Declaring Palestine. It is a core issue for Israel that has come up in my columns before. But now, the enemy’s operational tactics have been changed and fine-tuned. This month, Palestinian Authority leaders will seek formal creation of their independent state via the “good offices” of the United Nations.
The basic strategy, a carefully crafted end-run around still-binding PA legal obligations to Israel, will be to secure a presumably authoritative declaration of Palestinian sovereignty. In essence, as this plan to circumvent both the original Oslo Agreements and the current Road Map would not succeed in the Security Council, where the United States has a veto, the PA will quickly bring the sensitive matter before the larger and more sympathetic General Assembly.
In its territorial scope, this UN-sanctioned declaration would comprise the West Bank (Judea/Samaria), Gaza (where Hamas, not PA, still maintains control), and East Jerusalem.
Legally, this strategy would mock all codified expectations of the governing treaty on statehood, The Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934). But, leaving aside the generally unacknowledged legal requirements of this “Montevideo Convention,” the main problem would lie latent in Palestinian statehood itself. Once accepted by the United Nations, whether lawfully or unlawfully, a Palestinian state – any Palestinian state – would enlarge the risks of mass-destruction terrorism, and regional nuclear war. These generally unforeseen risks of Palestinian statehood could ultimately dwarf the more routinely expressed fear that “Palestine” would systematically displace Israel in stages.
Any new state of Palestine would be carved out of the still-living body of Israel. Promptly, this 23rd Arab state would embark upon territorial extension, occasionally, in unopposed and audacious increments, well beyond its UN-constituted borders, and deep into the now-porous boundaries of Israel proper.
At that point, despite the obvious new Arab aggression, the international community would almost certainly look away. By then, after all, Israel will already be widely regarded as an alien presence in the otherwise neatly homogeneous Dar al Islam, the Middle Eastern “world of Islam.”
Cartographically, at least, the Palestinian side should now be credited with considerable candor and honesty. The Palestinian Authority map already presents all of Israel as a part of Palestine. For its part, the United States, although correctly opposed to any resolution of support for Palestinian statehood in the Security Council, recently spent several hundred million dollars for the advanced military training of Palestinian security forces. By treating PA’s Fatahas a future U.S. subcontractor against Hamas, courtesy of the plainly unwitting American taxpayer, this Pentagon training will have the ironic effect of supporting new waves of both anti-Israel and anti-American terror. These waves could sometime involve chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” Any Palestinian state would have an obviously injurious impact on American strategic interests, as well as on Israel’s sheer physical survival. After Palestine, Israel would require greater self-reliance in all existential military matters. In turn, such self-reliance would demand: (1) a more comprehensive and explicit nuclear strategy involving refined deterrence, preemption and war fighting capabilities; and (2) a corresponding and thoroughly updated conventional war strategy.
The birth of Palestine could affect these two interpenetrating strategies in several important ways. Immediately, it would enlarge Israel’s need for what military strategists call “escalation dominance,”that is, the capacity to fully control sequential moves toward greater destructiveness. By definition, as any Palestinian state would make Israel’s conventional capabilities far more complex and problematic, the IDF national command authority would now need to make the country’s still-implicit nuclear deterrent less ambiguous.
Making the Bomb less opaque, or taking the Israeli Bomb out of the “basement,” could enhance Israel’s overall security for a while. Still, over time, ending deliberate ambiguity could also heighten the chances of nuclear weapons use. If Iran is allowed to go nuclear, which now clearly appears to be the case, resultant nuclear violence might not be limited to the areas of Israel and Palestine.It could even take the form of an unprecedented nuclear exchange.
With a Palestinian state in place, a nuclear war could arrive in Israel not only as a “bolt-from-the-blue“ surprise missile attack, but also as a result, intended or inadvertent, of escalation. If an enemy state were to begin only conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem might respond, sooner or later, with fully nuclear reprisals. If this enemy state were to begin with solely conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem’s conventional reprisals might still be met, in the uncertain strategic future, with enemy nuclear counter strikes.
For now, such scenarios could become possible only if a still-nuclearizing Iran were spared an Israeli and/or American preemptive attack. It follows that a genuinely persuasive Israeli conventional deterrent, at least to the extent that it would prevent enemy state conventional and/or biological attacks in the first place, could significantly reduce Israel’s risk of an escalatory exposure to nuclear war.
Why should Israel need a conventional deterrent at all? Even after Palestinian statehood, wouldn’t rational enemies desist from launching conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel for well-founded fears of an Israeli nuclear retaliation?
Not necessarily. Aware that Israel would cross the nuclear threshold only in extraordinary circumstances, these enemy states could be convinced, rightly or wrongly, that as long as their own attacks remained non-nuclear, Israel would respond “proportionately,” in kind.
A Palestinian state would itself be non-nuclear. This incontestable fact is unrelated to the expanded post-Palestine nuclear threat to Israel. Concerning this threat, what only matters is that afterPalestine, the resultant correlation of armed forces in the region would be cumulatively less favorable to Israel.
The only credible way for Israel to deter large-scale conventional attacks after any UN creation of Palestine would be by maintaining visible and large-scale conventional capabilities. Naturally, those enemy states contemplating first-strike attacks upon Israel using chemical and/or biological weapons would be apt to take more seriously Israel’s nuclear deterrent. Whether or not this nuclear deterrent had remained undisclosed or “ambiguous” could seriously affect Israel’s credibility, as could perceptions of Israel’s corollary capabilities for anti-missile defense (especially, Arrow and Iron Dome) and cyber-warfare.
A continually upgraded conventional capability is needed by Israel to deter or to preempt conventional attacks, enemy aggressions that could lead, via escalation, to assorted forms of unconventional war. Here, Palestine’s presence would critically impair Israel’s strategic depth, and thereby its capacity to wage conventional warfare. These grave debilities should now be fully understood in Washington as well as in Jerusalem, not only for Israel’s sake, but also because any Palestinian state could be more-or-less hospitable to assorted Jihadi preparations for anti-American terror.
Finally, both the United States and Israel should assume that recent and ongoing revolutionary events in Libya and Syria will enlarge the theft and black-market trafficking of chemical and biological weapons stocks in the region. Depending upon where these dangerous materials would wind up, in the Middle East and North Africa, or even in North America, they could exacerbate the already-expected harms of any UN-declared state of Palestine.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters. He is the author of ten major books, and several hundred journal articles, on international relations and international law. The chair of Project Daniel in Israel, Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.