The views expressed in this eight-column article on Project Daniel are solely those of Professor Louis René Beres.
Project Daniel understood that international law has long allowed for states to initiate forceful defensive measures when there exists “imminent danger” of aggression. This rule of anticipatory self-defense was expanded and reinforced by then-President George W. Bush’s issuance of The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Released on September 20,2002, this document asserted, inter alia, that traditional concepts of deterrence would not work against an enemy “whose avowed tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocents….” As Israel is substantially less defensible and more vulnerable than the United States, its particular right to resort to anticipatory self-defense under threat of readily identifiable existential harms is beyond legal question.
Following the Bush doctrine expansion of preemption, the Group suggested to then-Prime Minister Sharon that such policy should pertain as well to certain nuclear and/or biological WMD threats against Israel, that this policy be codified as formal doctrine, and that these actions be conventional in nature. Such preemption could be overt or covert, and range from “decapitation” to full-scale military operations. Further, the Group advised that decapitation may apply to both enemy leadership elites (state and non-state), and to various categories of technical experts who would be essential to the fashioning of enemy WMD arsenals, e.g., nuclear scientists.
The Group reminded the prime minister that any forcible prevention of enemy nuclear/biological deployment would be profoundly different from an Israeli preemption of an existing enemy nuclear/biological force. Attempts at preemption against an enemy that had already been allowed to go nuclear/biological could be far too risky and could even invite an existential retaliation. It was also recommended that any preemption be carried out exclusively by conventional high-precision weapons, not only because they are likely to be more effective than nuclear weapons, but also because preemption with nuclear weapons could be wrongly interpreted as Israeli nuclear first strikes. If unsuccessful, these preemptive strikes could elicit an enemy’s “counter-value” second strike; that is, a deadly intentional attack upon Israeli civilian populations.
The Group advised emphatically that Israel should avoid non-conventional exchanges with enemy states wherever possible. It is never in Israel’s interest to engage these states in WMD warfare if other options exist. Israel’s Strategic Future did not instruct how to “win” a war in a WMD Middle-East environment. Rather, it described what we, the members of Project Daniel, considered the necessary, realistic and optimal conditions for non-belligerence toward Israel in the region. These conditions still include a coherent and comprehensive Israeli doctrine for preemption, war fighting, deterrence and defense.
The Group advised the prime minister that there is no operational need for low-yield nuclear weapons geared to actual battlefield use. Overall, we recommended that the most efficient yield for Israeli deterrence and counterstrike purposes be a counter-value targeted warhead at a level sufficient to hit the aggressor’s principal population centers and fully compromise that aggressor’s national viability. We urged that Israel make absolutely every effort to avoid ever using nuclear weapons in support of conventional war operations. These weapons could create a seamless web of conventional and nuclear battlefields that Israel should scrupulously avoid.
The Group considered it gainful for Israel to plan for very selective regime targeting in certain residual instances. With direct threats employed against individual enemy leaders and possible others, costs to Israel could be very much lower than alternative forms of warfare. At the same time, threats of regime targeting could be even more persuasive than threats to destroy enemy weapons and infrastructures, but only if the prospective victims were first made to feel sufficiently at risk.
The Group advanced a final set of suggestions concerning the lawful remedy of anticipatory self-defense. Israel must be empowered with a “Long Arm” to meet its preemption objectives. This meant long-range fighter aircraft with capability to penetrate deep, heavily defended areas, and to survive. It also meant air-refueling tankers; communications satellites and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles. More generally, it continues to mean survivable precision weapons with high lethality; and also incrementally refined electronic warfare and stealth capacities.
The Group strongly endorsed the Prime Minister’s acceptance of a broad concept of defensive first strikes, but just as strongly advised against using his undisclosed nuclear arsenal for anything but essential deterrence. This means that enemy states must always understand that certain forms of aggression against Israel will assuredly elicit massive Israeli nuclear reprisals against city targets. For the moment, I still maintain that such an understanding can be communicated by Israel without any forms of explicit nuclear disclosure, but I also recognize that the presumed adequacy of nuclear ambiguity would change immediately if enemy nuclearization anywhere (Iran, of course, comes most quickly to mind) should become a reality.
Moreover, although both Iran and Israel’s pertinent Arab state enemies certainly share a fundamental antipathy to a Jewish state in their midst, it is also clear that they do not necessarily share any affection for each other. In this connection, Project Daniel’s original recommendation that certain front line Arab states and Iran could all be targeted following an anonymous existential attack may now need careful reconsideration and revision. After all, in current circumstances,The Group’s original recommendation could be exploited by either set of Islamic enemies to crush the other via Israeli “reprisals.”
Louis René Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.