Any chaotic disintegration of the world system wouldfundamentally transform the Israeli system. Again, recalling the remarkable Swiss playwright, such a transformation could ultimately involve total or near-total destruction. In anticipation, Israel will have to orient its strategic planning to an assortment of worst-case prospects, thus focusing much more deliberately on a wide range of primarily self-help security options. This point simply cannot be overstated.
The State of Nations remains the State of Nature. For Israel, certain prominent but time-dishonored processes of “peacemaking,” conveniently but erroneously premised on allegedly “scientific” assumptions of reason and rationality, will, finally, have to be renounced.
There is no longer time for national self-delusion. Israel’s persistently one-sided surrender of territories, its mistaken reluctance to accept certain altogether critical preemption options (although, recently, Israeli preemptions may have taken some new and uniquely non-explosive forms of cyber-defense and cyber-warfare), and its periodic releases of live terrorists in exchange for slain Jews, may never bring about direct and total defeat. Taken together, however, these synergistic policy errors will have a cumulatively weakening and possibly “mortal” effect on Israel. Whether the principal effect here will be one that “merely” impairs the Jewish state’s commitment to endure, or one that also opens it up, operationally to a devastating missile attack, and/or to major acts of terror, is not clear. Nonetheless, still-possible and meaningful clarifications do rest upon patient and capable examinations of the prevailing “geometry” of chaos.
Let us be utterly frank. For Israel, the fragmenting situations in North Africa and the Middle East are just the beginning. Wider patterns of anarchy, chaos and disorder are inevitable. What might still be avoided, however, is mega-destruction.
This avoidance will require a primary and antecedent awareness in Jerusalem that in current world politics, as in any other primordial state of nature, survival ultimately demands resolute courage, openly intellectual imagination, and a thoroughly determined conviction that even huge short-term national losses are undoubtedly preferable to long-term national disappearance. The worst does sometimes happen.
In the currently visible hierarchy of catastrophic threats to Israel, Iranian nuclearization looms largest, and certainly, most conspicuous. But there are other critical hazards on the strategic horizon, several with distinctly synergistic qualities. Oddly, because it is still unrecognized by so many well-meaning Israelis and their similarly deluded American brethren, the most serious such hazard is the parallel or coincident creation of a Palestinian state.
With “Palestine,” as I have written here so often, the worst would happen. Israel’s senior operational planners, therefore, must look very closely at all of the country’s interpenetrating and interwoven security challenges. Keeping especially Iran and Palestine in mind, particular attention will need to be directed toward what military thinkers have sometimes identified as the “correlation of forces,” but now with a substantially improved orientation to both (a) the prevailing “correlation,” and (b) the preferred“correlation.”
Since the Second Lebanon War (2006), IDF strategists and tacticians have likely begun to use this operational planning concept in creative and non-traditional ways. Historically, a correlation of forces approach has generally been applied as a tangible measure of competitive armed forces, ranging from quantitative considerations at the subunit level, and extending all the way up to assessments of major formations. It has also been used to compare resources and capabilities at both the operational levels of day-to-day strategy, and at the much higher levels of “grand strategy.” At times, this particular application has been related to the similar, but less comprehensive military notion of force ratios.
Presently, facing an even broader and more ominous variety of existential security threats than ever before, perils originating from both state and sub-state adversaries, Israel must undertake broader and more complex correlation of forces assessments. IDF planners must, in this new and wider search, seek more than a traditionally “objective” yardstick for the appropriate measurement of opposing forces. Although Israeli defense strategists already routinely compare all available data concerning both the numerical and qualitative characteristics of relevant units, including, inter alia, personnel, weaponry and equipment, IDF field commanders will now also need to cultivate some newly “subjective” kinds of understanding. This unorthodox recommendation may appear to fly in the face of the usual military emphases on facts, but – in war as well as in peace – these “facts” are often the result of very personal and particular interpretations.
In exploiting a suitably improved concept of a correlation of forces, Israel’s senior planners will seemingly have to reject a basic axiom of “geometry.” They will need to recognize that some critical force measurements must not only remain imprecise, but that the unavoidable imprecision itself may include important forms of military understanding. For example, a particular enemy’s consuming dedication to certain presumed religious expectations, his utterly uncompromising strength of will, may resist more traditional sorts of measurement, but it may still be determinative.
In certain military assessments, as in human psychology, there are ascertainable variables that are plainly refractory to measurement, but, critically perhaps, may still be of very considerable importance.
Several emerging hazards to Israeli national security will be shaped by a distinctively “Westphalian” geometry of chaos. In this delicately unbalanced and largely unprecedented set of imprecise calculations, the whole, paradoxically, may turn out to be more (or less) than the sum of its parts. It follows that Israeli planners will need to bring a still more nuanced and intellectually unorthodox approach to their multi-disciplinary work. This means, especially, a counterintuitive awareness that proper planning must sometimes presume enemy irrationality, and that it must also be able distinguish between authentic enemy irrationality, and pretended enemy irrationality.
How can the IDF planner actually recognize the difference between real and contrived irrationality? This is an especially urgent question; it cannot be answered by any standard reference to more traditional correlation of forces modes of analysis.
These same issues of rational decision-making will also have to be looked at from the standpoint of optimizing Israel’s own capacity to project certain purposeful images of military policy. Reciprocally, therefore, IDF planners will have to decide when Israel would be better served in both its deterrence and war-fighting capabilities by the deliberate projection of an image of limited or partial irrationality. Earlier, Moshe Dayan had displayed a more visceral idea of this posture when he warned:“Israel must be seen as a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” But Israeli planners must also be mindful here of pretended irrationality as a double-edged sword. Brandished too provocatively, any recognizable preparations for a so-called Samson Option could unexpectedly encourage certain enemy preemptions.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and has lectured and published widely on Israeli security issues for forty years. Born in Zürich, Switzerland on August 31, 1945, he is the author of ten books and several hundred journal articles and monographs in the field. Dr. Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.