The following article appears exactly as it was written by Professor Beres 21 years ago. It is especially important to reconsider at this moment, when U.S. President Barack Obama, still-embracing the so-called Road Map, pushes Israel to accept a Palestinian state via the five-part Mitchell Plan.
A pair of prominent Israeli commentators recently pointed out that continued control of the territories would have grave consequences for Israel’s security. In this connection, Yehoshafat Harkabi, a former chief of military intelligence, argues in his newest book, Israel’s Fateful Hour, that a refusal to end “occupation” of West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and Gaza will produce escalating terrorism and further incentives for war by neighboring Arab states. Abba Eban, Foreign Minister of Israel from 1966 to 1974, insists in a January 2, 1989 editorial in The New York Times (“Israel, Hardly the Monaco of the Middle East“) that Israel would have nothing to fear from an independent “Palestine.” Such a state, he claimed, “would be the weakest military entity on earth.”
In these assessments, Harkabi is certainly correct, but nowhere does he compare the risks to Israel of an ongoing “occupation” with those of a Palestinian state. If he had offered such a comparison, perhaps he would have understood that continuing Israeli administrative control of Judea/Samaria/Gaza would certainly have its risks, but that a bordering state of Palestine would be far worse. As for Mr. Eban, he is wrong altogether.
If there were to be an Arab-ruled state in Judea/Samaria/Gaza, its danger to Israel would surely lie less in its own army than in the several other Arab armies and assorted insurgents that would soon burrow themselves into a new and authentic form of occupation. To suggest that the risks to Israel can be ascertained by simply comparing the Israeli army to the far more modest forces of a prospective Palestine is to assume a totally static condition in the new state, one that naively offers only the “best case” scenario for Israel.
These assessments, therefore, are hardly in Jerusalem’s best interests. Israel is not “the Monaco of the Middle East,” but neither would Palestine be as benign a mini-state as Abba Eban suggests. Before Israel can reasonably conclude that the so-called “occupation” is intolerable, its leaders will first have to determine whether it is actually less tolerable than Palestinian statehood. If it isn’t less tolerable, then rationality would require continuing administrative control, however painful, costly and unfortunate. And such rationality would not even take into account the overwhelmingly all-important fact that Judea and Samaria are inherent parts of the Jewish State under binding international law.
What, exactly, are the major strategic risks to Israel posed by an independent Palestine? To answer this question, one must first understand that several of the Arab states are still preparing for war with Israel, and that a new Arab state in Judea/Samaria/Gaza would open another hot border for the Jewish state. As a result, the Arab-Israeli balance of forces could change decisively, possibly even providing the needed incentive for certain Arab first-strikes.
Ballistic missiles that could carry chemical warheads now exist in Syria, Iraq, non-Arab Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Significantly, Syria, which is now, together with Iraq, the most serious country threat to Israel, has also been receiving massive stocks of new conventional weapons, including main battle tanks, combat aircraft, anti-aircraft systems and tactical missiles. Still anxious to recover the Golan which it lost in 1967, the regime of Hafez al-Assad has already deployed 4,200 tanks on its border with Israel.
I know. I visited Israel’s northern borders with the IDF during the first week of this year.
Ultimately, enemy ballistic missiles could carry nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia recently purchased CSS2-class surface-to-surface missiles from China that could reach any part of the Middle East from Riyadh. Iraq, even after Israel’s highly-successful 1981 air attack against the French-built Osiraq nuclear reactor, still possesses about 12.5 kilograms (27.5 pounds) of French-supplied highly-enriched uranium, enough for at least one nuclear weapon. During its recent “War of Cities” with Iran, the Baghdad regime consistently violated the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibitions against chemical weapons.
What about delivery systems? Iraq has several types of aircraft that would be capable of meeting these needs, including the Soviet-supplied TU-22, TU-16, and MiG-23, and the French-supplied Mirage F-1. Iraq has also acquired the SCUD B from the Soviet Union, a 300-km ballistic missile with inertial guidance, and, also from the Soviets, the FROG-7, an unguided free rocket over ground with a 60 to 70-km range. It has also been reported that the Soviets have exported an unknown number of SS-21s to Iraq, a replacement for the FROG with improved guidance capability. For now, the principal impediment to Iraqi nuclear weapons is the temporary incapacity to manufacture or acquire nuclear missile warheads.
Let us turn to Iran, certain to become a major strategic threat to Israel. Until the revolution in January 1979, Iran’s nuclear program was the most ambitious in the entire Middle East. In addition to open, commercial activities, the Shah most likely initiated a full-scale nuclear weapons research program. This program included work on two technologies for producing weapons-grade nuclear materials, enrichment and reprocessing, and on the actual design of nuclear weapons.
Because of Washington’s unwillingness to undermine the Shah in the days preceding the final overthrow, Khomeini inherited substantial nuclear assets. The precise configuration of this nuclear infrastructure, including weapons-relevant technology and equipment, is still known only to selected persons within the Messianic Khomeini regime. What is known is that this regime is diligently reactivating the nation’s nuclear program. Where will this reactivation end?
From Iran’s point of view, nuclear weapons must appear as an essential counterweight to Iraq’s superiority in conventional armaments. Moreover, nuclear weapons would seem to have special value in enhancing the Khomeini regime’s status in the region, and its associated capacity to advance the objectives of militant Islamic fundamentalism. It should not be surprising, therefore, that Iran, in 1984, opened a new research center at Isfahan.
What delivery systems are available to Iran? At the moment, the Tehran regime has two lines of advanced combat aircraft that can deliver a nuclear bomb: the F-4D/E Phantom II, and the F-5E/F Tiger II. It also has a ballistic missile force that could deliver nuclear warheads. Although there is no available information that Iran is making substantial progress in the manufacture of such warheads, that country has maintained and expanded its very costly nuclear research program at a time of increasing economic dislocation and hardship. Iran remains a potential nuclear power that should not be dismissed out of hand.
To be continued
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University, is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press. In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel.