The presence of any force multiplier may create synergy. Again, in the matter of Israel, we must acknowledge the antecedent “geometry of chaos.” Understanding this more fully, IDF fighting units could conceivably become more effective than the mere sum of their respective parts.
Before this can happen, however, senior planners must ensure that their analyses and consequent recommendations are detached from any sort of false hopes. Here, the ancient advice of Thucydides (416 BCE), writing on the ultimatum of the Athenians to the Melians during the Peloponnesian War, will be instructive: “But hope is by nature an expensive commodity, and those who are risking their all on one cast find out what it means only when they are already ruined .”
The overriding objective of IDF correlation of forces war planning must be to inform leadership decisions about two always complementary matters: (1) perceived vulnerabilities of Israel; and (2) perceived vulnerabilities of enemy states and non-states. For the IDF Intelligence Branch (Aman) in particular, this means gathering and assessing crucial information; for example, information concerning the expected persuasiveness of the country’s still-undisclosed nuclear deterrence posture. To endure well into the uncertain future, such information, and not a series of n founded hopes, must be at the core of its structured orientation to a regional correlation of forces.
All this information, especially whatever concerns Israel’s “opaque” or undeclared nuclear deterrent, must flow reliably and quickly to key “consumers” within the broader IDF sphere, and then to the country’s political leadership in Jerusalem. Once it is received and digested by this leadership, including, of course, the other security services, and the General Staff, selected information must also flow as needed to the national warning centers; to operating force commanders; to contingency operations planners; to research directors; to combat/training developers; and to national resource allocators. Above all, IDF planners doing this sensitive work must firmly resist all pressures that might be imposed by divergent political interests in order to support certain preconceived hopes.
Conceptually, in a world of growing international anarchy, this means that IDF correlation of forces planning responsibility should include (1) recognizing enemy force multipliers; (2) challenging and undermining enemy force multipliers; and (3) developing and refining its own force multipliers. Regarding number (3), this means a particularly heavy IDF emphasis on air superiority; communications; intelligence; and surprise. Once again, recalling Moshe Dayan, it may also mean a heightened and calculated awareness of the possible benefits of sometimes appearing less than completely rational to one’s enemies.
It is routinely assumed that Israel’s security from an enemy missile attack is ensured by nuclear deterrence, however opaque or “ambiguous.” But such a strategy of dissuasion depends upon many complex and interpenetrating conditions and perceptions. Taken by itself, Israel’s mere possession of nuclear weapons, even if it should be fully or partially disclosed, can never bestow real safety.
By definition, a rational state enemy of Israel will always accept or reject a first-strike option by comparing the costs and benefits of each available alternative. Where the expected costs of striking first are taken to exceed expected gains, this enemy will be deterred. But where these expected costs are believed to be exceeded by expected gains, deterrence will fail. Here, Israel would be faced with an enemy attack, whether as a “bolt from the blue,” or as an outcome of anticipated or unanticipated crisis-escalation.
In thinking about strategy, therefore, an immediate task for Israel will be to so strengthen its nuclear deterrent such that any enemy state will always calculate that a first-strike would be irrational. This means taking all proper steps to convince these enemy states that the costs of such a strike will always exceed the benefits. To accomplish this objective, Israel must convince prospective attackers that it maintains both the willingness and the capacity to retaliate with its nuclear weapons.
Should an enemy state considering an attack upon Israel be unconvinced about either one or both of these essential components of nuclear deterrence, it might choose to strike first, depending upon the particular value or “utility” that it places on the expected consequences of such an attack. In part, it is precisely to prevent just such an “unconvincing” nuclear deterrence posture that Israel must now consider the expected benefits of ending deliberate ambiguity.
A major focus of IDF strategic planning will have to be the nuclear posture of deliberate ambiguity or the so-called bomb in the basement. Prime Minister Netanyahu surely understands that adequate nuclear deterrence of increasingly formidable enemies could soon require less nuclear secrecy. What will soon need to be determined by IDF planners concerned with an improved correlation of forces will be the precise extent and subtlety with which Israel should begin to communicate tangible elements of its nuclear positions, intentions and capabilities to these enemies.
The geo-strategic rationale for such carefully constructed forms of nuclear disclosure would not lie in exposing the obvious – that is, that Israel simply “has” the bomb. Rather, among other things, it would be to persuade prospective attackers that Israel’s nuclear weapons are both usable and penetration-capable.
To protect itself against certain enemy strikes, particularly those attacks that could carry intolerable costs, IDF defense planners will need to prepare to exploit every relevant aspect and function of Israel’s own nuclear arsenal. The success of Israel’s effort here will depend not only upon its particular choice of targeting doctrine (“counterforce” or “counter value”), but also upon the extent to which this choice is made known in advance to certain enemy states, and to their sub-state surrogates. Before such enemies can be suitably deterred from launching first strikes against Israel, and before they can be deterred from launching retaliatory attacks following any Israeli preemption, it may not be enough for them to know only that Israel has the bomb. These enemies may also need to recognize that Israeli nuclear weapons are sufficiently invulnerable to such attacks, and that they are pointed directly at high-value population targets.
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.