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Israel’s Security After The Oslo Agreement (Second of Two Parts)


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The following is the original text of an important lecture delivered by Professor Louis Rene Beres to the Dayan Forum, Israel, on March 11, 1994 (Ambassador Zalman Shoval, presiding). It remains entirely relevant today, especially with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s: (1) recent release of Palestinian terrorists as a “goodwill gesture;” (2) the Prime Minister’s equally incomprehensible support of one murderous terrorist faction (Fatah) against another (Hamas); and his corollary commitment to the altogether twisted cartography of a markedly one-sided “Road Map.”

Sharing the Dayan Forum podium with Professor Beres on that March day in 1994 was Major General Avihu Ben-Nun, then Israel Air Force Commander.

March 11, 1994

Formal Remarks Delivered by Professor Louis Rene Beres/Tel-Aviv

(Second of Two Parts)

With respect to the recent Gulf War (1991), Israel may feel, generally, that absorbing 39 scud attacks without direct reprisal – that is, letting the Americans do the job for them – was smart. Yet it seems to me that while recognizing full well the military code constraints of that moment, that this deferral to Washington – a deferral reinforced by the demeaning acceptance of minimally-capable patriot missiles – will have longer term ill effects. I daresay this is the case even though I speak together today with the distinguished commander of the Israel Air Force, Maj. Gen. Avihu Ben-Nun.

Israel’s enemies understand Cicero. Israel does not.

What, precisely, am I suggesting? The peace process, of course, is misconceived and potentially catastrophic. Associated efforts at so-called “confidence building measures” and “security regimes” are the foolish inventions of academics, of the professors, trapped as usual in their hermetically sealed world of erroneous assumptions and political correctness. In the academic world, Cicero is not in fashion. Clichés are the rage, especially when they are well funded. Euphemisms are proper. Forthrightness is unforgivable. Incrementally, Oslo will fail; Israelis will suffer increasingly numerous and more indiscriminate terror attacks; young Palestinians will be recruited to blow up Jews as a ticket to eternal life amidst 72 virgins. What is only metaphor to the sophisticated Westerner will be altogether literal to a 17-year-old Arab boy from Jenin.

There is, of course, one more arena of prospective war, an arena of particularly great importance to Israel. I refer to Iran; especially the development of Iranian unconventional weapons and the threat of Iranian nuclear attack. This threat is becoming very real indeed. Regarding this threat, Israel has essentially two options: (1) do nothing other than rely on strategic deterrence, deliberately ambiguous or disclosed (a problem because of willingness, capability, and rationality components of a credible deterrence posture); or (2) strike preemptively against Iranian hard targets and/or associated infrastructures, a strike that would necessarily reflect the permissible use of force known as “anticipatory self defense” in international law.

Here an unfortunate synergy must be noted. Now that the “peace process” is underway, Israel’s effective capacity to preempt has already been diminished. It is true that Iran is not a part of this process, but surely the global community (a community not usually known for its good feelings toward Israel or, for that matter, toward Jews in general) would see a post-Oslo defensive strike against Iranian hard targets as evidence of continuing Israeli “aggression.”

But again, what is done is done. The only question that remains is: what is Israel to do now? I have written widely about preemption and anticipatory self-defense by Israel, with special reference to Iran.

The tactical/operational requirements of such actions are somewhat beyond my domain and can be handled more adequately elsewhere (especially by my fellow speaker today, IAF Maj. Gen. Ben-Nun). What Israel does need to keep in mind is the essential time factor. Once Iranian unconventional or even nuclear weapons are fashioned and deployed, Jerusalem’s preemption options will be severely reduced. In essence, when Iran has already “gone nuclear”, they will have disappeared.

Of course, Israel continues to place substantial hopes in ATBM (Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile) defenses, principally the Hetz or Arrow project, but the limitations of such defenses are significant and well-known, primarily because a largely “leak proof” system is required, and such a requirement is well beyond technical possibility. Moreover, the success of deterrence is entirely contingent upon assumptions of enemy rationality. Should the leadership in Iran prove willing to absorb massive Israeli counterstrikes to achieve the allegedly Islamic benefits of a first strike attack against the “Zionist cancer”, Israeli nuclear deterrence would be immobilized.

Is such Iranian willingness likely? Probably not- but are you prepared to bet the country on it? And if you are not so prepared, timely preemption by Israel emerges as the only alternative to waiting patiently for annihilation. This is the case even where preemption would succeed only partially.

Israel, like Biedermann in Max Frisch’s ominous play (“The Firebugs”), lives in a bad neighborhood. Like Biedermann, Israel can pretend that everything will be alright, that the “arsonists” will disappear on their own accord, or at least that they will be deterred from doing harm if they are indulged in their every whim and expectation. Like Biedermann, self-delusion for Israel will result in “fire,” in an assortment of harms that threaten survival and that should have been averted.

Israel must act unlike Biedermann, choosing not the path of “reasonableness” in an unreasonable region, but of determination, self-reliance and appropriate forms of forceful self-defense. Rejecting the “disassociating” professors for whom Jewish history might just as well have never happened, Jerusalem must now base its policies upon a sober awareness of what has already been and upon a full consideration of what is still possible. Should Israel choose such an awareness, as indeed it must, acknowledging protracted, even permanent conflict, the short-term will be markedly unpleasant (hasn’t it always?), but the long-term will at least remain a foreseeable possibility.

Thank you for your attention.

Copyright The Jewish Press ©, August 17, 2007. All rights reserved

Louis Rene Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli and Middle Eastern security issues. His work is well known to Israel’s senior military and intelligence communities. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

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About the Author: Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of Political Science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.


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