The disarray, ritual violence, rancor, intermittent anarchy, and seemingly endless cycle of replacing one tyranny with another that have characterized the Arab Spring is also the predictable future for “Palestine.”
In the Islamic Middle East, the recurrent myth of “democracy” has conveniently taken on its own twisted grammar and syntax. For the most part, in this tormented and tormenting region, irony has already been upstaged by oxymoron.
Even after being awarded elevated status last year by the UN General Assembly – “Palestine” is now officially a nonmember observer state – feuding Arab authorities in the West Bank and Gaza will continue to vie viciously for consolidated national power. Here, unsurprisingly, Hamas and Fatah killers will obligingly murder and torture one another as best they can. This is what they know best. Significantly, other known or still-unknown jihadist groups will also enter the frenzied struggle for individual and group primacy.
Nonetheless, the warring factions are apt to come together intermittently on the one point of “higher philosophy” that can still bind them together. This utterly consuming worldview, of course, is a ritualized and irremediably primal hatred of Israel. This prospectively genocidal antipathy has its conceptual and historic origins in an antecedent hatred of Jews.
How little is understood in the West. Palestinian opposition to Israel has never really been about land. It has always been about religion and about corollary assurances of immortality.
What, exactly, then, can we expect from “Palestine”? One could argue, it seems, that this new Arab state will inevitably share a sort of mutual vulnerability with Israel, and that it would therefore be well advised to adhere strictly to responsible policies of protracted peace and coexistence.
In reality, however, here is what we can expect. After early episodes of intra-Arab conflict and related war crimes, periods during which time the competing Palestinian factions will fashion crisscross alignments with willing elements in other parts of the Islamic world, the crushing war against Israel will resume. Newly endowed with unprecedented geopolitical advantages against a now diminished Israeli min-state, this newest Arab state will launch substantially advanced rockets against the Jewish state. More than likely, there will be renewed attacks on Israeli schools, buses, and hospitals. After all, there will be an expectedly mad scramble to join the next blood-soaked wave of Islamic martyrs.
To respond effectively, Israel will need to rely more heavily on its capable active defenses. As long as the incoming rockets from Gaza, the West Bank, and possibly Lebanon remain entirely conventional, the inevitable “leakage” from Iron Dome and (possibly) David’s Sling (aka Magic Wand), could still be judged “acceptable.” But once these rockets are fitted with chemical and/or biological materials, such leakage could prove unacceptable.
A particularly serious security problem posed to Israel by any new state of Palestine would be one involving collaboration with Iran. Nowhere is it written that the developing Iranian nuclear threat must somehow remain strategically and tactically unrelated to a seemingly discrete Palestinian threat. Should Iran be permitted to go fully nuclear, which now seems pretty much certain, it could plan, in the future, to fire advanced ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads against Israeli cities. Operationally, this could be undertaken in managed coordination with certain non-nuclear rocket attacks, launched simultaneously from Gaza, West Bank, and/or southern Lebanon.
To meet indispensable protective objectives, Israel’s primary ballistic missile defense system, the Arrow, would require a 100 percent reliability of interception against incoming Iranian missiles.
Achieving such a level of perfect reliability, however, is technically impossible.
The core strategic problem facing Israel, therefore, is one of critical “synergies” or “force multipliers.” Working together against the Jewish state, Palestine, Iran, and assorted other enemies could quickly pose a cumulative hazard that is tangibly greater than the arithmetic sum of its component parts. Perhaps in anticipating this dire prospect, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to speak hopefully of a Palestinian state that would be “demilitarized.”
This expectation is naive and unsupportable. Whatever else it may have agreed to in its pre-state incarnation, any presumptively new sovereign state is entitled to “self-defense.” Under authoritative international law, this right is fundamental, immutable, and (per Art. 51 of the United Nations Charter), “inherent.” Further, to use proper terminology from the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, it is also “peremptory.”
Recognizing the considerable limits of even its best active defenses, Israel will need to improve and refine its current strategies of deterrence. At the same time, Israel’s leaders will have to accept that certain of its existential enemies might sometime not conform to the usual criteria of rationality in world politics, criteria that are always an essential pre-condition of successful deterrence. In such counter-intuitive circumstances. jihadist adversaries in Palestine, Iran, and/or Lebanon might simply refuse to back away from any contemplated aggressions against Israel. These enemies could exhibit such refusals even in anticipation of a devastating Israeli reprisal.
Barack Obama and John Kerry notwithstanding, Israel still has no reliable peace “partners” in the region. It has, still, only more or less committed adversaries. For a time, the superiority of the IDF may allow Israel to undertake certain cost-effective preemptions, but such allowances are not likely to include critical Iranian nuclear infrastructures.
Any defensive first strikes directed against specifically Palestinian targets, however feasible in operational terms, and however justifiable in law as “anticipatory self-defense,” would elicit widespread global howls of indignation and disapproval. Incomprehensibly, Israel’s “no choice” resort to force to stave off national extermination, however reluctant, would be widely termed “aggression.”
What can be done? Plainly, Israel must promptly take appropriate steps to assure that (1) it does not become the object of non-conventional aggressions, and (2) it can successfully avoid all forms of non-conventional conflict, with adversary states, and also with sub-state foes. To accomplish this vital objective, it must strive to retain recognizably far-reaching conventional superiority in both weapons and manpower.
Such retention could reduce the likelihood of ever actually having to enter into a chemical, biological, or even nuclear exchange. Correspondingly, as I have counseled often in the pages of The Jewish Press, Israel should begin to move carefully away from its longstanding and increasingly perilous posture of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.”
By moving toward selected and partial kinds of “nuclear disclosure” – by taking its “bomb” out of the “basement” in certain calibrated and visible increments – Israel could better ensure that its several cooperating adversaries will remain suitably subject to Israeli nuclear deterrence. In this connection, Israeli planners will first have to understand that the efficacy or credibility of the country’s nuclear deterrence posture could vary inversely with enemy views of Israeli nuclear destructiveness.
However ironic and counterintuitive, enemy perceptions of a too-large and/or too destructive Israeli nuclear deterrent force, or of an Israeli force that is not sufficiently invulnerable to first-strike attacks, could render this deterrence posture less convincing and hence less viable.
It is also essential that Israel’s current and prospective strategic adversaries see the Jewish state’s nuclear retaliatory forces as assuredly able to penetrate any Arab or Iranian aggressor’s active defenses.
Israel should continue to strengthen its abundantly superior active defenses, but it must also do everything possible to improve each critical and intersecting component of its nuanced deterrence posture. In this hideously complex matter of strategic dissuasion, the Israeli task may also come to include more explicit disclosures of nuclear targeting doctrine, and, accordingly, a steadily expanding role for cyber-defense and cyber-war. Even before undertaking such important refinements, Israel will need to rigorously distinguish between adversaries that are presumably rational, irrational, or “mad.” The ultimate success of national deterrence will be contingent upon having an informed prior awareness of enemy preferences, and of enemy hierarchies of preferences.
Within a year, especially if the U.S.-led “Road Map” should become the region’s most accepted bit of cartography, Palestine will begin to look very much like some dreadful combination of post-Arab Spring Egypt and Syria. Though it is already too late to prevent UN bestowal of tentative or partial statehood status upon Palestine, Israel can still better prepare to face associated expected threats. Most urgent among these plainly foreseeable threats are certain interactions or “synergies.”
Such unprecedented “force multipliers” absolutely must be countered in time.
About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.
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