For the moment, fears of a nuclear war in the Middle East remain focused narrowly and correctly on Iran. In the coming months, before that country is able to deploy a fully operational nuclear capability, Israel will have to preemptively destroy essential parts of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. Of course, in the best of all possible worlds, this expression of “anticipatory self-defense” would be taken in tandem with the United States. But – in view of several persuasive geopolitical and economic considerations – such a joint venture now seems manifestly unpalatable to Washington.
If, preempting on its own, Israel is successful in blunting Iran’s developing nuclear sword, the Jewish State will certainly be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. After all, to face a nuclear enemy that is unambiguously genocidal and potentially even irrational – Israel must be “wiped off the map” demands Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – would represent the absolutely worst case scenario. In such dire circumstances, Iran could even become a suicide bomber writ large, dashing all reasonable hopes for sustaining a compelling Israeli strategy of nuclear deterrence.
To be sure, the Iranian nuclear threat must be dealt with by Israel, quickly and comprehensively. But even if that goal is accomplished, a new Arab state of “Palestine” would still have decidedly serious nuclear implications. Carved out of the living body of Israel, this state, although itself non-nuclear, could heighten the prospect of catastrophic nuclear war in the region.
Following an ill-conceived “Road Map,” President Bush still believes that there can be a Two-State Solution for the Middle East. Yet a Palestinian state, inevitably tied closely to a broad spectrum of terrorist groups and flanking 70 percent of Israel’s population, would eliminate Israel’s remaining strategic depth. With limited capacity to defend an already fragile land and facing a new enemy country resolutely committed to Israel’s annihilation, Jerusalem would then have to undertake even more stringent methods of counter terrorism and self-defense against aggression. Various new forms of preemption would be unavoidable. Ironically, a strong emphasis on preemption is now the recognizable core of President Bush’s national security policy for the United States.
Several additional ironies must be noted. Above all, offering Palestine as a quid pro quo for Arab support of Operation Iraqi Freedom would merely exchange one terror state for another. Further, the nuclear risks associated with a new state of Palestine would derive not from this state directly – which would assuredly be non-nuclear – but from (1) other Arab/Islamic states (excluding Iran, only if Israel had succeeded first with that particular preemption) that could now exploit Israel’s new strategic vulnerabilities; and/or (2) Israel’s own required attempts to preempt such enemy exploitations.
Because the creation of a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel would raise the area risk of nuclear war, this very politicized measure should now be viewed with real apprehension. Indeed, its creation could even bring an Islamic “Final Solution” to the region. After all, every Arab map of the Middle East already excludes Israel. Cartographically, Israel has already been expunged. So much for the “Two-State Solution.”
Architects of the Oslo Agreements and Road Map had been suggesting all along that a Two-State Solution to the Palestinian problem would reliably reduce the risk of another major war in the Middle East. After all, they had always maintained, the problem of stateless Palestinians is the source of all problems between Israel and the Arabs. Once we have “justice” for Palestinians, the argument proceeded, Arab governments could begin to create area-wide stability and viable peace settlements. Harmony would then reign, more or less triumphantly, from the Mediterranean and Red Seas to the Persian Gulf.
But as we should have learned by now, especially from recurring Arab violations of the “peace process,” the conventional wisdom was always unwise. For the most part, Iranian and Arab state inclinations to war against Israel have had absolutely nothing to do with the Palestinians. Even if Israel had continued to make all unilateral concessions, and had continued to adhere to fully unreciprocated agreements, these irremediably belligerent inclinations would have endured, especially from Syria and Libya as well as from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
If Israel should soon face a new state of Palestine, the Jewish state’s vulnerability to armed attack by hostile neighbors will increase markedly. If this diminished safety is accompanied by the spread of unconventional weapons to certain hostile states, Israel could find itself confronting not only war, but genocide. It is also clear that Israel’s own nuclear infrastructures will become increasingly vulnerable to surprise attack from expanding Palestinian territories.
A new state of Palestine would preoccupy Israeli military forces to a much greater extent than does the recurrent “intifada”. Even if it were able to resist takeover by one of the other Islamic states in the region, a takeover accomplished either directly or by insurgent surrogates, Palestine would become a favored launching-point for unconventional terrorism against Israel. Various promises notwithstanding, Islamic insurgents would continue to celebrate frenzied violence against Israel’s women and children as the essence of “national liberation.” Drawing upon fierce Palestinian hatreds of America, a state of Palestine would also provide a sympathetic host to various terrorist enemies of the United States. This would include Al-Qaeda, which already has very close ties to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Fatah.
Recognizing an “improved” configuration of forces vis-a-vis Israel, a larger number of Islamic enemy states would calculate that they now confront a smaller, more beleaguered adversary. They would understand that a coordinated effort by certain countries that possess or are in the process of acquiring pertinent ballistic missiles could possibly endanger Israel’s very survival. Taken together with the fact that global support for Israel is always weak and that individual or combined chemical/biological/nuclear warfare capabilities could bring enormous harm to Israel, the creation of Palestine would tip the balance of power in the Middle East decisively.
It is unlikely that Israel could physically survive next to a Palestinian state, a state that always defines itself as extending “From the Sea to the River.” It is also unlikely that Palestine would prevent its territory from being used as a base of expanded Islamic terrorist operations against the United States – operations that could even involve weapons of mass destruction.
The full strategic implications of an independent Palestine should now be considered. Israel has much to fear, more than any other state on the face of the earth. The people of Israel, not the people of “Palestine,” are the only ones who could soon face organized extermination. As for the United States, it too will incur substantially increased levels of insecurity following establishment of a Palestinian state. It follows that President Bush should now consider carefully that support for Palestine is shortsighted and dangerous. A Faustian bargain, it could quickly wind up engulfing both Israel and the United States in yet another cauldron of war and terrorism.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D. Princeton, 1971) is the author of Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington Books, 1986) and many other major books and articles on nuclear weapons and nuclear war. His work on strategic matters is well-known to Israel’s prime minister and to its military and intelligence communities. He is Chair of “Project Daniel,” and is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for the Jewish Press.