Despite some signs of an eventual superpower agreement on Syria, portents of regional disintegration still seem increasingly plausible in the Middle East. What shall we make of these all too familiar portents? In particular, what must Israel prepare to do about them?
For Israel, growing anarchy may signal a very special kind of warning and fragility. Israel, always the individual Jew in macrocosm, could once again become the conspicuous scapegoat for many intractable area problems and the world’s principal national victim of any further regional disintegration.
Nonetheless, chaos, although hardly benign, can be a powerful teacher. There are, in fact, genuinely vital lessons to be learned from chaos. Ironically, perhaps, even the most sorely palpable disintegrations can sometimes reveal both sense and form.
What is there to examine?
In the Middle East, probably by increments, the fragmentation of world authority processes could express a recognizable shape. How, exactly, should this more or less discernible shape, this utterly eccentric geometry of chaos, be deciphered by Israel?
The world is best understood here as a system. What happens in any one part of this system must affect what happens in all or several of the other parts. When a particular deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one country to another, the corollary effects can undermine regional and global stability. When a deterioration is sudden and catastrophic, as it would be following the onset of any unconventional war and/or unconventional terrorism, the perilously unraveling effects could be both prompt and irresistible.
Israel, like every state a juridical conglomerate of interdependent and interpenetrating parts, exists precariously in our chaotic world system. Aware that any incremental collapse of world authority structures would, in one way or another, impact its (few) friends, as well as its (many) enemies, leaders of the Jewish state will eventually need to learn something daunting. More precisely, this redemptive lesson would instruct how to conceptualize and advance certain informed expectations of national collapse.
Although counterintuitive, such potentially horrifying expectations will be needed in Israel in order to prepare appropriate and suitable forms of national defense and response.
Any chaotic disintegration of the larger international system, whether slow and incremental or sudden and catastrophic, will impact the Israeli system. In the most blatantly obvious manifestation of this predictable impact, Israel will have to orient its core strategic planning to a nuanced variety of worst-case scenarios. Here, meaningful analytic focus would be aimed much more at the entire range of conceivable self-help security options, than on any more traditionally-favored kinds of alliance guarantees.
Within Israel’s decisional boundaries, diplomatic processes that are premised on assumptions of reason and rationality may soon need to be reconsidered. Then, while Israel’s judgments concerning any “peace process” or “road Map” expectations would not become any less important, they would need to be made in evident consequence of certain anticipated world-system changes. From the standpoint of Israel’s overall security, any such reorientation of planning, from anticipations of largely separate and unrelated threats to presumptions of interrelated or “synergistic” dangers, could provide a still badly-needed framework for strategic decision-making.
The intellectual origins of this critical framework would be discoverable in a prior willingness to extract vital meanings from the now-revealed geometry of chaos. Israel’s particular reactions, as a system within a system, to growing worldwide and regional chaos would impact these expressions.
Should Israel’s leaders react to a presumptively unstoppable anarchy in world affairs by hardening their commitment to national self-reliance, including certain still-possible and expectedly indispensable resorts to preemptive military force, Israel’s enemies could surely respond, individually or collectively, in similar ways.
What, exactly, are these ways likely to look like? How, exactly, should Israel respond to such responses? These primary questions should now be raised by Israel’s strategic planners.
Although such dialectical thinking is not generally taught in universities or military institutions, it is already past time for these planners to consider something
difficult to understand. These are the crucial and tangibly complex feedback implications of “creation in reverse.”
By likening both the world as a whole, and their beleaguered state in particular, to the concept of “system,” Israel’s leadership could finally learn before it is too late that states can “die” for different reasons. Following a long-neglected but still-promising Spenglerian paradigm of civilizational decline (few recall, it seems, the sometimes prophetic insights of a once obscure German schoolteacher, Oswald Spengler, composed during World War I), these states can fall apart and disappear not only because of any direct, mortal blow, but also in combined consequence of distinctly less-than-mortal blows.
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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