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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