When on October 6, 1973, Egyptian and Syrian surprise attacks came dangerously close to jeopardizing Israel’s survival, it was because of a monumental intelligence failure. Similarly, on January 18, 1991, the scream of air-raid sirens could be heard in every corner of Israel. The Iraqi Scuds that slammed through Tel Aviv and Haifa neighborhoods had caught the country, in the words of a former Israeli intelligence chief, “with its pants down.” In the latter case, the only element that saved Israel was Iraq’s notably ineffectual warheads. If they had not been so ineffectual, Israel could have suffered profoundly, if not existentially.
A’man’s (IDF Intelligence Branch) record of intermittent failure is noteworthy. While it is too late to rectify prior mistakes, important lessons can still be learned for the future. The most important of all such lessons is this: Before you take comfort from what the experts have had to say about “Palestine,” recall that their record has sometimes been seriously flawed.
Now Israel is confronted especially by Iranian nuclearization, a developing menace of potentially existential import. Although Israel’s leaders may maintain that this menace is somehow unrelated to Palestinian statehood, exactly the opposite is true.
In a few years, Iran will likely have the capacity to launch nuclear missiles against Israel from its own territory. While this would not require the strategic advantages of a cooperative “Palestine,” its willingness to launch will be enlarged by the antecedent Oslo/Road Map/UN dismemberment of Israel. The overall effect of such dismemberment will be to weaken Israel generally, including its basic will to resist.
Preemption, in some form (and this includes newly promising and non-explosive forms of cyber defense and cyber-warfare), may still be essential to Israel’s survival. Oslo/Road Map expectations may have prevented Israel from striking preemptively in a more timely fashion. In a Middle East shaped by “Peace Process” expectations, such a strike could have appeared as inexcusably belligerent, thus upsetting the delicate peacemaking then underway. Naturally, the “civilized world,” even after acknowledging that Israel has always been the only viable democracy in the Middle East, would never have tolerated such Israeli “aggressions.”
What if Menachem Begin had thought this way back in June 1981? What if he had chosen to forgo the preemption option against Iraq at that time? What sorts of warheads would have then been fitted on Iraqi Scuds ten years later?
While Begin’s timely actions at Osiraq (Operation Opera) did probably save the country from “another Holocaust” (Begin’s own words after the uniquely successful raid), Prime Ministers Barack, Sharon, Olmert and Netanyahu all refused to act against Iran.
As for the intermittent sanctions imposed by the U.N. and U.S., they have been no more than a fly on the elephant’s back.
General Yitzhak Rabin, on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, assured his countrymen that the Arabs would not attack. This view, derivative from the similarly misconceived assessment of then Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, came to be known in Israel as the mechdal, the concept or idea that the enemy is not preparing for war. A scant twenty-four hours before the attack, A’man’s official estimate on the probability of war, according to Chaim Herzog, was “the lowest of the low.”
Today, even after the Arab world and parts of North Africa undergo far-reaching internal turmoil and political re-fashioning, Israel faces another mechdal, an omission, an instance of nonperformance, an expression of neglect with vastly more catastrophic potential. This time, perhaps, “The Concept” could produce an effective end to the Third Temple Commonwealth, a “solution” that Israel’s enemies would describe as final.
Under international law, Israel was never under any binding obligation to comply withOslo. On the contrary, the Jewish state has always been legally obliged to terminate this set of asymmetrical agreements with terrorists. Should Israel’s current prime minister manage somehow to avoid “Palestine,” Israel may still have a secure future. But, should a newly-reconciled Fatah-Hamasunity government soon give way to a genuine Palestinian state, and one that would be unambiguously militarized, Israel’s long-term survival will have become problematic.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964, three years before there were any “occupied territories.”
What, precisely, was the PLO seeking to “liberate?” The answer, of course, is all of Israel. Today, nothing has changed.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. In the United States, he has worked for over forty years on international law and nuclear strategy matters, both as a scholar, and as a lecturer/consultant to various agencies of the United States Government. In Israel, he has lectured widely at various academic centers for strategic studies, at the Dayan Forum, and at the National Defense College (IDF). Professor Beres was Chair of Project Daniel. Born in Zürich, Switzerland, he is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.