The views expressed in this article are solely those of Professor Louis René Beres and may not reflect the opinions of any other members of Project Daniel, or of any government.
“We are often asked,” said the late Italian Jew and Holocaust 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 might choose to answer such a terrible but unavoidable question, the Jewish past seems not to have conferred the most indispensable abilities to anticipate new and still-possible genocides.
Today, as my readers are already well aware, war and genocide need not be mutually exclusive. For Israel, Auschwitz could “return” with a stunningly different face. Now, it would be the grotesque face of nuclear war.
Oddly enough, such an unprecedented visage is already foreseeable. Soon, challenged by a still-nuclearizing Iran, the Jewish state may no longer have any realistic operational chance to preemptively destroy that country’s: (1) impending nuclear weapons, and/or (2) nuclear weapons-related infrastructures. For Israel, this means that preventing an “Auschwitz return” will almost certainly require greatly expanded and substantially refined efforts at conventional war fighting, strategic deterrence, and ballistic missile defense. Nonetheless, there would be no guarantees that even the most Herculean efforts – efforts that must now surely include advanced forms of cyber-defense and cyber-warfare – could ever fully succeed.
For the past eight years, Israel’s political and military leaders have been fully aware of the strategic and jurisprudential risks of effectively ignoring Iranian nuclearization. In part, such awareness had been spawned by Project Daniel.
Our once-confidential Report was originally presented, by hand, to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on January 16,2003. We began our work with an overriding concern for the possible enemy fusion of WMD-capacity (especially nuclear) with irrational adversaries. Contrary to this particular policy starting point, however, Project Daniel ultimately concluded that the primary threats to Israel’s survival were more likely to arise among certain rational enemies. In my judgment, as Chair of “The Group,” this seemingly counter-intuitive conclusion remains “spot on.”
Some of Israel’s national enemies might be correctly judged irrational, but this does not necessarily means that they are “crazy.” Israeli nuclear deterrence, even suitably expanded and refined, could be critically immobilized by certain enemy state behavior that is, in fact, perfectly rational, but is still reflective of what would ordinarily be construed as a fanatical preference ordering. For example, a newly-nuclear Iran could conceivably act upon a hierarchy of preferences that values complete destruction of “The Zionist Entity” and the corollary fulfillment of presumed Islamic expectations more highly than any other Iranian value or combination of values. Here, Iran would be neither irrational, nor crazy, yet still capable of inflicting existential harms.
Throughout its work, The Group examined a broad variety of complex issues concerning deterrence; defense; preemption and war fighting. Combining legal with strategic analyses, we linked the concept of anticipatory self-defense to various preemption scenarios, and to The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (September 20,2002). We also closely examined the prospects for expanded strategic cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem, with particular reference to maintaining Israel’s qualitative edgeand to always-associated issues of necessary funding.
Project Daniel looked very closely at a recommended “paradigm shift” to deal with various low intensity and long-range WMD threats to Israel, and also considered the specific circumstances under which Israel should purposefully end its current posture of nuclear ambiguity. Overall, The Group had urged continuing constructive support to the United States-led War Against Terror (WAT), and had stipulated that Israel should combine a strengthening of multilayered active defenses with a credible, secure, and decisive nuclear deterrent. This recognizable retaliatory (second-strike) force was then recommended to be fashioned with the capacity to destroy some 10 – 20 high-value targets, scattered widely over pertinent enemy states in the Middle East.
Early on, The Group had recognized a very basic and consequential asymmetry between Israel and the Arab/Iranian world concerning, inter alia, the desirability of peace; the absence of democracy; the acceptability of terror as a legitimate weapon, and the overwhelming demographic advantage of the Arab/Iranian world. With this in mind, Israel’s Strategic Future had concluded that non-conventional exchanges between Israel and adversary states must always be scrupulously avoided, and that Israel should do whatever is needed to maintain its conventional supremacy in the region. Facing a growing anarchy in world affairs, and an increasing isolation in the world community, Israel was strongly encouraged by Project Daniel to incorporate The Group’s considered recommendations into codified IDF doctrine.
In the end, we affirmed, Israel’s survival will depend largely upon strategic policies of its own making, and these policies will be best-informed by The Group’s proposed steps regarding deterrence; defense; war-fighting and preemption options. Today, with the still-steadily advancing nuclear threat from Iran, the preemption option has likely become far more compelling, but also far more difficult.
Louis René Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.