For a Palestinian state to be born, only a gravedigger could wield the forceps. Yet in one form or another, a new state of “Palestine” will likely be carved out of the still-living body of Israel. Supported by both outgoing President Bush and President-elect Obama, this 23rd Arab state would quickly seek extension, in judicious increments, beyond the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and into the “green line” boundaries of Israel proper. This is hardly a controversial expectation, as even the official Palestinian Authority (PA) map of “moderate” Fatah now shows all of Israel as part of Palestine.
As my readers in The Jewish Press have heard so often, any Palestinian state would have a deeply injurious impact on Israel’s survival options, and also on prospects for future war in the Middle East. Even in the absence of another regional Arab terror state, Israel’s security would continue to require extreme self-reliance in existential military matters. Such self-reliance, in turn, would demand: 1) a comprehensive nuclear strategy involving deterrence, preemption and war- fighting capabilities; and 2) a corollary and interpenetrating conventional war strategy.
The birth of “Palestine” would affect these two core strategies in several ways. It would enlarge Israel’s need for what military strategists call “escalation dominance.” As any Palestinian state would immediately make Israel’s conventional capabilities more problematic, the IDF command authority in Tel Aviv would probably decide to make the country’s nuclear deterrent less ambiguous.
Here, taking the Israeli bomb out of the “basement” might actually enhance Israel’s security for a while, but – over time – ending “deliberate ambiguity” could also heighten the odds of nuclear weapons use. And if Iran were allowed in the next two years to “go nuclear,” such use might not be limited to the immediate area of Israel and “Palestine.” It could take the form of a genuine nuclearexchange. All of this, of course, would also have a decisive security impact on the United States.
Nuclear war could arrive in Israel not only as a “bolt-from-the-blue” surprise missile attack, but also as a result (intended or inadvertent) of escalation. If an enemy state were to begin “only” conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem might respond – sooner or later – with fully nuclear reprisals. If this enemy state were to begin with solely conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem’s conventional reprisals might still be met, in the future, with enemy nuclear counterstrikes.
For now, this would become possible only if a still-nuclearizing Iran were spared any forms of Israeli or American preemptive attack. It follows that a persuasive Israeli conventional deterrent – to the extent that it could prevent enemy state conventional and/or biological attacks in the first place – would reduce Israel’s risk of escalatory exposure to nuclear war.
Why should Israel need a conventional deterrent at all? Even after “Palestine,” won’t rational enemy states desist from launching conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel for fear of an Israeli nuclear retaliation? Not necessarily! Aware that Israel would cross the nuclear threshold only in extraordinary circumstances, these enemy states could be convinced, rightly or wrongly, that so long as their attacks remained non-nuclear, Israel would only respond in kind.
After creation of “Palestine,” the resultant correlation of forces in the region would be less favorable to Israel. The only credible way for Israel to deter large-scale conventional attacks after any such creation would be by maintaining visible and large-scale conventional capabilities. Naturally, enemy states contemplating first-strike attacks upon Israel using chemical and/or biological weapons are apt to take more seriously Israel’s nuclear deterrent. Whether or not this nuclear deterrent had remained undisclosed, it could affect Israel’s credibility.
A strong conventional capability is always needed by Israel to deter or preempt conventional attacks – attacks that could lead quickly via escalation to assorted forms of unconventional war. Here, Oslo- and “Road Map”-related expectations would critically impair Israel’s strategic depth, and consequently – if recognized by enemy states – Israel’s capacity to wage conventional warfare. These points should soon be understood in Washington as well as in Jerusalem, not only for Israel’s sake, but also because a Palestinian state would be plainly hospitable to far-reaching Al Qaeda preparations for anti-American terror. Creating “Palestine,” therefore, would pose grave hazards for citizens of New York, Chicago and Washington – as well as Haifa, Hadera and Tel Aviv.
Paradoxically, if frontline regional enemy states were to perceive Israel’s own sense of expanding weakness and desperation, this could strengthen Israel’s nuclear deterrent. If, however, enemy states did not see such a “sense” among Israel’s key decision-makers, these states – animated by Israel’s presumed conventional force deterioration – could be encouraged to attack. Logically, the result, spawned by Israel’s post-“Palestine” incapacity to maintain strong conventional deterrence, could be 1) defeat of Israel in a conventional war; 2) defeat of Israel in an unconventional chemical/biological/nuclear war; 3) defeat of Israel in a combined conventional/unconventional war; or 4) defeat of Arab/Islamic state enemies by Israel in an unconventional war.
For Israel – a country smaller than Lake Michigan – even the “successful” fourth possibility could become intolerable. The probable consequences of a regional nuclear war or even a chemical/biological war in the Middle East could be calamitous for the victor as well as the vanquished. In such exceptional conditions of belligerency, which would impact our own country in many tangible ways, the traditional notions of “victory” and “defeat” would lose all decipherable meaning. Although a real risk of area nuclear war does exist independently of a Palestinian state, this risk would be substantially greater if such a state was first permitted to be born.
Copyright ©, The Jewish Press, January 2, 2009. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters. He is the author of ten major books on international relations and international law, and was chair of “Project Daniel.” Professor Beres is the Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.