this is a dreadfully complicated business. Those who do not feel comfortable with dreadful complications should not be in the strategic planning business. Israel does not need simplifiers. It does not need more “experts”. It needs broadly educated planners who are willing to fashion an indispensable strategic dialectic, a nuanced genre that goes well beyond the purely journalistic/reportorial “expertise” of certain academic strategists.

* * *

The destructiveness of nuclear weapons continues to pose conceptual problems for Israeli planners (military and civilian) and academic strategists. Fearful of association with such terrible weapons, these planners and strategists too often dance around the most urgent questions. As a result, nuclear war involving Israel may become more likely and security benefits that might have been identified in advance may be lost forever.

* * *

Israel’s planners should be reminded of Miguel de Unamuno’s instructive remark about Hegel:

Hegel made famous his aphorism that all the rational is real and all the real rational; but there are many of us who, unconvinced by Hegel, continue to believe that the real, the really real, is irrational, that reason builds upon irrationalities.

For Israel, faced with the prospect of unconventional aggression from enemy states, it would be prudent to “build upon irrationalities”, i.e., upon the expected irrationalities of an increasingly formidable enemy.

* * *

In considering the operation of nuclear deterrence and associated matters of nuclear strategy, including preemption, Israeli planners may recall that such operation impacts and determines the adequacy of pertinent international law. For example, the adequacy of international law in preventing nuclear war in the Middle East will depend not only upon certain treaties (e.g., the Nonproliferation Treaty), customs and general principles of jurisprudence, but also upon the success or failure of particular country strategies in the region. Hence, if Israel’s strategy should reduce the threat of nuclear war, either because of successful forms of deterrence or because of essential nonnuclear preemptive strikes, such strategy would have to be considered an essential component of international law.

* * *

Even if it could be assumed, by Israeli planners, that enemy state leaders will always be rational, a problematic assumption, to be sure, this would say nothing about the accuracy of information used in making rational calculations. Rationality, we must recall, refers only to the intention of maximizing specified values or preferences. It says nothing at all about whether the information used is correct or incorrect. Hence, rational enemy state leaders may make errors in calculation that lead to war against Israel.

* * *

Where Israel should face enemy states bent upon a war of extermination (and where have they faced a different enemy), the following jurisprudential understanding should not be lost: War and genocide need not be mutually exclusive. War might well be the means whereby genocide is undertaken. This should be as obvious today as it was during and after the Holocaust. According to Articles II and III of the Genocide Convention, which entered into force on January 12, 1951, genocide includes any of several listed acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such…” It follows that where Israel is identified as the institutionalized expression of the Jewish people (an expression that includes national, ethnical, racial and religious components) acts of war intended to destroy the Jewish state could assuredly be genocidal. Here it should be remembered that international law is not a suicide pact; nowhere is it written that Israel must wait patiently for a second genocidal assault.

* * *

Like it or not, Israeli planners must consider the prospect of Israeli nuclear preemption against enemy hard targets. Ironically, this prospect could be heightened to the extent that Israel puts off non-nuclear preemptions against developing enemy nuclear assets. If it waits too long to exercise conventional preemption options, Israel could face a choice between (1) undertaking nuclear preemption and ensuring survival of the Third Temple Commonwealth; or (2) resisting nuclear preemption and risking destruction of the Third Temple Commonwealth. Israeli planners could accept the rationality of Option 1 where: (a) Israel’s state enemy had acquired and deployed nuclear and/or other unconventional weapons judged capable of destroying the Third Temple Commonwealth; (b) Israel’s state enemies had made clear that their intentions paralleled their capabilities; (c) Israel’s state enemies were believed ready by Israeli decision-makers to begin a “countdown to launch;” and (d) Jerusalem believed that Israeli non-nuclear preemptions could not achieve the needed minimum level of damagelimitation, i.e., levels consistent with preservation of the State.


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

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